Are Gary and Marilyn Jones farmers? They’re split on the issue. Gary, a retired vocational agriculture teacher, says “not really.” Marilyn would say so. After all, they had a lot of sheep at one time.
They’re definitely not traditional Marion County farmers. Their land spans about 100 acres, less than one-sixth the average farm size in the county. It was 10 when they bought it. Through neighbors moving away or dying, they’ve grown their land, piece by piece.
As you walk the grounds of their garden, a labyrinth of different fruits and vegetables strung together without pattern, you’re hit with different sights and scents.
Beans and squash are planted beside rows of potatoes and tomatoes, with peach and persimmon trees sprinkled throughout.
A cherry tree stands next to a strawberry patch sitting across from some grape vines strewn along a row of apple trees.
There are red raspberries, black raspberries, mulberries. There is horseradish. Rhubarb. Sweet potatoes. Onions. Cabbage. One fruit leads to another vegetable.
They grow everything. Almost.
“What don’t we grow? Marijuana,” Gary Jones says with a smile. “But we don’t grow corn, milo, or soy, either.”
They figure there is enough of the latter three crops grown in the rest of the county. They also don’t grow wheat.
The Joneses were both in horticulture club at Oklahoma State University and took classes relating to horticulture there.
“That stuff was an easy way to get an A, as far as I’m concerned,” Marilyn said.
It became the hobby that would define their life together.
After a couple years teaching in various areas, Gary moved to Peabody, where he was hired in 1961. He taught vocational agriculture and horticulture for 42 years there. Their house just south of town was the only one the Joneses looked at. It had just come on the market, and they bought it before anyone else knew it was available.
As they added more acreage to their humble home, they took on a small livestock operation. At one point, they had more than 100 sheep. They still have sheep, goats, and chickens. A Swedish dwarf rooster, its white feathers speckled with brown and black, crows while across the narrow pathway, sheep bleat.
The house is covered by what looks like jungle. Only some of the trees surrounding it bear fruit. A handful of outbuildings line the property.
They have two windmills. One pumps water to irrigate their land, and the other, an 80-foot turbine that has short-circuited, is designed to gather electricity.
Today the cherries are ripest. A bowl overflowing with bright red sour cherries is the centerpiece as the Joneses offer coffee and fresh-baked brownies while chatting with a visitor and spying on “Mrs. Redbird,” a cardinal who’s been moving frenetically to and fro her porch-side nest this day.
As Marilyn points out several areas around her house where she likes to sit and listen to Kansas City Royals games on the radio, it seems the Joneses haven’t had use for the last several decades of technological advances. They have no cell phones, only a wall phone without voicemail.
Marilyn points out her begonias, which grow just inside the area of grass and ivy overgrowth that she just can’t decide what to do with.
And that’s how the Joneses’ house became a garden, which became a small farm: One whimsical addition after another.
The Joneses don’t micromanage what they produce. A lot of what they grow goes uncollected, uneaten, and unsold.
They know they can’t get everything.
“It takes about 30 hours a day to do it all,” Gary said.
Gary has been retired since 1993. Planting has been a main project for the couple since then.
The Joneses don’t know what to plant next, only that tomorrow, if they can’t think of anything, there will be plenty of weeds to pull.
“It’s something to keep you off the street and out of the bar,” Gary Jones said. “It keeps you busy.”