Lessons Learned In The Garden

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3953594326 b2c094d52b zI love to spend time working the living earth. There is joy to be found in coaxing life from seeds and nourishing that life to bring beauty to our home and food to our table.

When I was young my parents believed that boys who were busy working were also boys who would have little time to get into trouble. As it happens they were right.

From my father I learned how to work hard. He did not send us out to work – he led us to the fields and taught us by personally exemplifying all the best virtues of one who eats his bread by the sweat of his brow. Together we worked from daylight to dark. We did so day after day; year after year. He taught me to use the tools and implements needed by one who would raise his own food. He also taught me to treat them carefully and to maintain them.

At the time I, as boys often do, resented the hard work. I resented the time I was forced to labor; time that I would have rather spent in the company of my friends.
Now I cherish the memories and every moment that my father and I spent together. I remember watching over time as the seeds we planted became sprouts and matured to bear fruit. I remember our conversations. I remember the laughter we shared and the wisdom that he imparted – a little at a time.

From my mother I learned the fine points of gardening. She taught me what plants to plant together and those to avoid planting near each other. From her I learned about fertilizer and compost. She taught me which insects were beneficial and that I should always treat those beneficial insects kindly.

My parents did so much for my siblings and I.

When harvest time came we worked long, hard hours to keep up with getting the harvest in and then putting it up. Corn, potatoes, onions, purple hull peas, and so much more. We picked, pulled, dug, shelled, and shucked the abundance that our garden produced.

My mother canned or froze everything that she could. She spent all day – day after day working over her stove, canning during harvest.

Because of the love of my parents we learned to work. We learned to garden. We learned to put up what we grew. We learned to provide for ourselves.

We also learned to provide for the needs of those who were less fortunate.
I remember a particular afternoon sitting in our living room. The East Texas sun burned in the cloudless sky. My mother and I were talking. I looked out the window and observed a lone woman in our garden with a sack. She was helping herself to our produce!

"Momma someone is stealing our vegetables," I said. I leapt to my feet to chase off the vegetable thief.
"Sit down son," Momma said.
"But she is stealing from our garden!" I was very upset. We had worked so hard that year and here someone was taking advantage.
Momma appeared unbothered which bothered me. "Are you just going to let her take our food?" I asked.
"Son," Momma began, "Are we going without?"
"No but..." I started to answer.
"Look at the woman in the garden and tell me about her," Momma said.

I looked. I was angry but I looked. The woman was older than I first realized. Her clothing was tattered. She was thin – too thin. I started to feel something and Momma knew it. "Is she going without?" Momma asked.
I was still angry. The woman was stealing. Clearly Momma didn't mind but this woman was stealing! "Momma – she is stealing!"
"Son she can't steal what is freely given," Momma said.
"She should have asked!" I said.
"So you want people to come to the door with their hat in their hand to beg before you are willing to help?" Momma asked.

Without another word Momma rose and went outside. I watched out the window as she took up a five gallon bucket and joined the too thin woman in the garden and began picking. Deeply ashamed of my selfishness in the face of my mother's kindness I too went out, took up a bucket and joined the women in our garden. We picked fifteen gallons of produce and sent it home with the woman who I'd earlier reviled.

I learned a valuable lesson in charity from my mother that day.
Ours was a large family. We didn't have many "extras" but we ate well. We ate well because we knew how to grow what we ate ourselves.
Our gardening was not an exercise in the gentlemanly hobbying of the affluent. Rather we grew what we needed because we could not afford to buy expensive produce.

I am thankful that my industrious and thoughtful parents passed on what they knew to me. Now I am working to pass these things on to my own children.
These days there are often stories in the news about genetically modified organisms in our food. These agents are put in seeds to create insecticides to kill bugs or to make plants resistant to herbicides. I don't understand how something designed to be poisonous to bugs can be healthy for people. There is a massive push back by government and Big Agriculture against grassroots movements across the U.S. to force labeling foods that contain GMOs.

If you grow your own food using heritage seeds you will know exactly what is in it.
Spring is upon us. Grow a garden. If you don't know how – ask for help, read a book, get your hands dirty, and learn.
If you do not have a yard – grow a container garden on your patio, balcony, or stoop. If you have none of these grow a window garden. Grow vegetables in a vacant lot or on the side of the road.

Pass these skills on to your children. Teach them to work. Teach them the value and dignity of work. Teach them to give to others. Teach them to grow what they eat and to eat what they grow. Tell them that real freedom comes from providing for yourself so that you are not dependent on others. Give your children memories that will bring them joy after you are gone.

In the garden I learned to work. I learned to be self sufficient. I learned to provide for myself, my family, and for those who are not able to provide for themselves. I learned to respect my parents, self respect, and respect for life. I learned to listen to my parents as the lessons that they taught came to fruition before my very eyes.

I am a gardener.

Learn more from Earl at Barking Window

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