Appalachian Women Gardeners Add Wealth to Personal Finances

This is a story of three women vegetable gardeners in Appalachia and how they use their resources to add income in their homes. These women live in and around Scott and Morgan County Tennessee. These counties are about eighty miles or so from Knoxville, Tennessee. I encountered two of these women when visiting family and visiting with health ministry in the Appalachian areas of these Tennessee counties. The third one, Alma Storie, was from memory and was my grandmother.

The wisdom from these three women gardeners is one of those blessings I receive that have been passed down from many generations.

An 84 year old woman who I will call ‘Flower’ is one such wise woman. She is named after a flower so this is the name given to her in this story. She has planted a garden since she was a child. She has had knee replacements and continues to garden if at all possible. Not long after her surgery I witnessed her cleaning off her land and down the sides of the land that went to the road from her house. I couldn’t believe it! She was supposed to be recovering from surgery. Instead, she was getting her allowed exercise by cleaning debris from her land. When Flower is able healthwise, she will plant a garden and eat from the fresh vegetables in the summer. There will be no additives or preservatives in this food. Today, we would call this type of eating organic. She calls it clean natural food.

For years Flower preserved food in jars and would dry vegetables and preserve what else she could salvage. The family will eat on this food all winter until next spring, thus, a table of plenty exists in this house. Flower knows the value of a bean seed. She knows if the weather holds well that this one bean seed will produce many pints or quarts of canned beans for the winter. Flower holds her head high as she sees to the needs of her household. Flower knows every kind of plant on her 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, she says, ” A Kudgy vine will take over a needed crop of plants.” She will have it cut down. In the South where this vine grows heartily baskets can be made from their vines.

Flower has many walnut trees that she uses the nuts for candy and cakes. Through the years the squirrels have buried the walnuts and these same walnut seeds have now become walnut trees. Flower lets the walnut trees grow as neighbors can gather the extra walnuts for their breads and pastries.

Flower lives on a meager retirement from her deceased husband. In the 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 be able to provide for her family in such a manner if not for the garden. When she eats off the preserved food in the winter months it reduces her monthly grocery budget that may save her a fourth of her retirement every month. For example, if she receives eight hundred dollars a month on retirement benefits and can save a fourth of that amount in the winter months from November to May in the coming year she has saved $1,400 dollars from that previous years’ crop of food.

Another lady named Wanda that lives in Morgan County Tennessee also sees the importance of a garden.
Wanda and I had a conversation lately and she said that her garden was very valuable to her. Here is a bit of that conversation.

“That garden will save me about three hundred dollars in the late summer month by eating off the fresh produce. In the winter months I can save about nine hundred dollars from that food. That means a lot when your on a fixed income.”

Wanda continues about the value of her garden..”I had surgery once and still had the cast on. I put a plastic bag around my leg to keep the cast clean and worked in my garden. I had to do this so the crop would grow with the season.”

Wanda is now teaching a thirty year old new neighbor woman how to grow a garden. Observing Wanda and her gardening helped me better understand the value of stewardship. The third woman named Alma lived in Scott County Tennessee. Her home was on a high ridge that was close to the Clear Fork River. This is an area that is close to the Big South Fork Preservation Park running through parts of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Alma planted large gardens and a field full of corn. When Alma started drawing Social Security she received 65 dollars a month. Now I admit that was about twenty years ago but her story still has significance today.

I knew this woman very well. She was my grandmother, Alma Jones Storie. Grandma taught me the wealth of what a garden could produce. She had not worked out in public but worked very hard in her home and on her land. Grandma would plant that garden and by the end of the summer she had a basement full of food and dried vegetables throughout that cellar.

She would save the seeds from the past garden and show us the seeds and tell us to remember what could grow from those seeds. I still think of those large gardens and the basement/cellar full of food. When grandma passed away, she had a basement full of food, a smart bank account, and owed no one any debt. From childhood memory I can remember grandma putting a seed into the ground and a few months later that same bean seed would be a large bunch of beans on that bush. She would later preserve those beans by cooking them and putting them in jars.

About every week grandma would use a hoe or her hands and pull away any weeds that were growing close to the beans or any other vegetable plant. If rain didn’t come she would draw water from her well and water the plants. I still remember how big that garden was from a few bunch of seeds. I still remember those summer and late fall dinners she would place on the table that came from the garden. She didn’t need to use her meager Social Security money for the food on that table but instead, served the meal with a smile.

My husband and I are planning on planting a garden in our backyard this summer. We will keep record of our grocery bills and see for ourselves how much a city backyard garden will yield for us.