Former music promoter shifts career to growing flowers

Former music promoter shifts career to growing flowers

Posted: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 8:59 pm

By MICHAEL LOLLAR The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal MEMPHIS (AP) — Lindsay Chandler grew up on a farm. He chopped cotton, dodged the spray from crop dusting planes and got used to the feel of dirt under his fingernails. He studied agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas, but took a life-altering detour when he followed a friend into the record business in the late 1960s. Chandler moved from “the sticks” of Arkansas to New Orleans, then to Dallas, helping manage sales and promotions for acts from the 5th Dimension to Johnny Rivers to Vikki Carr. At one point in the 1970s he found himself promoting ZZ Top and Luciano Pavarotti at the same time. ZZ Top was one of his favorite acts but, “The music business wasn’t me,” says Chandler. “Music was part of my life. I enjoyed it, but I like the farm better.” There’s no hint of regret, no wistful musical memories as Chandler, at 70, stands in a field he had worked as a child. Thin as the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” he adjusts the sweat-stained straw hat that shields him from the afternoon sun. Like Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in the vintage TV sitcom, Chandler said goodbye to city life. He returned from Dallas in 1993 to his family’s 60-acre Whitton, Ark., farm. On his business card, the farm 35 miles north of Memphis is called “Green Acres.” It has become one of the biggest sources of cut flowers in Memphis. On Saturdays, Chandler makes a weekly trek to Memphis in a 14-year-old panel truck filled with gladiolas, sunflowers, zinnias and a few other flowers that make his among the busiest booths at the Memphis Farmers Market and at Agricenter Farmer’s Market. Chandler mans the Agricenter booth, and friends Paul and Anna Ince of Memphis operate the Memphis Farmers Market booth near the Amtrak station downtown. Paul Ince, a manager of indirect lending for First South Credit Union, says his wife met Chandler at Agricenter when she was buying flowers for their church several years ago: “They struck up a relationship, and it got to the point that she told him if he ever needed help to give her a call.” He did. Ince says he and his wife have worked the booth for three years, emulating Chandler’s way with his customers: “He has a kind word for everybody. It’s like he’s known them for years. He is just really a very nice man. I don’t know how long he can continue to do this, but I hope it’s for a long, long time.” At Agricenter, former farmer’s market manager Brian Marinez says Chandler is one of the few vendors operating a booth more than 10 years: “He has a tremendous following. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him upset or having a bad day. He’s as bright and sunny as the flowers he sells.” Chandler’s property was part of a 1,500-acre cotton farm which his father once managed. The owner let his father buy 60 acres at about $80 an acre. Chandler and two sisters now live on 7 acres and lease part of the land. During the growing season, it is 3 to 5 acres that take up almost every waking hour for Chandler. A home-schooled high school student with flexible hours helps him in the mornings. Chandler begins at 5:30 a.m., planting and replanting flowers from seeds and bulbs. They weed, and they cut the flowers, storing them in three large coolers and an air-conditioned shed until the weekend. “It’s the best thing in the world for me,” says Chandler of the exercise and the constant bending and stooping that keeps him limber. He cuts as many as 2,500 gladiola stems and 800 sunflowers a week with thousands more zinnias and specialty flowers from cockscomb to pampas plume. Prices range from 50 cents to $1 a bloom, depending on the variety. His Saturday schedule is the busiest day of the week with Chandler getting up at 2 a.m., loading his flowers and trying to get to the Memphis Farmers Market by 5:30 a.m. After unloading flowers for Paul and Anna Ince, he heads to Agricenter where he sometimes stays as late as 7 p.m. By the time he returns to Arkansas, it can be more than an 18-hour day. Sundays during growing season mean little rest. Gladiolas must be cut before they are in full bloom. For Chandler, the long days are not entirely work. “It’s like food for the spirit. It brings joy. I feel like I’m doing something that’s good for people so it gives me a rewarding feeling.” Published in The Messenger 7.23.08

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