LPB documentary to feature Franklinton

Published 4:50 pm Thursday, December 1, 2016

Next week, most of Louisiana will get a chance to see some familiar faces in Washington Parish when Louisiana Public Broadcasting debuts their documentary, “Deeply Rooted: Saving Our Seeds and Stories” on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

The documentary focuses on John Coykendall, a master gardener from Tennessee who is a frequent and familiar face in Franklinton.

For 40 years, Coykendall’s been visiting Franklinton and area farmers collecting heirloom seeds and family stories of farming and farm life. Coykendall’s passion for farming and also for Franklinton immediately interested Christina Melton, the Director of Special Projects for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the film’s producer.

Melton said she first met Coykendall a year-and-a-half ago while on vacation with her husband at the Blackberry Farm Resort in Tennessee. Coykendall is the master gardener for the luxury resort, and Melton said she was fascinated by the gardens. As she walked through them, she came to a small shed on the property.

“Inside, John Coykendall was sitting, shelling peas by the fire,” Melton said.

The two began to chat about farming, and Melton said she was immediately drawn to him.

“He’s just this intriguing man and come to find out he has this passion for Louisiana seeds and stories,” she said. “He’d been travelling to Louisiana for decades for nearly half his life, and recording stories from farmers from this community.”

Melton had never been to Franklinton, but as a documentary filmmaker she immediately realized the story could be fascinating look at farming history, seed saving and food culture in Washington Parish.

Plus, Melton said, Coykendall’s personal journey to Franklinton was itself a good story. She said he went to Sarasota, Fla., in his early 20s with the idea of training as an artist.

Instead, he ended up meeting a girl from Franklinton and falling in love and finding his way to Louisiana.

“Since 1973, he’s made an annual pilgrimage back into the community,” Melton said.

She said the relationship didn’t work out, but the two are still friends. In fact, Melton said Coykendall stays with the woman’s family when he’s in town.

In the intervening decades, Coykendall has been collecting stories and local histories, and the documentary will feature several families who are from the area.

“His first mentor was Seldom Lang from Franklinton,” Melton said. The Lang family had been farming the same property for generations, and that deep knowledge of the land was instrumental to Coykendall’s education.

“That gave John a foundational knowledge for techniques and growing know-how that he’s put into practice at Blackberry Farms in Tennessee,” Melton said.

The film was shot over the 2015 growing season, as Coykendall travelled back and forth from Tennessee to Franklinton. Melton said when she first arrived in Franklinton, she saw what Coykendall saw.

“John described it as a magical place, and I tend to agree with him,” she said. “It was a story that had to be told.”

As it happened, LPB happened to have just the people to tell it.

“At Louisiana Public Broadcasting, one of our chief cinematographers is Rex Fortenberry and he grew up in the area and he was the clear person to shoot it,” Melton said. Also, the project’s still photographer, Sarah Weldon Hackenberg, was from the area.

“Her family lived in the area for a long part of her growing up so it was a homecoming for her, too,” Melton said.

The homecoming was fitting, as Melton said home and traditions are big themes in the film.

“I have memories of shelling peas on the porch with my grandparents and that’s something he’s trying to get us to pass on to our children, to know where your food comes from, and to what it means to your family and your community,” she said.

The film will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Tuesday on LPB. However, Melton said that WYES, the area’s LPB station, will not be carrying it then. It will be shown at a later date to be determined.

However, the film will be simulcast at that day and time on the network’s website, which can be accessed anywhere. The website is online at www.lpb.org.