Lessons from the farm and garden

February 18, 2018


Leslie Anne Tarabella
Yes, this my Joseph. Just yesterday, it seems.

I used to think the worst chore in the world was helping Daddy with his garden, so now, using the rule of what goes around, comes around, I’ve decided this is the year I’ll make a garden of my own.

All these years, I’ve had the tiny required Southern lady small containers of tomatoes, a few zucchini vines (a few is all you need), herbs and flowers, but this year, I’m ready to jump in and make it a real garden.

I estimate I’ll need to buy or rent a tiller to break up the hard ground, or else construct above ground beds of some sort. Seeds, plants, a compost area, water hoses, trellises, and a cute scarecrow. To transport all these things home, I told my husband I’ll probably need a truck. Nothing new or fancy, just an old vintage apple red Ford — Pinterest worthy, should do the trick. Then, I’ll need a few gardening outfits, to match the truck, of course. And on the chance Rhett examines my hands and declares I look like a field hand, I’ll need to schedule a few manicures.

My estimate is that by July, I’ll be eating a fresh, homegrown tomato that only cost me about $25 and an ear of corn that soaked up about $12 worth of materials.

Only $989? Well, maybe I’ll try to build my own.


Southerners are linked to our rural past and remember feasting on summertime suppers of fresh homegrown vegetables with a wedge of buttery cornbread. My own granddaddy was a county agent, and several of his brothers taught agriculture at universities with one being a specialist in irrigation. But even with all that farming heritage, I think the main reason I finally want a garden of my own is because I’ve noticed and have begun to admire the amazing personal qualities in every farmer or serious gardener I’ve ever met.

There’s no need for a self-help book this summer, because in addition to tasty produce, farming on a large scale or nurturing a tiny backyard plot gives us plenty of life lessons in both personal and spiritual development. Planting a garden cultivates both food and good character.

A gardener is an optimist who is trained in the art of noticing details. Awaiting the first sign of tiny green shoots pushing through the ground, they find joy in the small things. Flashy shows and noisy crowds can be fun, but gardeners also find beauty and entertainment in the clouds floating by or the sound of crunching of gravel under their tires.

Farming develops the rare and needed characteristic of patience. Waiting for seeds to sprout, and food to ripen are vivid lessons in waiting, watching and dreaming. Learning to plan ahead and anticipate problems is developed based on past successes and failures.

Those who garden understand the truth that although pruning seems severe and painful, it results in better and more beautiful fruit — both on the vine and in our lives.

Seeing the miracle of creation unfold in front of them, gardeners value the artistry and fragility of life and understand that living things require special care. When storms ravage the fields, there’s time for sorrow, but also the knowledge that new growth is always possible. “For everything there is a season” is a lesson relearned every day.

Knowing the best ways to outsmart thieving critters who want to steal the literal fruits of their labor demonstrates the protective nature of the farmer which spills over to other areas of their lives where they also protect and care for their tools, equipment, families and all things they value.

For the next few months, as I toil in the humidity and pull weeds, I’ll try to soak up the lessons growing in front of me, and if I end up spending hundreds of dollars to harvest one beautiful tomato, then I suppose the lesson I’ve learned, is that it isn’t as easy as it looks, and perhaps I should support my local farmer’s market instead. “And there’s no way you’re getting a truck” he said.


This story first appeared in the Press-Register, Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Mississippi Press. Click HERE to see it on AL.com

  • Karen Roloson says:

    I had fruit and vegetable gardens in Minnesota but have managed to kill everything I plant down here. Loved picking fresh veggies every evening for dinner, canning, freezing and pickling. Our springer spaniel, Nellie, always got the first red tomato (we planted heirlooms) and the only way to keep her out of the strawberries was to build a fence around the fruit garden. Then there were the raccoons, deer and flocks of birds who knew instantly when things were ripened to perfection. I wouldn’t change a thing though and am glad for the experience. I hope that you will have some good memories too with this year’s garden. Oh, and by the way, I had a classic bright yellow pick-up truck named “Cracklin’ Rose” but I was forbidden to haul manure in her.

    • Good deal for Cracklin’ Rose! I need to learn to can. I don’t know why I want to learn, but it just seems like a practical thing to know. Gardening certainly is different here in the humid South!

  • I did this last year. After all, I live on a 27 acre farm, you know! But it didn’t help that I didn’t come home from Fairhope until April 15 (had to do taxes.) I finally got everything planted and sat back and waited. Finally, one tomato bloom appeared. Little did I Know it would be the only one. I watched as it became a small tomato. Then the rain started…and it rained and rained. Finally my tomato grew to about two inches. Just as it started to ripen, it burst from all the rain. And that, my dear, it the story of my summer garden.

    • There was a flood of rain this past year and the year before! Everyone’s gardens were ruined. I guess that’s the gambling part of it all.

  • Sorry I’m late, thought I did comment here after I read it but got interrupted. This is just to cute Leslie Anne. Yes, they grow up so fast. My dad love to garden and I helped a little after he was older and I wish I had paid more attention to what he did. His tomatoes were absolutely gorgeous and delicious. Sadly, I do not have his green thumb. Good for you, I think gardening and producing food is an awesome hobby. I’m sure you will sharing veggies with neighbors before you know it. Tell you husband I said how cute you would look in that truck and how much you deserve it! I expect to see you drive up in it next time I’m in Fairhope…….

  • I do admire your determination Leslie Anne, I was not born with that gene that makes one want to play in the dirt…I much prefer to pick my tomatoes and corn fresh from the air conditioned local Publix! Keep calm and garden on!

  • My husband is the gardener in our family. He can never quite seem to find room in his garden for tomato plants which I’m certain has nothing to do with the fact that he does not eat tomatoes. No worries! I turn to the professionals at my local Farmers’ Market to get my tomato fix!

    • I didn’t like tomatoes very much when I was young, but I think finding the right variety helps. They are all so different! At least he takes care of the garden! What a gift!

  • I love my vegetable garden and so do the deer who wander through my backyard. I have to put up ugly deer netting, but at least I have delicious tomatoes. Can’t wait to hear about your summer garden.

    • Put on a Snow White outift and go out and feed them out of your hand and then have a little talk with them!

  • Gardening is rewarding but hard. We have decided to not plant the favorite Southern vegetable of okra this year. The deer discovered it last summer and found that they enjoyed the taste! I support the local farmers, it is hard work to grow a beautiful and tasty tomato!

    • Oh, deer!! Take consolation in thinking about that first juicy tomato sandwich of the year.

  • Ellen Shook says:

    This is one of your best posts. That is once fancy little garden corral thing! Great to see you yesterday.

    • Thanks Ellen. I can’t tell you how fabulous it was to look up and see your friendly face there in Birmingham! Such a fun, yet terrifying thing to put myself out there and hope people stopped by. You were a dear to come and made me feel loved!

  • You have made very accurate observations about farming. I can tell you have been around it. It is so funny that I tried to find everything in the world to stay out of the bean patch, but love to be in it now. There is something so rewarding about growing things. When I taught school besides being the space lady (moon and stars, not crazy) I was the tomato gardener teacher. Each student got to grow a tomato in a bucket and carry it home on the last day of school. It was one of the most rewarding things about my career.
    Now, get ready for some hard work even if it is a backyard.
    I can’t wait to see the progress.

    • What a great teacher you were! Shoving beans down into a jar filled with wet paper towels was always a favorite of mine, but to have your own tomato to take home was a fabulous idea! Back to the bean patch for you – summer draws near!

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    %d bloggers like this: