By Melissa Powell
Early in my career as a dietitian, it became apparent that I knew a lot about the science of food but not much about where it came from.
I began to feel like an astrophysicist who forgot to take astronomy or a neurosurgeon who never took anatomy. I felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing, so I decided to befriend farmers and take up gardening.
I spent a summer volunteering at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga. I worked in the fields and listened to the farmers throughout the growing season.
At home, my husband and I prepared a small raised bed and planted a handful of vegetables and herbs. I started reading Joel Salatin, Wendall Berry and the Grumpy Gardener. But come August, I had a wealth of knowledge and no harvest.
In our eagerness to plant, we miscalculated the foliage growth from the canopy of trees that resulted in little to no sunlight over the garden.
The following year, we were in a new city and a rental house, so I purchased two containers and two tomato plants. We ate plump, juicy sliced tomatoes, BLTs and tomato pie through September! The next two springs were spent growing a family, so I took a break from gardening.
Since returning to Chattanooga last summer, I’ve rekindled my friendship with wonderful local farmers, prepared a bed in our front yard—where there are no trees and eight hours of full sun—and enjoyed lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, peppers and eggplant. We had marigolds in vases throughout the house, and I’ve even learned to make pesto and pickles.
This year, I added okra and mint, bought my 5-year-old son a garden set for Easter and joined a meat buying club to receive our pork, chicken and eggs from a local farmer.
I’ve extended my farming friendships to a 100-mile radius and already sent a down payment for our Thanksgiving turkey. It’s being raised on a beautiful farm in Mentone, Alabama, by four loving farmers and their dog, Petra.
I have to admit that my squash did die. But an older, wiser farmer from Ohatchee, Alabama, encouraged me to press on and sent me home with some helpful tips and plenty of blueberries and squash from his own crop.
Gardening has been holy ground for me. It’s reminded me of the seasons of life. That growth often happens despite my failings. And that the Earth and her people are gifts to be cherished.
These lessons have made me a better mother and dietitian, and I hope to pass them down to my son and students.
Melissa Powell Contact
Melissa is a registered dietitian and dietetics lecturer in the Health and Human Performance Department at UT Chattanooga. She and her husband, Chris, are the proud parents of a playful son, Craig. She enjoys time with her church family, taming her lab mutts–Mabel and Moses—wine with neighbors and traveling south for a beach vacation or visit with her nieces. Her favorite subjects are faith, food, farming, family, friends and football. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Samford University and a master’s degree in health education from UT Chattanooga.