With an armful of tomatoes and a basketful of grapes, Glen Swigert makes his way into his produce stand hoping his fruits will make someone's day and his signs will change someone's life.
Swigert is the owner of Fantastic Farms on Highway 62/412 near Ash Flat. With just a few acres he raises a variety of fruits and vegetables, including squash, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, green beans, corn, peppers, blueberries, strawberries, red raspberries, blackberries, watermelon, cantaloupe and muscadine grapes.
All his top-notch produce is then offered for sale in his self serve produce stand situated in the midst of his growing crops. The stand is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week although it isn't manned all those hours.
Swigert trusts his customers to be honest and weigh the items they want to purchase and then leave the proper amount of money behind. Of course, not everyone is honest.
He caught an elderly woman stealing tomatoes one Sunday night from his farm. She had picked the tomatoes off the vine and then loaded them into the trunk of her car without the slightest peep, he said. When it came time to leave, she woke Swigert up when she slammed her trunk shut. Swigert met her at the end of his driveway and confronted her.
"She said, 'That's the last time I'm shopping on Sunday,'" he said.
In the six years he has had his farm, there have been few thefts despite his produce and money being left unattended for hours at a time. It could be due to the signs Swigert has throughout his four acres allowing him to witness to his customers, even the ones he never has a chance to meet.
"I'm trying to be a witness with the signs," he said. "To the non Christian they can still read it. I'd like to put up a big billboard with Fantastic Farms. The Lord is Fantastic, but that, like everything, costs money."
The 72-year-old veteran farmer has been farming for 35 years. After picking blackberries as a child growing up near Buffalo, Mo., that was the first crop he grew on his 43-acre farm outside Jonesboro in a community called Laredo, he said. After some success, he decided to name his farm Fantastic Farms after the hair salon Fantastic Sam's.
"Our signs said, 'Fantastic Farms. The Lord is Fantastic,'" he said. "Some said I know the Lord is fantastic, but we don't know about you."
Apparently his customers thought he was fantastic. He made a living selling his produce out of the back of his pickup at various places on Caraway Road in Jonesboro.
"I was rejoicing all the way to the bank," he said. "Who said money doesn't grow on bushes."
While Swigert's business was flourishing, his 22-year marriage was heading south. He and his wife divorced. He remarried years later, and that marriage also ended in divorce. He had no children. Swigert then began heading west.
"I looked around Jonesboro and didn't find anywhere my Social Security check and I liked," he said.
He bought property in Imboden and then moved to Cherokee Village. He stayed two or three years before he found the site for his farm -- four acres of wooded land west of Ash Flat with 100 feet of highway frontage.
After clearing the land, he began planting. Now, six years later, he has a successful business on his four acres and another eight acres he leases nearby.
He operates his business alone with the exception of his friend,?Jean Finley, and help hired during harvest time.
Swigert awakens every morning and begins his day before dawn. He picks his crops and tends to his stand for hours until lunch time when he goes to the senior center for a hot meal and some good company. He then goes back home and takes a nap before getting back to work on the farm.
He has few health problems but says the heat does get to him. About two years ago, he became dehydrated and almost had a heat stroke, he said. He's had problems with the heat ever since.
"He's got the greenest thumb of anybody," Jean said. "I think he goes out and prays over them (the crops)."
Swigert knows a thing of two about praying. He is a former Baptist preacher.
Swigert joined the Air Force in 1953 having only an eighth grade education. He then earned his GED and volunteered to go to England. While there he began preaching in small churches with the American Gospel Team in 1956 and 1957.
When he returned from Europe he began training at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, Mo., using the GI Bill. He later transferred to Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Ark. He went to Southwestern Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Texas. He then became a chaplain in the Navy for a brief period.
He worked in two part-time churches during college and continued to pastor small churches for free when he graduated seminary. "Many churches don't want a divorced preacher in the pulpit," he said. Instead, he is serving the Lord in a different way.
"I'm still here trying to serve the people," he said. "Repenting and turning from your wicked ways is what religion is all about. Faith in almighty God is the main thing."