Our Cafe Society: an interview with Frances Smith

When Frances Smith from Sinks Grove was asked if she would do an interview for the paper, there was a pause, where it appeared that she was considering it, and then she responded, “My husband Frank and I moved to Monroe County from Raleigh County in 1972. There was a killin’ frost on June 10 that year and we lost a lot things including some of our bee hives.”

Frances is a gardening and farming extraordinaire with over 60 years of producing under her belt. She is well known in Greenbrier County as the Butterfly Bush lady. At least that is how this reporter first heard about her a few years ago. There are four butterfly bushes of hers on my property in Renick, and Smith says, “My butterfly bushes are all over the state of West Virginia now; and I never have enough of them. They always sell out.”

Along with her husband, she raised eight children while farming and marketing their goods at many area farmers markets. Through the years they vended at the Caldwell Stockyards, the Ronceverte Train Depot, and the Beckley’s Farmers Market via consignment. Eventually they opened and ran the F & F Greenhouse in Fairlea, where locals would come to know the family’s companion, a black poodle named Barney.

Frank Smith passed away from cancer over 20 years ago and Frances carried on working their dream farm; albeit on a slightly smaller scale. She now works with her original two greenhouses, two acres of garden, and two large high tunnels; and has advice for new farmers. “You have to love what this is; and this is hard work. Do not let the weeds get ahead of you or you’ll never catch up; and don’t plan on getting wealthy.” During the husband and wife’s first year in Sinks Grove, the slugs wiped out an acre of strawberries. “We didn’t have slug problems in Raleigh County, so watch out for that here.”

Frances (“With an e, because with an i it’s a man’s name”) also has a passion for reading; and is a serious fisherwoman. She says she will read anything written in English; and is most proud of a 50-pound Flathead Mudcat she once caught in South Carolina. She say she still needs to get her pontoon boat back to West Virginia. She has a four-year-and-counting tradition of an annual trip to the Florida Keys for fishing with her family.

Frances has so much experience with growing so many things that Anne Brown, of Dogwood Hill farm says, “There isn’t a vegetable or flower that Frances couldn’t help you learn how to grow or give you tips about.”

Frances Smith joined the Lewisburg Farmers Market in its second year at the request of one of its founders, John Spangler, and still vends there on Saturday mornings. She also sets up at the Tractor Supply store in Ronceverte on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

In asking her for a word on her philosophy of life Frances quickly told me, “I believe that you have to treat people the way that you want to be treated. Fairly!”

Thank you, Frances!

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