Interview with Melvin K. Hendrix

You just published a new book. What's the backstory about it?
Growing up within the cultural boundaries of two families involved in agriculture, a great-aunt who was a agriculture extension agent in Arkansas, I learned later that I had a natural affinity with the soil. So, somehow by osmosis I was smitten with growing food. My early gardening experience was working alongside my grandmother, who was a master gardener. In my eyes, she always had a great garden.

When I finally started working professionally, my first real estate purchase was a farm, and I wanted to be a good steward and manage it well. That's when my formal learning began. I'm a graduate of the school of Mother Earth Magazine. And, while my first farm did not work out, I started to follow the work of Booker T. Whately and Masanobu Fukuoka through Mother Earth and because I was not farming full-time, I could approach gardening as a hobby. What jump-started my intellectual absorption of the inherent issues associated with food production was working in international development with farmers and fishermen to solve problems where access to resources was limited and what was possible had to be determine cooperatively. That's when the lessons that I had learned from my mother as a child began to echo back: namely, don't give up, where there are limitations, the other side of the coin is opportunity. I learned so much from the people I was working with than I was able to share with them at the time, except for an innate ability to organize discourse and turn it into practical plans.

Out of these early experiences, together with the writings about Fukuoka and Whately in Mother Earth detailing their work, I was able to envision a different type of farming. Surprisingly, John Jeavons of GROW BIOINTENSIVE and I crossed paths in Palo Alto, CA, but I was not yet ready to move in the direction that he has taken over the past 40 years. He and his organization are making a tremendous contribution to providing solutions for global food production on small amounts of land. His book, How to Grow More Vegetables, should have been among my 5 favorite books I list below. If you are interested in food, eating, and the future of food production, it should be in your library as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I most certainly do. It was called "A measure of manhood," a short story about the fixation that young males have with size and the consequences that can occur. I'm reconstructing the story for future publication, as the earlier version disappeared among my numerous moves.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Wow! What I remember most of all is the first book ever read to me by my mother that became my favorite. I was four years of age at the time. That book was "The Little Engine that Could!" The reason that it became my favorite was that at end of the story, my mother asked me, "Do you know the moral of this story?" Although she had read the story to me many times and I had read the story myself, this was the first time that I understood that books had a deeper meaning. And, that was the tipping point for me not only as it related to reading, but to the knowledge of how valuable books could be for their nuggets of wisdom. I've been looking inside them every since.
What did your mother say the moral was of the story was?
To never give up. You would have to have known my mother to understand that the little engine was important to her, also. She was Ms. Persistence personified, highly valuing education and ultimately earning two bachelors, a masters, and a PhD over many years, as well as having a successful career in secondary education, both as a teacher and as a pioneer in special education. Before then, it was a struggle for her to be accepted as an educated female. Let me rephrase that, an educated African American female, although different words were used at the time. My mother passed away in April, but she left quite a legacy given where she started.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Most of all, I'm an avid reader of a broad spectrum of literature and technical magazines. So, let's go back to the earlier question about books that have had an impact on me. Let's begin with Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace. I read this work as a sophomore in college, together with nine others for one class, a humanities class! Beyond a doubt, my best class in 23 years of classes and a wonderful experience in reading great works. It still surprises me that someone could write a 1000 page book that continues to sell today. Next, is The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. What a surprise when I went to graduate school years later and a professor in an anthropology class scolded Morris for writing a popular book! Morris would be what Indie authors are to some established authors and publishing houses today. This book was important to me because, since Morris was a zoologist rather than a biologist or archaeologist, he presented a portrait of early humans from a behavioral standpoint.

Growing up in the United States where people are divided by race, religion, gender, and everything else, it was important to me to assess people by their behavior so as not to fall into a cultural pattern of stereotyping people on the basis of superficiality. This is what King meant in his I Have a Dream speech when he talked about "content of character," or behavior. It's the only way to judge just who people are. Maya Angelou once said that when someone tells you who they are [by behavior or otherwise], believe them. Third on the list would be Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." What a genius was Ms. Angelou. Number 4 would be Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract, recognizing that we are responsible for writing our own destinies politically, usually in blood. Unfortunately, modern humans are idly standing by as the barbarian horde continue to expand their domain at great cost. Lastly, but not least, would be James Michener's Chesapeake. Took me three years to finish it because of the vast cruelty that he described in the conquest of this continent. It shows how fantastic a writer Michener was to be able to describe the cruelty in such a way that it readers would be sickened. While Michener wrote fiction, he was a assiduous researcher, hiring assistants as he prospered from his writings. I view him as a chronicler of the expansion and conquest by European invaders. What a storyteller.
What do you read for pleasure?
That would be mystery and soft dectective fiction. I've just recently finished the works of Donna Leone and Louise Penny after discovering them. Like many, I started with Agatha Christie as a student traveling in Europe and beyond, always with a book in my hand and in my backpack. The British writers remain my favorite, but also I read Lawrence Sanders and many others. Next on my to-do list is to explore this category in Smashwords' catalog to discover someone else on the rise. The covers are certainly beckoning.
Describe your desk.
The word workstation is probably the best description that I can offer. As a technie, I have three computers in close proximity, one dedicated to writing, another for graphics, and a third for play.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
That remains to be determined. I grew up in Arkansas, with a stay in Oklahoma that was formative. There is a novel that I've been working on for years in my Smashwords' publications queue that reflects back on those years. Also, I have some ideas for short stories related to my childhood, one of which I mentioned above. Can it become an anthology? We shall see.
When did you first start writing?
My creative writing did not really take off until I was in graduate school. Until then, what I wrote was mostly poetry and short stories. Obviously, I could write, but in graduate school, I refined my technical aspects of my writing, a process that I had begun when The Elements of Style, a set of World Book encyclopedias, the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, and a thesaurus made a home on my bookshelves, as did membership in the Book of the Month Club. When the Greek organizations on campus began to steal my papers, I knew I had arrived as a writer. Of course, it helped that the papers were marked highly as well. LOL My early professional writing was academic in nature, but by 40, stories around watershed events in my life began to take shape. Of course, earlier I was interested in other things. Travel was a passion for me as was photography, but I did those things for pleasure. The latter experiences have actually been more valuable to my writing than where I grew up.
What are you working on next?
I'm a multi-tasker, so there is always a couple of irons in the fire. My next book will be a sequel of sorts to Sustainable Backyard Polyculture, moving from the backyard to the mini-farm as referred to by John Jeavons. Access to land, however. will be a problem for many would-be young farmers, as corporations are buying land by the millions of acres all across the planet. One day, there will be an accounting, but, in the meantime, new definitions are surfacing about what constitutes a "farm." The cannibis growers have had a great deal to do with the movement into hydroponics, now taking off by leaps and bounds. Having the ability to grow food in some areas year round very quickly without land is appealing. But, for those who want to sell their produce to others, managing what I call a production unit will require skill. My next book, Microfarming by the numbers, is a how-to for this purpose. The book introduces readers to the subject of management economics within the context of collaborative sustainability: that is, growers working together regionally managing small-scale production systems that can produce enough food for its members and sell some to others. At the same time, the growers need to make a profit to build resilience into their operations, just as nature does in healthy ecosystems. Thus, we can see that the idea of community assisted agriculture will be re-defined as well. The most valued approach today is the value chain, though not how it is being defined by the current market forces. I'll be introducing a new way to construct the chains.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Gardening or thinking about gardening. Reading, of course. And, eating or thinking about eating. Fortunately, I don't drink, so there is some discretion. LOL
Published 2014-08-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Sustainable Backyard Polyculture: Designing for ecological resiliency
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 84,830. Language: English. Published: August 5, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Home & Garden » Gardening
Creating a healthy, ecologically resilient garden and its surrounding landscape is a commitment that takes many years to achieve. Sustainable Backyard Polyculture: Designing for ecological resiliency provides step-by-step guides, detailed drawings, photographs, best practices, and a glossary of terms and arithmetic calculations, to aid in this process from beginning to end.