Many times when I look at different organizations and what they stand for, I wonder if those in charge actually “practice what they preach.” I have been involved in agriculture my whole life, having grown up on a farm. I have grown a garden most of my life and have used many of the practices considered to be part of sustainable agriculture.
Looking back, I realize I was not involved in gardening for only the first four years of my life, and even then, my grandparents had gardens. When my parents decided to start a garden, it was large from the start, right at 17,400 square feet, or about four-tenths of an acre.
I started making compost for the family garden when I was in high school. My dad experimented with sowing a cover crop of turnips for the garden in the fall. We spread wood ashes over the garden from our wood stove.
We didn’t grow for fun, but to can vegetables for the winter and fresh vegetables for the summer. Over 1/3 of the garden was planted to Irish potatoes each year. My job was to hill, mulch and water the potatoes. In late summer/early fall we would dig the potatoes with a one bottom horse plow pulled behind an 8-N Ford tractor. In order to grow enough potatoes, we went in on a separate “truck patch” of potatoes with my grandparents and uncle.
Our garden would not meet organic certification standards, but the only thing we used for insect control was Sevin dust. Livestock manure was applied in the fall and lime if needed based on soil tests.
I don’t consider myself to be an expert gardener, but for me, growing vegetables to eat was part of my youth and has continued into my adult years. Over time, I incorporated compost and cover cropping as a yearly part of my production system.
I have never grown vegetables to sell, but I am still aware of what it takes to grow a garden. So when I talk about gardening, vegetable production and sustainable practices, I speak from a lifetime of experience.
There is still a lot I don’t know, but learning new things is still fun. I hope I never have to stop growing vegetables and gardening. So when I talk about vegetable production, I try to “practice what I preach.”
– David Redhage
President, Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture