“A man can raise just about everything he put’s in his mouth, if he will just do it.” 

The late John Montgomery, a long-time Houston resident, uttered those words to me nearly 30 years ago and it still stands true today.

I have been pondering much on that statement lately with the recent scare of COVID-19, coupled with certain food shortages and rumors of more to come. Growing a garden, although hard work, can be very enjoyable and provide a huge savings to the pocket book. And a nice size garden can provide enough produce to share with the elderly and people who are not physically capable. 

As many know, there are certain plants to be grown that can provide good nutrition for the family even through the winter months. Various winter squashes store well inside the home, as does an all-time Ozark favorite, the sweet potato.

Long time friend and fellow gardener, Rob Haney, tells me of his grandfather, the late A.J. Haney, owner of Haney Grocery & Market in Houston.  Mr. Haney would start his sweet potato slips in warm moist sand, and sell them in bunches of 100 for $1.

My wife’s late aunt, Jennie Campbell, used to save her seed from her garden to be used the following year. A recent discovery of some bean seeds she had saved from 30 years ago resulted in a bountiful crop of shell beans last summer.  Gleaning from resourceful folks like John, A.J. and Aunt Jennie, who are long since gone, reveals there is indeed much to be learned from the wisdom of the past. In the winter months, I can spend hours scouring through the Houston Herald archives in search of helpful information, or just reminders of times long ago. Being a self-taught hillbilly historian, I reckon it’s those old times I enjoy reading so much about that has created such a passion in me for clinging to the old ways. 

One such instance would be using a horse in the garden and in the woods. For anyone who has donkey, mule, horse or pony, I would strongly recommend reviving this lost art. Art, you might ask? Yes! And the first time you head down a furrow behind a horse, and it ends up being a series of figure eights, you will understand my label – a lost art.

Yet once mastered, there is hardly anything that will compare to the sound of a double shovel sliding through the soil, the nicker of a horse and the soft jingle of trace chains, and all without the deafening roar or smell of a gas-powered engine.  For those who would scoff at the thought, consider what would happen if gasoline ever becomes as scarce as a roll of toilet paper. A donkey or pony beats a pick in hand any day, can easily pull a double shovel and survive and thrive off of a very small amount of grass (generally 2 to 3 acres). It’s hard to beat that kind of fuel mileage. There is a quilting book (yes, a quilting book) called “The Farmers Wife Pony Club.” In the book, there are dozens of stories from 1915, which reveal the important role the Shetland Pony played on American farms. Amazing, true stories of difficult times and how intelligent, tough and frugal the pony proved to be.

John Montgomery

John Montgomery depicted in the Houston Herald in August 1986.

In saying that, I know I’m not alone in the belief that there are hard times in store for us as a nation. Although we here in the Ozarks are often made fun of as redneck and backwoods, the truth is we have a heritage of being a resourceful and hardy people during difficult times.

That is my purpose of this letter; to encourage you, the reader, to slow down and think. To think about those who were here before us and how they lived, and more importantly, to stand and point to God above, and the garden below. 

Whether that involves horse power or not is beside the point, and as I recall John Montgomery’s words, I consider that maybe it’s long overdue that we look to the past to help guide us forward. 

“Thus saith the Lord; Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

If you have any gardening tips or “old time” memories that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you and can be reached at ozarksoldtimer@gmail.com.  

Thank you, Michael E. Jones  

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