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Sam Craig at age 20 (left), already a husband and father, and in his 70s (right). Submitted photos

Samuel Craig Jr., formerly of Maricopa, passed away Sept. 10, 2018, in Toltec. He was 88 years old.

Samuel Craig Jr. Submitted photo

The father of 13 children, Mr. Craig formerly was a property foreman in the Maricopa/Stanfield area and heavy-equipment operator for the City of Coolidge.

Mr. Craig, also known as Junior, was born Jan. 12, 1930, in Crockett, Texas, to Samuel Craig Sr. and Viola Atmore Craig.

He was raised in Crockett, Texas, and developed a love for horses and farming at an early age. He met the love of his life Lizzie Bell McCullough-Craig  at age 18 in 1948. They married in Crockett, Texas, and their first daughter Dorothy Ann was born in 1949. His father Samuel Craig Sr. and he shared the same vision to move west for a better life.

Once he and his father settled in the Maricopa/Stanfield area, they pioneered the newly developed land for the Sellers ranch via Louis Johnson’s estate  He also came into contact with the mega-superstar movie cowboy John Wayne, who would visit Johnson, his friend and partner. Samuel Craig Jr. became the foreman of over 2,000 acres of land from Maricopa to Coolidge. Mrs. Lizzie Bell McCullough-Craig, also worked at Louis Johnson’s estate.

His love for horses landed him a great position as the head rancher at Sellers ranch in Valley Farms. By 1960, he was raising seven children while he performed numerous duties, i.e. picking cotton, driving tractors and herding cattle.

Then he became involved in the rodeo circuit as one of the first African-American cowboys in Pinal county to compete as a team roper, and he rode his horse Chip Jr. in numerous rodeos  and parades.  He won some ribbons along the way.

Mr. Craig worked very hard farming for over 20 years. From the farm life he became a heavy equipment operator for the City of Coolidge for over 20 years at the Coolidge landfill. In his older age he managed to build  three houses  with only an elementary school education. He and  his dad were both carpenters who were self-taught, excellent in math and very detailed.

Submitted photo

In his late 80s, he finally slowed down a little, but he always loved to go to Church and sang solos. He loved to sing to the homeless people to uplift their spirits. He and wife Margie continued to take good care of each other until he was finally called to his heavenly home on Sept. 10 at 10:30 p.m. He will be in our hearts forever.

He is survived by his wife Margie Craig, his children the Rev. Dorothy Wellington, Donnie Craig, Paula Jean Rae, Dr. Alfred Earl Craig Sr., Julia Richardson, Samuel Earl Craig III, Diane Ruth Parker, Min. Debra Jean Garrett, Ronnie Craig, Frank Tapia, Manuel Dominguez, Sally Dominguez-Ruiz and Jaime Dominguez; siblings Eula Asher of Casa Grande, Freddy C. Craig of Phoenix, Maxine Davis of Las Vegas, Nevada, Hareld D. Craig Sr. of Tucson and Ophelia Frazier of Tucson; 50 grandchildren, 124 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents Samuel Craig Sr. and Viola Atmore Craig, his sisters Mildred Craig-Brice, Sammie Marie Craig-Graves, Clementine Craig-Robbins, Dorothy Butler and Ola Mae Craig-Scurlock and his brother Alfred Ray Craig Sr.

Funeral services are scheduled for Sept. 19 at Coolidge New Destiny Christian Center, 800 N. Ninth St., Coolidge. Viewing is at 10 a.m., and the service starts at 11 a.m. with Dr. Alfred E. Craig Sr. officiating.

(Submitted by Samuel Earl Craig III)

Submitted photo

From left, MAC Superintendent Greg Main, Master Gardener Dave Brady, SNAP-Ed Instructional Specialist Carol Diemer and County Extension Director Edward Martin discuss the possibilities of a small-acreage farming program for new growers. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

So, you want to be a farmer?

IF YOU GO
What: Small-Acreage Farming Opportunity
When: Oct. 25, 8:30 a.m.
Where: Maricopa Agricultural Center, 37860 W. Smith-Enke Road
Info: http://cals-mac.arizona.edu/ 

The local Cooperative Extension wants to help, and even has plots to get you started. A meeting is planned Oct. 25 at the Maricopa Agricultural Center for those interested in learning more.

“It’s kind of an exploratory meeting to find out who’s interested,” said Edward Martin, director of the county extension. “We know that we’ve got folks in Maricopa County that are looking for land to rent and looking for information and education. We know we’ve got folks in Pinal County and in the town of Maricopa itself that are looking for the same type of information.”

The University of Arizona office at the MAC has long had programs to help people learn to grow plants in Arizona – prepare the soil, plot a garden, plant the right plants, water and fertilize, control pests, harvest and even market. Now, they are combining forces to create a seed-to-sale program that takes new farmers all the way through the process, on their own land or land they have rented.

“This our attempt to make it more cohesive program that’s available to all folks, and kind of a sustainable program so we have a place where folks can come and learn about small-acreage farming, learn about the different things it takes to raise crops and raise produce and things like that,” Martin said.

The Small-Acreage Farming program is aimed at turning wannabe farmers into useful growers.

Master Gardener Dave Brady of Maricopa approached the Extension Office with the idea of expanding gardening workshops into something more sustainable. He had a personal reason for it.

“As a small grower, the only options that were open to me were direct marketing, which was either going to a farmer’s market, setting up a farm stand in front of my place or doing a weekly sale they call CSA, community supported agriculture,” Brady said. “I was doing the farmer’s markets and exploring the CSAs, but it would take a day to a day and a half to get set up, do the harvesting, get all the stuff loaded up, iced down, cleaned up, take it to the farmer’s market, do the farmer’s market, put it back in the car, drive back home, get the stuff out. Generally, you’re going to bring back 20-30 percent of what you took. So, it was a real frustrating thing for me.”

Wholesale was intriguing, especially the idea of selling straight to restaurants and schools, but that required special certification. Brady and other small growers went through that process and discovered they had a lot of fun together. They ended up creating their own co-op with processors and distributors and are now focused on school food programs. They are growing on plots of less than an acre up to 40 acres.

“We came to the realization there’s no way we can grow enough to meet our current demand,” he said. “So, we really need more farmers.”

That means finding those individuals in Pinal and Maricopa counties who want to learn how to farm on small acreage or at least expand their knowledge.

The program will combine classroom work and agricultural theory with practical work in the garden. When new farmers have their own acreage producing, they can continue to come to the instructors rather than waiting for the next workshop. As part of the UofA team, MAC is able to call on the college experts to answer questions that crop up alongside the crops.

“The good thing about this is, if they have a problem, there are resources right there for them,” said Carol Diemer, an instructional specialist for SNAP-Ed, part of the UofA Cooperative Extension.

The Natural Resources Conservation Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be part of the program. Martin said they will talk about programs they have for land owners, especially regarding high tunnels (hoop houses).

“There might be people who already own land and are looking for ways they might be able to use that land to produce,” Martin said. “So, they might be able to get some assistance from NRCS.”

Greg Main, superintendent of MAC, said participants can use MAC start to finish on the land available there. The smallest plots are 26-by-34 feet.

“It’s a small area we’re starting out with, and we can grow from them,” Main said.

The program involves serious work and not magical gardening abilities, and they want to make sure participants are realistic in their expectations.

Martin said the Extension has would-be growers who come to them saying they want to plant an acre. “And we say, ‘Whoa, whoa, I’ll tell you what. Pick one of these little plots out here and plant something and let’s see how it goes.’ It’s not as easy as many people think. There’s a lot that’s involved.”

He said the new program will be a way for new farmers to get their feet wet before jumping into something that might be over their heads.

If new farmers go through the program and get certified, Brady said, “We can sell anything they grow; I guarantee it.”

Diemer said SNAP-Ed also teaches about the nutrition aspect of gardening – “Getting that food directly from the soil into a plant and back into your body, and providing those ready resources for you.”

The Small-Acreage Farming planning meeting is 8:30 a.m. to noon at MAC, 37860 W. Smith-Enke Road.

Mark Smith (wearing red rose), formerly of Maricopa, received UofA's Lifetime Achievement Award last month, 19 years after his father John Smith (in red tie), who still lives in Maricopa, received the same award. Submitted photo

Maricopa farming pioneer John Smith and his son Mark are familiar with cultivating growth in their agricultural communities.

John farmed cotton and other crops here since the early 1950s, and Mark is president of Smith Farms Company of Yuma Inc.

Together, they share more than blood and green thumbs.

In 1998, John Smith received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Nineteen years later, Mark Smith received it, too.

On May 5, the family traveled to Tucson to honor Mark’s achievement during an awards ceremony held at the college.

A representative from the university said John and Mark are the first father and son combination to be awarded the distinction.

Unsurprisingly, his son’s accomplishment makes John Smith happy, but he said it also makes him proud of Maricopa High School.

According to a biography provided by the U of A, Mark was one of the first graduates of the agricultural business curriculum offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at U of A. He received a Bachelor of Science from the school in Agronomy and Plant Genetics and Agricultural Business in 1977.

But before that, he was a graduate of MHS.

“Maricopa had a pretty good little school system at the time,” John said. “Having a school system that small was not a thing that most people thought they could get their kids educated in, but they could here.”

John Smith shows the award he received from U of A in 1998. He has been involved in Maricopa agriculture since the 1950s. Photo by Michelle Chance

Smith Farms Genesis in Cotton Country

John himself is no stranger to reaping the benefits from the seeds he sowed in Maricopa, or as he remembers the town in the 1950s, “cotton country.”

“(Back then) there were 16 or 17 cotton gins in the west end of Pinal County, and today there may be one, may be two,” John said.

After graduating from U of A with a B.S. in Business in 1950, he took a job as a foreman on a cotton farm west of Maricopa.

Not only was John the boss, but he also did most of the work.

“There wasn’t anybody out there then to help,” he said. So he had to do a little extra.

A few years later in 1953, he bought farmland in Maricopa with partner Fred Enke.

During their first growing season, Smith said he and Enke labored in the fields themselves, irrigating, weeding and driving tractors.

When the work was finished, Enke would return to a different field – the football field.

Smith said Enke played for professional football teams in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit.

“You don’t see many pro quarterbacks going to work out there chopping weeds,” Smith said. “Not any I know, anyhow.”

Enke was the exception.

Smith Homestead Survives Development

As the farm grew, so did necessity. John and his wife Mary Lou needed a house near the farm.

“There were no places to live in Maricopa,” John said.

So, in the mid-1950s, the couple built a house in the middle of farmland in what is now The Villages subdivision.

Today the sprawling ranch-style home, with its tall, mature trees is an icon of heritage, as well as a portrait of defiance inside the neighborhood of much newer homes.

When developers began eyeing Maricopa for housing growth in the early 2000s, the Smiths fought to keep their property.

Eventually, John sold most of his farmland in the newly incorporated city, but he and Mary Lou held onto the homestead.

“I just told them ‘We’re not going to move. If you want to buy the land, well the house is going to stay and we’re going to stay in it,’” Smith recalled telling developers.

His loyalty to the land might have something to do with the years he worked to develop it through various boards.

According to another biography provided by the U of A, “He was a member of the Site Selection committee appointed by the Board of Regents to locate a new research farm after the College of Agriculture was instructed to close (two other centers).”

The location of the new research farm Smith helped to select? The Maricopa Agricultural Center.

His work didn’t stop there. Smith also served 27 years as president on the board of directors of the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District.

The biography supplied by the college also highlights Smith’s work in “negotiations for the implementation of the Central Arizona Project and the delivery and distribution of Colorado River water.”

Not one to take all the credit, Smith said his accomplishments were a “collective effort.”

The lineage of agriculturalists does not stop with Mark. His brothers Jim and Matt own a turf farm in Maricopa named Southwest Sod.

“I think it’s wonderful. I’m very proud of all of them,” Mary Lou Smith said of her husband and children.

Maricopa Farmers Adapt

Eventually, the Smith-Enke farming empire expanded so much the partners split.

“We had plenty of land and plenty of equipment for both of us,” John Smith said. “We didn’t even have a lawyer to write it up; we just wrote it out on a piece of paper and it still stood.”

Smith Farms grew to include not only cotton, but a vast pecan orchard, as well as grain and alfalfa crops.

Smith still owns and leases farmland in California, but he said his responsibilities nowadays are mostly to himself.

Sitting inside their home that once stood surrounded by cotton, John and Mary Lou Smith discussed the change in life they’ve experienced throughout Maricopa’s growing pains.

“Everything always looks better looking back,” John Smith said.

And even now, surrounded by houses instead of crops, one thing is for certain: The Smiths are here to stay.