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Gardening: a way to teach life lessons

SARALAND, Ala. (BP)–Lots of people cry around onions, but for Steve Tierce, it’s okra that gets him a little choked up.

As well as squash, tomatoes and eggplant.

“It’s all special to me because of my dad,” Tierce said, wiping away a few tears. “I helped him when I was a kid. Then he helped me with my farm, and now I help him with his again. He taught me everything I know about gardening.”

And his father, Russell Tierce — a retired Baptist pastor — taught him a lot about the Lord through gardening, too.

“He would plant vegetables in the garden and then he would pray, ‘Lord, I’ve done my part. Please give us the increase now,'” said Tierce, pastor of rural Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church near Spring Garden, Ala. “He taught us to appreciate the increase as being from the Lord.”

Tierce remembers how that “increase” panned out, when he would sit with his father on warm nights snapping and shelling peas and then eat the wonderful result, homemade vegetable soup, for up to a week sometimes.

“Dad taught us to always be thankful for what we have,” Tierce said. “And we were.”

It’s a lesson not lost on Tierce’s children and grandchildren. As his house sits just behind his father’s, Tierce’s daughter’s family lives just behind him and thrives on peas and okra just as he did and still does.

In addition to sharing the veggies, Tierce is taking advantage of the opportunity to pass the lessons on.

“One evening … my 4-year-old granddaughter helped me put the fertilizer around the okra and my 7-year-old grandson helped me hoe it,” Tierce said.

“We enjoy it. We have a lot of fun with it, and I get to teach them something, too. It means a lot to us.”

Roy Horn knows the feeling.

Horn believes a day well spent is one spent working with the land, watching squash, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and green beans come up in spades.

And to him, a life well spent is teaching his children the rich taste of homegrown food, the prudence of putting up vegetables for the days to come and the pleasure of giving away the extra.

He’s always been that way, daughter Judy Kinard said. “I can’t remember a time he didn’t garden. He grew up in the Great Depression and he didn’t have a lot. He lived off the land — if you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat.”

Her whole life, her dad has passed on to her the value of a hard days’ work, not to mention the importance of sharing with the neighbors, said Kinard, a member of Bayou Sara Baptist Church in Saraland, Ala., which Horn also attends.

She remembers keeping up her part of an assembly line each June, shucking and cutting corn off the cob.

“We didn’t mind the work. We learned really quickly from him that we would appreciate it when wintertime came,” Kinard said. “And we learned to appreciate fresh food. Nothing tastes sweeter than something that comes from a garden.”

Nothing sweeter, that is, unless it’s a father’s love, but then again, Horn has demonstrated that through the garden, too, she said.

“He grows a row of sunflowers each year just for me,” Kinard said, explaining that she likes to eat the seeds they produce. “He started growing the flowers for my mother. She passed away seven years ago, and now he plants them for me.”

Mature Living, a magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources, carries a regular column on gardening, often describing how gardening can build strong bonds with children while having fun outside rather than at the computer or in front of the television.

“Use this time to encourage a healthy respect for the beautiful world that God created,” one article suggests, noting that gardening also offers the opportunity to teach them life lessons, such as patience, the rewards of labor and commitment.

Joe Staggs, a member of First Baptist Church, Cloverdale, in Florence, Ala., can attest to the truth of that idea.

“My wife and I have four sons and a daughter. I gardened with the children from the time they were little,” Staggs recounted. His daughter loved it so much that she and her family stayed on the family farm, helping gather and freeze vegetables each year until she died tragically in a car accident.

“Her daughter Kadi lives with us now … and she has never forgotten her [mother’s] love for us or for gardening,” Staggs said. “Kadi is following her mother and still loves to help in the garden and plant flowers.”

And she’s an active member of First Baptist, Cloverdale, too.

“I feel the life on the farm and in the garden and our influence, as well as her mother’s, has made her the Christian girl she is today,” Staggs said.
This article first appeared in The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.thealabamabaptist.org. Grace Thornton is the paper’s assistant editor.