For nearly four decades, John Coykendall’s passion has been preserving the farm heritage—the seeds and stories—of a small farming community in Louisiana. A Tennessee native, the 74-year-old horticultural genius is a true Renaissance man and a celebrity in a growing movement that places a premium on farm-to-table cuisine and locally sourced, organic, heirloom food and flavor.
John Coykendall is a classically trained artist who studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. For 20 years, he has been the master gardener at Blackberry Farm, one of America’s most celebrated destination resorts. In his role at Blackberry Farm, he has also become one of the nation’s most important seed savers—locating, preserving and sharing nearly extinct vegetable varieties once abundant in America and particularly in the South.
While his work takes him around the world searching for seeds and beans and the cultural knowledge of how to grow them, what inspires him most is his annual pilgrimage to a small Louisiana community he stumbled upon 40 years ago. Drawn to the Washington Parish area as a college student in 1973, John has forged deep relationships with local farmers and gardeners in the community. Over the decades, he has recorded the oral histories and cultural wisdom of farmers and gardeners in more than 80 beautifully illustrated journals, saved and safeguarded rare varieties of crops once grown, and returned these stories and seeds back to the community.