Intergenerational Gardening: Whitney Wills and Bryan Mader Share their Knowledge.


Onions in the garden. Image by Bryan Mader. 2012.

A few months ago we had a chance to visit with Whitney Wills and his grandson Bryan Mader.

For the past two years they’ve been gardening together on a small backyard plot in Dardanelle. They were kind enough to let us come over and learn more about their garden and what inspires their work. We’ve written up a short piece about their garden for the Seed and the Story column/the Boiled Down Juice (a partner organization. This information will go toward our upcoming gardening book, a resource for Pope and Yell Counties.

Below is the column and a selection of  wonderful photos Bryan sent us to share. These were all taken during the growing season on 2012.

Next spring we will be visiting with Wills and Mader again and taking some photos of them and their developing garden. One of the great things that came up during our visit with Mr. Wills and Bryan Mader is the importance of learning to grow with someone who has experience. In many cases this knowledge is still alive and thriving in families or communities, even if a bit below the surface. At the McElroy House our core goals are to serve as a connecting resource for the community. So are you a seasoned gardner who’d be willing to help someone get started? Are you a beginning gardener who’d love to have someone give you some pointers? Let us know! We’d love to help make those connections!


Intergenerational Gardening: Visiting with Bryan Mader and Wesley Wills

(click here to see the original article on the Boiled Down Juice site, or read on below)

As part of our ongoing research via the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History and Community Action, we’ve been meeting with area gardeners and small-scale growers (both young and old, experienced and those just starting out) to learn more about the stories behind the food and what sustains their interest and dedication to growing.

     For the past two years Whitney Wills and his grandson Bryan Mader have been raising a garden in Will’s backyard on 8th Street in Dardanelle.  This past year they raised well over two hundred pounds of food including tomatoes, okra, eggplants, sweet potatoes, onions, beans, lettuce, arugula, and a wide variety of peppers. On this small backyard plant they raise enough for their own meals as well as a small surplus to sell to the area farmer’s market. This year they were even able to donate produce to a local food bank and plan to continue this effort in the spring. “You’d be surprised,” explains Wills, how much you can grow in a small space.’ 

 Growing up in Paragould, Arkansas, Wills had a small garden but it wasn’t until he moved to Hoisington, Kansas to teach that he acquired large plot of land and began growing a sizeable garden. When Wills moved to Dardanelle he decided to start growing again, this time enlisting the help of his college-age grandson Bryan Mader who was growing increasingly interested in the hazards of an industrialized food system and the growing loss of small-scale agriculture and backyard gardening. “A lot of people don’t know where their food comes from,” Mader explained. “Let’s say for a tomato or something, you get to watch the plant come up…I think that’s something many people don’t even know about.”

Around the same time Mader began working with the Russellville Community Market, an online ordering market that supports small-scale local growers. He also attended area seed swaps where he acquired heirloom peppers and cherry tomato seeds passed down from area growers. This past year Mader and his grandfather began saving their own seed from the prolific okra plants and plan to save more seeds this coming year.

They spoke about the obvious benefits of gardening—delicious tasting, pesticide-free food and all the money saved. But they also touched on the less tangible benefits, including the cultivation of patience. Wills laughed about his own lack of patience and his desire to dig the sweet potatoes before they’re reading. It’s his grandson, he says, who reminds him the importance of waiting. “It’s a delayed gratification type of thing,” echoed Mader. “You do all this work and then months later you finally reap rewards.” Wills touched on the rewards of working in partnership with his grandson and the ways in which gardening teaches inter-dependence. “The camaraderie of doing it together,” added Wills, “is worth much more than the garden.” 

Mader and Wills will continue their garden, enlarging the space and building trellises for some of the vining plants. When asked what advice they might have for those just getting starting, they suggested learning from a seasoned gardener in the area and not to be afraid to experiment. “Don’t be intimidated,” added Mader, or be too concerned about the workload. “Yes, it is some work up front, but once you learn . . . and once you understand kind of more what you’re doing and once you see that stuff is going to grow, really without a whole lot of maintenance, it’s definitely a rewarding process.”

 Are you a backyard gardener or small-scale grower? We’d love to hear your story!  


The Seed and the Story column appears every Wednesday in the Post Dispatch and on the Boiled Down Juice and every Sunday in the Courier. Frequently these columns are created in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action.

To learn more about this research/book:

If you want to know more about the garden book we’re working on and our goal to learn more about and help support (in whatever small way we can) the local food movement in the Pope and Yell County area, click here. We’re interested in meeting people, learning about what you grow, why you grow it, and why it’s important to you. We’re also hoping to learn more about how a local food and handmade network can help build stronger communities in the area for people all incomes, races, and backgrounds. We’d love to hear from you!  And if you’re interested in similar things happening in other parts of the state and nation, join in on the discussions at our sister site, The Boiled Down Juice. Whereas the McElroy House is a regionally specific outreach/action organization, the Boiled Down Juice is an online publication covering community traditions and community actions in the south and beyond.


One Comment on “Intergenerational Gardening: Whitney Wills and Bryan Mader Share their Knowledge.”

  1. […] months ago we discussed meeting with grandfather and grandson team, Whitney Wills and Bryan Mader. You can read that post/column here as well as see photos Bryan took of last year’s […]

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