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Garden becomes family tradition

January 24, 2009|By SARAH THOMSON / The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Cold winds and bare trees mean winter has arrived, but some families are already thinking about hot summer months and the bounty of fresh vegetables to pick from the garden.

Harry Vice of Hartselle has been gardening since he can remember, digging in the dirt with his grandmothers and mother and bringing in crops from the backyard. Now he has two garden plots that yield an abundance of vegetables in the summer to last through the winter until the next growing season.

He and his wife, Pam, have two stocked freezers full of food, and his mother and father have two freezers bursting with vegetables.

But for Vice, gardening is about more than fresh tomatoes - it's a way to connect to his family's history and pass it down to his own children.

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Early in his life, Vice learned the basics of caring for plants and the right time to sow a seed. But he counts the stories his grandmothers would tell around the table, shelling peas or cleaning corn, as his most important education.

"My grandmothers invested a lot in me with their faith and helping spirit," he said. "I spent more time than most people with grandmothers because of gardening. I loved listening to my grandmothers' stories about their growing up times."

He remembered his grandmothers, clad in bonnets to protect them from the Southern sun, planting fruit trees and crops.

The gardens yielded enough to feed several families out of just one backyard, he said.

His grandmother Vice gardened close to age 90, he said, and his granny Pridmore gardened into her 80s.

"They were blessed," he said. "They looked forward to gardening. They lived for it, being able to plant."

However, the Vices say their working lifestyle might not be for everyone.

"If it was just food for the table, we're better off economically to just buy it from the store," said Harry. "But we can work in the garden together as a family, across generations."

Pam married into her gardening family, and leaves most of the hard labor to her husband and sons. She joins her in-laws and children come harvest time and said she enjoyed spending time with her family out in the garden, just talking.

"It's not mentally challenging to pick peas, so we talk," she said.

Vice took his grandmothers' lessons and instilled them into his children. His two sons help him with the garden each year.

"They're learning good stewardship," he said. "They're learning principles about sowing and reaping. You plant a seed and make a profit, so that's basic economics."

At the beginning of the year, Vice asks his wife and mother what vegetables they want to plant. If they had a small crop of squash last year, for example, they may plant more this year.

The Vice family plants a variety of crops including corn, squash, cucumbers, green beans, peas, tomatoes and butterbeans. Their two garden plots are 150 feet by 100 feet, giving the Vices hundreds of vegetables.

They usually plant more vegetables than they can eat, however, so his sons sell the extra sweet corn on the side of the road, and the family gives away fresh produce like cucumbers or squash to friends at church.

Vice also carries on the family tradition with his 3-year-old granddaughter. He already asked her if she would help with the garden this year.

"We had a bucket of pecans and she was planting them in the backyard," said Pam.

Ken Creel, a regional Extension agent for Limestone, Madison and Morgan counties, said he thinks more families should get involved with gardening like the Vices.

Families can have an opportunity to spend time together and teach their children basic natural science.

Creel said when he works with children with the Extension office, he enjoys seeing the children excited about growing.

He said many children don't realize where food comes from, and gardening is an excellent way to show them how vegetables come from the ground to the table.

"It's a way for families to get together and do things," he said. "We tend to get involved with our own things, and the kids have their video games. Gardening is a great way for kids to get outside and for parents and children to bond."

Creel said the benefits of gardening balance the time and money spent working the soil and crops.

"One benefit is exercise," he said. "Another is you know exactly what was put on the vegetables, so that makes people feel more at ease."

Pam and Harry agreed.

Pam said one of the best things about gardening is she knows where and how her food was grown, and Harry added that he knows what chemicals treated the vegetables.

The Vices have also acquired a taste for fresh vegetables. Pam said she's come to appreciate the flavor of fresh vegetables.

Harry said he could hardly eat a tomato from the grocery store.

"Oh, and corn - I don't understand why people buy corn in the grocery store," said Pam. "There's a saying among gardeners that you don't pick the corn until the water's boiling."

Both Pam and Harry said they might save a little money on groceries with the garden, but they spend too much time outside for it to be cost-effective.

However, both said they couldn't put a price on the time they spend as a family and the abundance of fresh, locally grown vegetables that come to the table each summer day.

Creel said many people might try and grow their own vegetables in this economy, but he doesn't think that will save much money.

"You have to put in the time to produce," he said. "Gardening may be a stress reliever, but if you're growing because you have to, and you don't get anything, that may produce more stress."

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