Putting Down Roots

WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGES courtesy Pleasant Acres Garden

May 1, 2023 | Featured, Home and Garden, People

Dirt. Rich, earthy, dark dirt.

It’s literally the foundation of Michael and Madalyn Farqhuar’s business, and the very thing in which their lives are rooted.

When the couple met in 2011, the two had a lot in common: they both loved nature, food, and people. Madalyn had a background in soil science and organic vegetable farming, while Michael had been involved in the food industry and studied permaculture garden design – especially edible gardens. Naturally, they talked a lot about farming and gardening from Day One of their relationship – but the serious talks about creating a business together didn’t begin until 2019. Two years later, in 2021, they had a “one-off” plant sale idea that grew into a brand, and Pleasant Acres Garden was born. But there’s much more to their story.

“Michael and I were finally leaving San Francisco after about an eight-year stint in the city and were planning to move back to Michael’s home country of Scotland later that year to start a larger farm business,” Madalyn explains. “I wanted to spend the summer in Arkansas with my family before making the move and thought we could do a brief trial run while we were there. We wanted to grow plant starts and sell them at local farmers markets. Little did we know we would still be here today, beginning our third growing season and constantly expanding what the business means to us and our community. That in and of itself is a testament to how much Arkansans want to support small businesses.”

If you’re wondering how a Scotsman and an Arkansan girl met, the tale has as many layers as an onion. “Michael and I met in Stirling, Scotland, in 2011 when I was studying environmental science during a semester abroad,” Madalyn says. “At the time, he owned a restaurant/bar that also doubled as an antique store – you could buy the chairs you were sitting in, the glass you drank from, even the art on the walls! It was a happening place, and when my friend began organizing an open mic event there, I visited one night. Michael and I saw each other, and the rest, as they say, is history. We had a long-distance love affair before he immigrated to the States, and we have been married for ten years now. We lived most of our first years in San Francisco and were able to do a lot of what we love the most – traveling! We traveled all over the United States, throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Although our lifestyle doesn’t allow much travel now, we still visit Scotland at least once a year to see family and friends. Our big wish is to start a family soon and share all the wonders of the natural world with our kids.”

But still, there are layers to peel. Since starting Pleasant Acres, Michael and Madalyn have experienced a great deal of growth and change in their lives as well as in their business. Michael’s past life not only as a restaurateur but also as a fine artist and educator is one that has felt more natural to the shift, as Michael feels the similarities between art and farming in that both require juggling various activities including self-promotion, creating, and teaching. He has also been able to tap into his experience as an entrepreneur. Madalyn, however, has faced a greater adjustment. Coming from her work full-time in the urban forestry field as a tree inspector for the city of San Francisco she admits, “I wasn’t used to being my own boss!

“I’ve learned a lot of self-discipline and other hard lessons from the experience. Also, Michael and I work very collaboratively on the business, which has been another big change from our previous situation. We have incredibly different brains, which means we also have differing workstyles and philosophies. After two years of working together, however, it’s easier to see how that is actually a huge advantage as opposed to always working in lockstep with each other. We can tackle issues from different perspectives and come up with an integrated solution – which is much more innovative than if we agreed all the time! Being business partners has added a depth of understanding and strengthened our marriage in such beautiful ways.”

While Michael has taken on Pleasant Acres as his full-time work, Madalyn has stayed mostly part-time, along with various side jobs that she balances with her career in forestry. “In the past two years, I’ve been a part-time community college instructor for an urban and community forestry course, a forest carbon technician, and now a transmission utility forester!” she says. “Both of us being full-time is the ultimate goal, but it’s tough to come to terms with the sacrifices needed to make that a reality. Still, if we could both do this full-time, we absolutely would.”

The couple has planted roots in Fort Smith as well as Rudy, Arkansas, growing the seeds of home and garden, respectively, in the two communities that have found a place in their hearts. “The garden is on my parents’ land in Rudy, and we travel back and forth to maintain it,” Madalyn notes. “Our dream is to buy a house with more land someday and have our operation all in one spot: a true homestead! Land access is one of their main hurdles, but market gardening is an easier path, as it requires less space. At full capacity, we would still probably use less than three acres!”

Currently, the garden measures roughly an acre, including the composting areas as well as some fruit trees and the greenhouse. The actual planting space for row crops occupies only a portion of the garden, and Michael and Madalyn practice intensive crop spacing and often have more than one crop in a bed during any season to maximize their space. In that one acre, they grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and tons of plant starts. “We place a huge emphasis on heirloom tomatoes and rare pepper varieties,” Madalyn says. “We basically grow what we love to eat, and taste is a huge driver of the varieties we choose. We also love to grow lesser-known vegetables like sorrel, cucuzza gourds, and ground cherries. They are not only packed with nutrients, but they are also great conversation starters and educational items at the market.”

Naturally, all that goodness they’re growing needs to be sold, and Pleasant Acres Garden’s harvest can be found at various locations in the area. “We love to sell direct to our customers, either from the farm or at the Fort Smith Farmers Market in downtown Fort Smith,” says Madalyn. “That’s our home market, so we’re there almost every week during the warmer months! We also attend the Chaffee Crossing Farmers and Artisans Market once a month at Fort Chaffee and sell produce through Farmers Market Direct in Fort Smith. In the spring, we do a few big plant sales. We’ve also recently partnered with Van Buren’s Arts on Main to offer a series of classes titled Cottage Industries.”

As they grow their business, Michael and Madalyn are also growing their community of friends and family. “I can’t count the number of amazing people we have met because of the garden,” Madalyn says. “I can honestly say we’ve met some lifelong friends there.” The seeds they’ve planted continue growing strong roots in that beautiful, rich dirt.

Follow Pleasant Acres Garden on Facebook and Instagram! You can purchase their items at the farm, Fort Smith Farmers Market, Chaffee Crossing Farmers and Artisans Market, and Farmers Market Direct (FarmersMarketDirect.com), in Fort Smith. To learn more about Michael and Madalyn’s Cottage Industries Classes and Workshops, visit artsonmainvb.com/garden.

Do South Magazine

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