In 1971, the San Francisco funk-rock band Sly and the Family Stone released the soon to be hit single “Family Affair,” a song about the good and the bad of family life. It shot straight to the top of the charts in the popular music field. At about the same time, a Grady (Lincoln County) couple, Abraham Carpenter, Sr. and his wife Katie Carpenter, were in the early years of laying down the foundation of their own Family Affair legacy; one built by hard work and a slow but steady ascent to the top of a different kind of field – that of the vegetable variety.
Katie got the family started in the produce business by selling vegetables out of a one-acre garden she planted in 1969. The result was she was making more money in a week selling her produce than Abraham, Sr. was working at the local lumber mill. Abraham, Sr. quickly decided he was in the wrong line of work, quit his mill job, bought some more land and started growing produce fulltime.
“Dad didn’t have an opportunity for a whole lot of education, but he’s got a PhD in common sense,” said Carpenter Produce farm manager Abraham Carpenter, Jr. “Mom and dad always found a way to keep the family together.”
That was all part of that common sense approach Abraham, Sr. and Katie Carpenter took in raising a large family (five sons: Abraham, Jr., Albert, Danny, Terry and James; and three daughters: Rebbie, Bettie and Bobbie). Abraham, Sr. used incentives to keep his children around – a car for graduating high school, a house nearby to help work the farm. There was a job on the farm for all family members. Nobody had to find work elsewhere.
“Makes you feel good to keep the family together,” Abraham, Sr. said. “I’m thankful for my family and glad they’re still around.”
Now, three generations of Carpenters work some 1,200 acres providing produce for farmers’ markets in Pine Bluff and Little Rock, the Carpenter store in Pine Bluff, as well as Wal-Mart, Kroger and other national food chains. About 35 family members work on the farm.
“Everybody seems to enjoy it. We work 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week,” Abraham, Jr. said. “We make a decent living and share a little profit. Money is not the most important thing in our lives.”
Abraham, Sr. still has some ideas about Carpenter Produce going out into the future. “I’d like to see them improve this business and make it better with some of this new equipment,” he said.
Abraham, Jr. smiles and nods his head as his father speaks. “And his ultimate wish is for the family to stay together and move forward,” he added when his dad is finished speaking.
“Having the love of God and your family together, that means more than anything. I guess that’s about all you can ask for in this world.”