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Appalachian Women Gardeners Add Wealth to Personal Finances
This is the story of three Appalachian vegetable gardeners and how they use their resources to supplement their homes. These women live in and around Scott and Morgan County Tennessee. These counties are about eighty miles from Knoxville, Tennessee. I encountered two of these women when I visited the family and health ministry in the Appalachian areas of these Tennessee counties. The third, Alma Storie, was from memory and was my grandmother.
The wisdom of these three gardeners is one of those blessings that I receive and are passed down through many generations.
An 84-year-old woman I’ll call ‘Roža’ is one such wise woman. She was named after a flower, hence the name given to her in this story. She planted a garden from an early age. She had a knee replacement and continues to garden if she can. Soon after her surgery, I witnessed her cleaning her land and the sides of the land leading to the road from her house. I couldn’t believe it! She is said to be recovering after the operation. Instead, she was permitted to engage in clearing debris from her land. When Flower is healthy, she will plant a garden and eat fresh vegetables in the summer. There will be no additives or preservatives in this food. Today, this way of eating would be called organic. She calls it pure natural food.
For years, Flower canned food in jars and dried vegetables, preserving what she could still salvage. The family will eat this food all winter until next spring, so there is a table of plenty in this house. The rose knows the value of the bean seed. He knows that if the weather is good, that one seed of beans will produce many pints or quarts of canned beans for the winter. Flower holds her head high as she tends to the needs of her household. The flower knows all kinds of plants on its land. She knows what is important to the flora of her landscape and what is a nuisance that needs to be cut down. For example, he says, “The Kudgy vine will take the necessary crop of plants.” She will have it cut down. In the south, where these vines grow, their vines can be used to make baskets.
Flower has many nuts that she uses for sweets and cakes. Over the years the squirrels buried the walnuts and those same walnut seeds have now become walnut trees. Flower allows walnuts to grow, as neighbors can harvest extra walnuts for their bread and pastries.
Flower lives off her late husband’s meager pension. In late summer, when Flower’s grandchildren visit, she can feed them from her garden. A table full of fresh vegetables and melons is plentiful. Flower would never have been able to provide for her family like this if it hadn’t been for the garden. When she eats canned food during the winter months, her monthly grocery budget is reduced, potentially saving her a quarter of her pension each month. For example, if she receives eight hundred dollars a month in pension and can save a quarter of that amount during the winter months from November to May next year, she has saved $1,400 from previous years’ food crops.
Another lady named Wanda, who lives in Morgan County, Tennessee, also sees the importance of the garden.
Wanda and I spoke recently and she said that her garden is very precious to her. Here is a snippet of that conversation.
“This garden will save me about three hundred dollars in the late summer months if I eat fresh produce. In the winter months I can save about nine hundred dollars with this food. That means a lot when you have a steady income.”
Wanda continues about the value of her garden.. “I had an operation once and I was still in a cast. I put a plastic bag around my leg to keep the cast clean and worked in my garden. I had to do this so that the crops would grow with the season .”
Wanda is now teaching a thirty-year-old new neighbor to grow a garden. Watching Wanda and her gardening helped me better understand the value of stewardship. A third woman named Alma lived in Scott County Tennessee. Her home was on a high ridge that was near the Clear Fork River. This is an area that is close to the Big South Fork Conservation Park, which runs through parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Alma planted large gardens and a field full of corn. When Alma started drawing Social Security, she was receiving $65 a month. Now I admit that was about twenty years ago, but her story is still relevant today.
I knew this woman very well. She was my grandmother, Alma Jones Storie. My grandmother taught me the richness of what a garden can produce. She did not work in public, but worked very hard at home and on her land. Grandma planted this garden and by the end of the summer she had a cellar full of food and dried vegetables all over the basement.
She saved the seeds from the previous garden and showed us the seeds and told us to remember what could grow from those seeds. I still think of those big gardens and the cellar/basement full of food. When Grandma died, she had a basement full of food, a smart bank account, and owed no one. I remember from my childhood how my grandmother put a seed in the ground and a few months later that same bean seed was a big bunch of beans on that bush. She later canned these beans by boiling them and putting them in jars.
About every week, Grandma used a hoe or her hands to pull the weeds growing near the beans or any other vegetable. If there was no rain, she would draw water from the well and water the plants. I can still remember how big that garden was because of a few bunches of seeds. I still remember those summer and late fall dinners that she put on the table coming from the garden. She didn’t have to spend her meager social security money on the food on that table, instead she served the meal with a smile.
My husband and I plan to plant a garden in our backyard this summer. We’ll keep track of our grocery bills and see for ourselves how much an urban backyard garden will bring us.
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