Preserving a Rural History
Johnny Bell was born in Jackson County in 1947, but he moved to Miami when he was a young child. Despite growing up in South Florida, Bell came north to Jackson County every year to spend the summer on his grandparents’ farm. Summers in Jackson County gave Bell some of his fondest childhood memories.
Bell’s grandmother operated one of the largest juke joints in town, attracting people from all over the county. Bell worked at the juke joint when he was young and remembers how it would bring the whole community together to socialize, dance, and have a good time. His grandmother also ran the local baseball team. Bell played outfield and shortstop on his local team, which played teams throughout the Wiregrass Region, the tri-state area of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. These games would draw large crowds on weekends, and many times, these games were the largest events in town.
In addition to the weekend festivities that came with the juke joint and the baseball games, Bell remembers going to annual celebrations as a child, such as Heritage Day, where community members would gather and bring their crops to collectively create a feast that would be shared by all who attended. Heritage Day revolved around the production of cane sugar syrup, which would be used to make delicious desserts like syrup bread, and the roasting of hog and cattle meat, which became the main course for those in attendance.
After living in Miami and then Jacksonville for a number of years, Bell decided to move to Jackson County in 2011. He wanted to continue the family tradition of farming. Nowadays, Bell is semi-retired. He spends his days raising cattle on the forty acres of land that make up his farm. In addition to his own property, he owns his father’s sixty mostly-wooded acres of land. Bell’s family owned more land than this at one point. Most parcels were sold as extended family members moved away from Jackson County. Johnny currently has forty cattle, producing meat that he sells and shares with the community. He also attends some of the traditions he grew up participating in, such as Heritage Day. He loves catching up with old childhood friends.