At the Farm GateRoots run deep in the garden
I literally followed Mom’s footsteps into my gardening hobby. As a youngster, I walked behind my mom while she guided the tiller across the garden. When her heel lifted from the freshly tilled soil, I put mine down onto her footprint that formed in the soft black medium for vegetable seeds and transplants. I stretched to reach each footprint, careful not to step on her heel as she slowly guided the front-tine machine. We steadily paced back and forth across the garden with me right on her heels through the last pass.
Those early moments sowed my deep-rooted passion for growing fruits and vegetables for my family. Mom taught me how to plant, weed, identify insects, and harvest, as well as store, prepare, and preserve homegrown food. At night in front of the TV, we shelled pea pods that filled five-gallon buckets. We cured and stored onions, snapped and canned green beans, and ate meals entirely of our own fresh produce and freezer meat.
Gardening makes me feel good, which empowers me to fill our backyard with vegetable plots, fruit trees, berry beds, and flowers like the farm women before me. I like feeding healthy produce to my family. I equally enjoy looking at the garden like a piece of artwork. I consider the soil a blank canvas, where my kids and I plant seeds to paint groupings of feathery carrot tops, scratchy squash vines, and sky-reaching sunflower blossoms.
Suddenly, more people seek this wholesome experience. Sales of flower and vegetable transplants doubled this year for the small-town greenhouse that I frequent. The coronavirus pandemic stimulated business from new customers who wanted to shop local and first-time gardeners with rekindled thoughts about self-sufficiency. I hope their sensitive plants survived the season’s abnormally late-spring frosts, which challenged even experienced gardeners.
Our daughter recorded those nights of frost-protective coverings for her FFA and 4-H projects. Soon, her record book entries will include picking zucchini, arranging fresh-cut flowers, and canning pizza sauce made from homegrown tomatoes. Our son helps, too, but shows the most enthusiasm for the garden when digging potatoes and gathering apples with the 10-foot picker pole.
At a minimum, I hope gardening teaches our kids to appreciate the skill, responsibility, and dedication required to produce food. At most, maybe they will make more footsteps to follow.
About the author: Joanie Stiers’ family grows corn, soybeans, and hay and raises beef cattle and backyard chickens in West-Central Illinois.