By LeAnn Dilbeck
TLC’s TV series, 19 Kids & Counting, featuring the Duggar family of Northwest Arkansas, was in Polk County last week taping an upcoming episode at the Andy & Tracy Youngblood farm and their new store MeatWorks.
Since the Duggars first documentary broke viewership records over ten years ago on the Discovery Health Channel, the family has appeared in American and international news media, sharing their rock-sold faith and their overriding belief that “children are a blessing from God,” Psalms 127. The TV series chronicles their big, busy family. They continue with frequent appearances in news shows and newspapers that has created an international following, an opportunity they have seized to promote Christian principles and family as well as support a number of Christian ministries and programs.
Scott Enlow, the producer of the show, said that in the upcoming season, the Duggars will be transitioning to becoming more “earth-friendly” and will be exploring opportunities to growing their own food. “As you can imagine, they go through several dozen eggs every morning, so the discussion began with having their own chickens.” While the family doesn’t plan a full scale farming operation the size of the Youngbloods, they are researching the many options, not only with livestock, but gardening as well.
Enlow said the TLC network selected the Youngblood farm, not just because of the logistics to Springdale, but because they are multi-species and they are all grass-fed. He also said the commonalities with the Duggars being a very strong Christian faith-based family who home-schools as well just made them a perfect fit and an easy choice. Tracy explained, that as far as she knew, their farm was one of only four in the nation being a full farmer to butcher operation.
Tracy said they were stunned when the show first contacted them about the concept. “The producer made it very clear that they wanted it as authentic and dirty as it could get.”
Once the agreement was made, Enlow communicated with the Youngbloods on the arrangements and both his crew and the family hit Mena, Wednesday, July 17. The crew stayed at the Sun Country Inn, and the family who travels in their 42 ft. RV, stayed at Mena Mountain Resort.
The production team and the family first met the Youngbloods and the rest of the MeatWorks partners, Greg & Lavonne Hickl, and Tony & Jessica Robbins at their store on DeQueen Street in Mena. After enjoying dinner at PaPa’s Mexican Cafe, the Duggar family joined them for Wednesday worship at the Youngblood home. Quickly, they all realized how very much they shared in common. “It was amazing to me to see how well their entire family just fit in to how we do things,” said Tracy.
Enlow and his crew of freelance camera and sound-men were the first to arrive on the Youngbloods farm in Grannis at 7 a.m. Thursday. Enlow and the Youngbloods coordinated the different tasks the family would be divided up and assisting with. In the words of one sound-man, “it’s reality TV…just orchestrated reality.”
The Duggars arrived and the Youngbloods, along with Farmer the dog, welcomed them to the farm and shared the morning tasks to be completed.
Michelle, the mom, and several of the older girls accompanied Tracy to tend to the hogs, two of which, had baby piglets. Helping with water and feed, they all more than willingly pitched in and helped Tracy with the less than glamorous task. Somewhat taken aback at how noisy the hogs and piglets were while they were putting out their food, they immediately were muffled once the gate was opened and they made it to the trough, Michelle jokingly said, “This reminds me of dinner time at our house!”
The smaller girls accompanied, Mattie, Tracy and Andy’s daughter, at the chicken coop. The coop, which is not in close proximity to the house, is guarded by one of the Youngblood’s two Great White Pyreneese dogs that are used to guard the stock from coyotes, etc.
While the girls were gathering eggs and chasing chicks, Jim Bob and the older boys went with Andy to “check a cow.” Enlow, knowing what a germophobe Jim Bob is, thought that task would best be suited for him. Andy did provide him with a glove, but it inadvertently filled with liquid but Jim Bob was quite the sport about the entire experience, telling his wife upon his return, “Michelle, that is by far the grossest thing I have ever done.” The boys were also able to observe Mattie working her show calf and helped to clean out stalls.
Ben accompanied the boys to the goat and sheep herd which is also guarded by a Great Pyreneese. They were able to see the rest of the cattle herd and help mending some fences.
At every opportunity, the Youngbloods not only exposed the Duggar family to the work of a farm but educated them about each of the species and the differences in being grass-fed versus commercial feedlot livestock.
The entire “farm” experience culminated at MeatWorks where Jim Bob and several of the older boys were able to watch the butchers, Greg Hickl and Ethan Mizell, processing beef. Jessica Robbins prepared a meal featuring MeatWorks brisket, chicken, and vegetables.
All that were able to work with the family throughout the day commented at how kind and genuine the entire family is. Tracy commended the children for their behavior, willingness to learn, and asking inquisitive and thoughtful questions.
Michelle explained to The Pulse that when the opportunity first arose for a documentary on their family and later a TV series, she and Jim Bob prayed about it and quickly recognized it as an opportunity to use a national platform to promote Christian principles and family. “We explained to them how our faith could never be edited from the show…that’s why we do this.”
She said the opportunity first arose after Jim Bob, having served in State legislature, sought a senate seat and lost the race. “The New York Times first published the story of this Arkansas man with 13 kids who lost a Senate race,” said Michelle. From that point, Parents magazine did a feature on them and the opportunity to do a documentary arose which culminated into the opportunity for a TV series. Jackson, the 14th child was the first to be born on the series. For he and the five children that followed, the production crew became family, calling each of them “Uncle.”
Interestingly, Michelle explained to The Pulse how a family who doesn’t watch TV ended up becoming celebrities with their own TV series. She said that before they ever had children, she and Jim Bob quickly realized at how much TV robbed them of time together and so they made the commitment to each other to exclude it from their lives. She said they do have DVD collections of the documentaries and the TV series that they keep in the children’s keepsake boxes. Not one member of the family seemed to be aware or affected by their celebrity status. Other than the sheer number of them, the Duggar family is as common and down to earth as the next. Despite a film crew working around them at all times, the family still very much functioned as a family, whether they were taking their own photos documenting the family’s day on the farm for their own photo albums or changing pull-ups to getting drinks and kissing booboos.
As stated earlier, the couple has seized the opportunity to promote several Christian ministries and programs, along with writing two books: The Duggars: 20 and Counting, and A Love that Multiplies.
Corin Warinner, Associate Producer of the series, said the new season will begin airing mid-September but said TLC scheduling, many times, can shift around up until the week before airing so they could not confirm the exact air date but did say they will notify The Pulse once that has been confirmed. The Pulse will publish a follow-up story when we have the exact date confirmed.