Swint’s Feed and Garden Supply is ready for spring. Chicks from the weekly shipment peep from inside a stack of short cages, sticking their necks out to drink from tiny troughs. Dogs of all description drag their owners through the treat section or soak in the K-9 version of a day spa, an elevated galvanized tub behind a wooden fence. The seed bin is in the front of the store again, reassembled for the season’s bulk purchases. Spring vegetable and flower starts fill in the racks out front.
Roger Swint, who also serves as Morrow’s fire chief, works on Saturdays in the business his father used to run. In an age of big-box specialty stores, Swint’s is a family-run concern that prides itself on an eclectic selection of garden items, extensive knowledge about local planting, and deep roots in the local community.
In 1933, Roger Swint’s grandfather, E.J. Swint, Sr., bought Planters Gin and Manufacturing Company, a cotton gin that stood behind what is now Heritage Bank. The site is now a parking lot, across the street from Nouveau Restaurant, which occupies the old Jonesboro fire station:
As for the feed and supply, “Well, my granddad started 1941,” Swint explained. “Dad (Cicero Willis Swint) was born in ’28. But then my dad took over the store in 1950. So he took it from there. And now I guess it has my name on it, but whoever’s here does it.”
Clayton County’s weather watcher
Roger Swint’s father, Willis, was a celebrated cooperative weather observer for the National Weather Service. Understanding the weather is crucial for planters. For 56 years, Willis Swint recorded weather data with old-fashioned tools—never missing a day—and sent that information to NWS.
The 1973 tornado and 1994 flood didn’t stop him, and the observations he gathered helped make Clayton County safer. Willis Swint was recognized with the Thomas Jefferson Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, the Edward H. Scott Award, the Dick Hagemeyer Award, the John Campanius Holm Award, and many other awards for his weather observations over the years.
Mayor Joy Day proclaimed October 9, 2015 “Willis Swint’s Day” and he was honored at the family store by Fox 5 meteorologist David Chandley and representatives of the NWS (photos: Swint’s Feed and Supply)
Swint’s is also home to a couple of unusual architectural features. Part of the current location “was built in 1969. And that back there was built in 1975. It was Western Auto when we bought it in 1989,” Swint said. If you walk inside and look up to your left, you’ll see the word AUCTION painted where the wall and roof meet.
“Kathy showed me a picture the other day, and that was in the background. She saw that. We were in this part of the building one year and that was in the background—’Hey, that’s our building!'”
Look again, and you’ll notice the roof support inside is curved.
“It’s called a bowstring truss, because it looks like a bowstring,” Swint explained. “To my knowledge is the only building in Clayton County that has a bowstring truss. They’re really good for large spaces without having support pillars in the middle that get in your way. You go into grocery stores and you have to build shelving around the columns. So these are really strong until they catch fire. And then they kill firefighters….when that fails, they’re 16 feet apart. When that fails, now you got a 32-foot area trying to support that big heavy roof. Very famous fire in Hackensack, New Jersey back in the ’80s. Car dealership. Killed four firefighters, I think.”
That danger hit close to home in 1990.
Roger Swint and his father both worked for the Jonesboro Volunteer Fire Department, where Willis Swint served 40 years, including as fire chief. One night, the phone rang: Swint’s was on fire.
“We got a call at two o’clock in the morning that Swint’s Feed was fully involved. And so we both lived off Hilltop Road off Stockbridge Road and rushed up here and it looked like it was fully involved. But somebody had set—we used to put hay on the front porch. 24 hours a day. Now we put on carts, roll it out, roll it in. We used to stack it on the porch. Somebody set fire to it. It got up into the overhang out there, and leapt back over and caught the roof on fire. But it never penetrated through the wood.”
“It was burning the seven layers of roof that was up there,” he said. “But for some reason it didn’t take the roof off. So it had this tremendous black smoke and it looked like the building was on fire, but it was just that roof material. So we set up the first engine in the parking lot and used what’s called a deck gun, great big nozzle. We swept it maybe twice across the roof of the building, the fire went out.”
A couple of windows broke and a display of plastic bird feeders melted, but the family business was spared, thanks to the quick response of friends and neighbors on the Jonesboro VFD.
Green thumbs, good neighbors
Clayton County is prone to false spring: plant your garden before April, and you could see your hard work lost with one last freeze. The conventional wisdom is to wait until after Easter to plant. Swint’s is the kind of place where you can ask Kathy Swint about soil amendments or starting your first chicken coop.
You know spring is coming when the long wooden seed bin appears inside the store. It holds bulk seed, which you can buy in large or small quantities— “green beans, corn, that sort of thing,” Swint said. Smaller seeds like carrots and flowers hang by the window. Out front, a bushy cornucopia of plant starts, herbs, and flowers invite experienced and first-time gardeners. Strangers become friends, asking each other for advice about tomatoes and comparing their experiences with rosemary. It’s the kind of place where you can choose from several heirloom varieties of tomatoes and numerous kinds of peppers: If you’re partial to Mr. Stripey or Marconi, you’ll find them here.
Hardcore gardeners can fine-tune their crops with special soil amendments of all kinds: from humble chicken and cow manure to more exotic liquid concoctions of kelp and fish emulsion. For those who can’t bend over to tend their rows, Swint’s offers raised bed kits. The shop curates a thoughtfully-selected collection of bird feeders, nesting boxes, and bird food, as well as giant wind chimes, colorful Mexican talavera pottery in all sizes, and sassy welded yard art.
Swint’s is dog-friendly. On any given Saturday, you’re likely to see three or four dogs checking out the treat aisle or taking a bath in the rustic doggie spa, tucked into a corner of the store and surrounded by wooden fencing. A large steel tub converted to a walk-in bath with stairs and a drain serves big dogs, while a smaller raised counter is ready for small dogs and puppies. For a modest fee, you can wash your dog with relative ease (Swint’s supplies aprons, towels, and shampoo). The dog bath proved so popular that dog owners need to sign up for time slots and shampoo is now served up by the portion.
In an era of big-box chain stores, Swint’s offers what Home Depot and Petsmart can’t: personal service with a family touch. You’re likely to be greeted by Eric Swint, who’ll offer to carry your purchases to your car. Adam Swint, who manages the store, is leveraging social media to let customers know about updates to the spring chick arrivals, pet clinic schedules, and the occasional closing for a family event. Olivia Swint also worked in the family store before moving to Chattanooga. Swint’s does close at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and is never open on Sundays, as everyone needs a break and the Swints are church-going people. And even though the family legacy is at least three generations of hardcore UGA Bulldog, they’ll wait on Georgia Tech grads just the same.
Georgia gardeners generally wait until after Easter to plant. Some say it’s bad luck to plant before the Resurrection. Others say Georgia’s “false spring” freezes are generally done by then. Now that Easter’s here, the tomatoes and watermelons, basil and catnip, peppers and squash are waiting for Clayton County to swing by Swint’s as locals have done each spring for 89 years.
Starting Monday, of course.
Swint’s Feed and Garden Supply is at 252 N. Main Street in Jonesboro.