On Saturday, or maybe it was the Saturday before, I laughed with Tommy Dodson about the gentle ribbing he was getting from his wife Bonnie. Our conversation at the Tsunami Farmers Market, always a welcomed respite in my busy week, led to lettuce.
Bonnie was kidding Tommy about not knowing his lettuces (I think it was romaine) even though the couple's daughter Hallie is a horticulturist developing new lettuce varieties in Hollister, California. He just shook his head and smiled in a way that lit up his face, a face humanized by the wind and sun that comes with being a farmer. Then he sold me a beautiful daikon radish. “It's a volunteer,” he said. “It just popped up.”
I remember this conversation as a small homage to Thomas Dodson Jr., who died unexpectedly Saturday night after spending Saturday afternoon at the market in Cooper Young. He was 64.
I'm sorry we didn't talk more.
A third-generation farmer, Tommy grew sweet potatoes on 300 acres in Forrest City, Arkansas. They were the best sweet potatoes I've ever tasted, especially when prepared in the myriad of ways that Bonnie and their daughter Carolyn are more than happy to share.
Over the past several years, the Dodsons also added a diverse list of vegetables to their bounty, including winter crops such as kale, rabe, and carrots. Tommy was particularly proud of his winter hoop houses, and I loved talking to him about his many successful plantings. But perhaps nothing honors Tommy more than remembering the energy he brought to his gift for growing food, a sentiment often captured in Bonnie's weekly emails. Here is one she wrote to her customers just before Christmas:
“Wind gusts up to 42 miles an hour,” her email said. “Wow! Tom is still out there starting the harvest for this weekend.”
Services for Tommy will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Stevens Funeral Home. Memorials may be made to Thomas E. Dodson Jr., Farm Bureau Scholarship Fund, First National Bank of Wynne, 810 N. Washington, Forrest City, Arkansas, 72335.