Do You Learn Before You Leap? Exploring Area Gardens

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Do you explore new things before you dive in?  Personally I’m learning about gardening, the kind one uses to actually sustain your household and others’ household fresh foods.  I’ve long appreciated that we have a food scarcity issue with children and families I’ve worked with in schools, in youth groups, and in life.  Whether it was inner city students, or barrio schools, or Northwest Arkansas, folks in our neighborhoods and community face difficulty keeping their families fed. It’s time to put my boots on and get this party started.

The pandemic has made it doubly so for many. Recently I visited Dripping Springs Garden, a beautiful garden that is about 25 years old, the land cultivated by two folks who felt the land’s call to build on it, and work they have! It is a beautiful, working and learning environment that provides so much well done food and flowers to the farmers market 3 days a week and sales food shares to continuing customers.

The garden didn’t happen by accident. It’s taken years of effort to carve it out of the Ozark wilderness and to sustain it. The house is a prize of the work invested, for it was built by the profits of the garden. A guest house also is now present, allowing for workers and learning partners to house on the farm to learn how to farm. The student workers have often come from all over the world to learn how to grow at this level. It’s truly inspiring.  The creek bringing not only refreshing water, but the joy of a cool release on a hot spring day. We were mesmerized by the beauty of the land and the water carved from the Ozark rocks.


When we came to the Redbird Cottage Farm, part of the vision was that Les deeply desires to teach skills for families to be able to raise their own food, to do skills that are quickly becoming lost in modern civilization and to be part of the conduit that encourages and educates folks on how to raise their own crops.

Now make no mistake, we’re beginners in this area too. In our eighteen years of marriage we’ve had several years of gardens, but mainly from a hobby garden standpoint.  If we were out of tomatoes we could go to the farmers market or grocery and it wasn’t a big deal. Then the pandemic came and we had a new appreciation for food grown at home.

  Les has for years grown and canned vegetables from our garden. He’s amazing that way, he grew up with parents and grandparents gardening, some professionally, and always in food sustaining ways.  My Grandparent Geddie’s made jellies and such, but most garden items were purchased like bushels of peas or flats of strawberries.  My Uncle Jake and Aunt Betty Merritt, were amazing gardeners, they lived down the road from my Grandparents and I loved the experience of picking things from their garden as a child and teenager. I learned a little more about canning from Aunt Betty and about how you could freezer bag fresh produce too.

I became an environmental activist by accident when we lived in Alabama.   The local river and our residential land was tarnished by pollution from a company that dumped PFOA and PFOS into the soil and river. We learned that those chemicals alter DNA, they cannot be expunged from the body and the locals had been unknowingly exposed for decades from a major employer in the area. The water was unsafe to drink, the gardens unsafe to grow or water. We were eating environmental poisons and it was harming us.  Talk about a wake-up call to learn sincerely about the chemicals in your food.  Before that experience, I felt like organic, chemical-free, advertising was just a way to increase the consumer market.

After a season of a liver and kidney that couldn’t process properly I understood protecting the waterways, protecting our health through clean eating is a way of life.  While there is much discrepancy about the labels of how food is handled, its important to know what chemicals are added to the soil, to the harvesting process, and to the foods once harvested. Do you know that major retailers are doing things like spraying chemicals on your food to keep them looking greener in the market? Ugh. When food is not grown close to home, there is a plethora of things that start happening from a marketing standpoint to keep the food viable longer…most of them really not good for the body or the consumer. Like these two pups, we must work together to carry the work of caring for our water and lands safely home. Les spent decades in third world countries where wars had ravaged the lands, teaching sustainability, teaching how to grow again, made all the difference. It’s important at home, we all need clean and healthy food supplies.

This year we are in a new growing area, in new soil, in a new location, and trying a new way to grow food. We’ve been studying it for several years.  An aquaponics system. A contained ecosystem that allows for us to grow the food our family needs. We’ll have above-ground gardens, too these first years, plenty of them, for we have a small farm and we’ll enjoy sharing what we can grow in a local farmers market. We’ll showcase the wares of others in our area who desire to have a farmstand with highway frontage. We know that the community has lost its retailer, and there is only one grocery store, so supporting sustainable fresh vegetables is important as is the local fruit, and winter crops. We’re all about gathering folks for harvest meals and we’ll do a fair bit of that this year to, to learn the neighbors, to encourage community and to enjoy delicious food together. We enjoyed weekend fall harvest gatherings in Alabama at our little garden and we will do it in the Ozarks of Oklahoma too.

We love a local orchard that brings to life my blueberry dreams, and they are such a joy to work with. Other artisans will join us with their cutting boards and artisan skills.  I work with entrepreneurs and families in business to teach the skills of success online. It’s been a game changer for many of our families in business during Covid. Local customers matter but many never realized that their wares would be popular items to purchase online.  With the pandemic many were willing to try for the first time.

My carrots may not always look like the ones from a store, but I can assure you they taste amazing, and will ruin you for mass produced grocery store varieties. The flavors of heirloom seeds are amazing. This week we begin the garden, we’ve brought in mushroom compost from a local mushroom farm, and we’ll amend the soil as we go.  The only way to arrive is to take the journey and so the garden begins…

Will you plant a garden this year? I love container gardening as well, Pamela Crawford has taught me so much about how to successfully produce in limited spaces and keep it pretty to boot!    I love the way she shows you with pictures and clear directions how to plant in such a way the containers are beautiful and productive. I learned of Pam when she was a presenter at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and her easy to follow directions and plentiful pictures made all the difference. I could actually mimic her beautiful plans and they turned out!

Do you love to learn? I surely love it when I can replicate an author or chef’s experience!

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  1. Oh, so much of my heart here, friend. I taught myself to can years ago and green beans, tomatoes, juice, jams and fruit are canned every year and corn placed in the freezer. A pure joy. I grow some things. I buy locally. I miss the days of u pick farms that are making a return this season. I have always had a concern even early in our locale that our water source from the Ohio River and three other rivers that run into it…along with runoff concerns being near the uranium enrichment facility here and it’s effects… are always on my mind for the quality of our food.

    1. I grew up on a river and they are so much a part of my life. Canning is a big part of our family meal plan for winter months. I am excited to learn and use new skills and revisit the ones from childhood.

  2. Sweetie, each time I read one of your posts I feel we simply must be heart sisters! You speak my language and of things dear to my heart, of things I’m about to embark on, and/or breathe inspiration into some of my “one day” plans. Years ago we had a large garden and husband’s uncle was the best mentor, but after 22 years of HOA controlled living on a small, shady lot, we feel like life-sustaining gardening is a foreign concept to be relearned. We have four small raised beds right now and I’m so very excited to start planting them so we can get back to enjoying home-grown and canned foods year round. I don’t see expansion of your level in our future, but I am already thinking I need at least two more garden boxes built! Best of luck and I will follow your progress closely!

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