The matriarch of one of the most successful farming families in Arkansas has died. Katie Carpenter was 87.
When she began growing vegetables decades ago on a one-acre plot of land in Grady, Carpenter probably didn’t realize that one acre would soon grow to five, then 20 — and it now covers more than 1,500 acres in Lincoln County.
The Carpenter name has since become synonymous with some of the best produce around.
“She was a wonderful lady,” said son Abraham Carpenter Jr., who was acting as spokesman for the family. “She taught her children to love and to help others and to treat other people as they wanted to be treated.”
The family — father, Abraham Sr., Katie, and the sons and daughters — was named to the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2011. According to the program from that event, Carpenter’s Produce started as an experiment with Katie’s one acre. When Abraham Sr. saw that she was making more money selling vegetables at farmer’s markets than he was working at a lumber company in Pine Bluff, he bought more land, and the family business was born.
“She and dad started the operation, and he was the focal point, but she was the one that cracked the whip,” Abraham Jr. said. “She kept everybody in line.”
Currently, the farm grows a variety of produce that is sold at a family-run store in Pine Bluff, farmer’s markets in Little Rock and also supplies produce to large national chains like Walmart, Kroger and others. In addition, the farm is one of the largest employers in Grady, right behind the Department of Correction. About 100 family members, plus another 40 to 50 seasonal workers, help out on the vast farm during planting and harvest time.
But even with the family involvement, Abraham Sr. and Katie always kept their hands in.
“She and dad were married for 69 years, and he misses her terribly,” Abraham Jr. said.
The family includes four other brothers, three sisters, 30 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
“Forty-three years ago, mom was diagnosed with cancer,” Abraham Jr. said. “The doctor told her she had six months to live. We cried and we prayed about it, and we cried and we prayed about it, and she told the doctor she was going to live to see her babies grow.
“God saw fit to heal her and she continued to live 43 years longer than the doctor said she would. When she died, she was cancer-free.”
Funeral services for Katie Carpenter will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at New St. Hurricane Baptist Church at Pine Bluff — the church Abraham Jr. said the family has been members of “all our lives.”
Burial will be in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery at Grady by Brown Funeral Home of Pine Bluff.
Visitation/Family Hour will be from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at Brown Funeral Home; the body will lie in state from 9:45 a.m. until service time Thursday at the church.
Abraham Jr. said in memory of his mother, the family plans to start the Katie Carpenter Education Fund and offer scholarships to children in need.