For the past five years, customers from across the Natural State have traveled to a 30-acre plot on the outskirts of Benton to visit Salt Box Farm. Named for the Colonial-era architecture of its farmhouse, Salt Box Farm’s origins sound like they are pulled straight from an American novel.
Co-owner siblings Deana McKnight and Wade Marshall grew up on the farm, first moving to Benton in 1985. It was on that plot that their father, Ben Marshall, built their family home. Wade and Deana’s mother, Sonja Marshall, was born on Halloween and loved New England architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries. Inspired by her love of the style, Ben built the Salt Box home.
Farming roots run deep for the Marshall Family. Deana and Wade’s grandfather Lyle Marshall purchased a piece of land and a 1946 Ford 2N tractor named “Fergie” in Arkansas in the late 1940s and raised their family on the farm on land now in the Hidden Valley Estates development. Ben learned from his family how to grow food and take care of cows; goats and the farm even supplied the family’s milk. As time passed, the city grew and eventually enveloped the farm.
Thanks to their father’s passion, Wade and Deana always had a large garden and those vital skills of working the land and growing food remained strong. “One of the things my father loves the most about farming is self-sufficiency and growing your own food,” said Wade. “It was a big deal to sit down to dinner knowing everything on the plate was from our farm.”
Now Wade and his wife Shelley and their four children live on Salt Box Farm, and together they share the bounty of their hard work with the next generation by creating an agri-tourism destination.
Since the 1980s, Deana and Wade helped raise cows and grow a variety of crops on the farm including sorghum, peanuts, and corn. But in 2019, Wade and his family planted several plots of strawberries and advertised U-Pick availability on Facebook that spring. It turns out, strawberries are pretty popular.
With more visitors coming to the farm each year, Wade, Deana, and Shelley began dreaming of the potential the farm held. They wanted not only to invest in the present but also to build something that could last for generations. They began expanding their offerings to include other produce and baked goods.
With a knack for baking after having grown up working in her mom’s bakery, Shelley began to modify her mother’s classic recipes and sell them on the farm. From there, Shelley’s The Domesticish Farmer business was born. Since 2019, Shelley has created fresh baked goods, artisanal jams, and handmade candles and soaps year-round.
Just in time for this season, Salt Box Farm will have a new, permanent location to serve customers. The Marshall family recently completed construction on a nearly 3,000 square-foot barn complete with a commercial kitchen, cold storage room for produce, and space to host classes. The barn even houses the Marshall Family antique John Deere tractor, kept on display for visitors.
With the addition of the barn, the Marshalls anticipate hosting more classes and events.
“It’s a festival atmosphere when people come out to the farm because they are there to see you,” said Wade. Year after year, people return to the farm making memories with friends and family. “The little kids who come back year after year….” said Shelley. “It is so fun to see the little faces when they start to realize where their food comes from.”
2023 marks the Marshall Family’s fifth strawberry season. With more than 30,000 strawberry plants in the ground, the entire family works hard to ensure the crop is protected from the elements and ready for visitors this spring.
While farm life is full of long hours and physically demanding labor, for the Marshall family, it is work that is truly a labor of love. “I’m selling fun, and the strawberries are a bonus. The kids and their families make memories.”
With the excitement and anticipation of the next season right around the corner, the Marshalls make the preparation of the farm a family affair. Ranging in ages from 17 to 10, Shelley and Wade’s children are eager to help. From tilling, to planting, to milking the goats and helping with classes, the family enjoys living and sharing their life on the farm with visitors. Their oldest daughter is interested in earning a degree in Agricultural Sciences and continuing the family business. Wade shared, “The greatest gift you can give or receive is the opportunity to work hard and hopefully make a living on a piece of ground. Our mom and dad did that for us, and I hope it continues for generations.”
Now with nearly 10,000 followers on their Facebook page eagerly awaiting the start of strawberry season, Wade, Deana, and Shelley watch and wait for nature’s signal of the season to start. To learn more about the strawberry season and to plan your own visit to Salt Box Farm, visit www.facebook.com/SaltBoxFarmStrawberries.