Friday, October 22, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/21/10)

Renee Henry’s odyssey as a gardener began with her taste buds. Since her parents are foodies, she began her gustatory journey with a developed sense of haute cuisine, far beyond the average adolescent’s addiction to fast food’s “burgers and fries.” She knew what good food tasted like which eventually led her to home-grown vegetables.

Her parents, though gourmets, weren’t gardeners, save for a few herbs on the kitchen window sill. It took a move to Flagstaff and NAU where she began to connect with nature. She grew up in concrete and asphalt Phoenix where it’s easy to disconnect. She had tucked away in her heart a feel for the great outdoors, stemming from her happy memories of summers spent at a relative’s ranch in Gunnison, Colorado.

At NAU, she met the love of her life, Mick Henry, a forestry student at NAU, a man who had connected with nature as a youth in the small town of Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia. Mudgee’s an Aboriginal word meaning “nest in the hills.” She was in a place that reminded her of some of her happiest times as a child with a man who loved what she loved, a life connected to the soil, the flora of the land, big skies, and fresh air.

One of the catalysts that actually prompted her to start growing vegetables was the menu at the New Jersey Pizza Company which encourages parents to grow fresh vegetables to benefit their children. If God can inscribe the divine Word on tablets of stone, there is no reason to believe that a menu at a pizza joint won’t do, also. It’s always wise to keep on the lookout for the next inscription.

After they “got the message,” since their house in perched on a steep, precipitous slope, Mick and Renee began terracing. Starting at the top, they cleared away boulders and installed compost. As they did this, they also installed a sophisticated system for collecting rainwater to irrigate their terraced garden. The first and highest terrace is well-above the roofline of the house, accessed by a narrow path up the hill. Below it is a large plateau at floor level. After that there are several narrow terraces on a steep decline down to the street. Each of the terraces is planted with various vegetables, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and carrots amongst others.

Their garden became so prolific that their two sons, Ethan, aged 9, and Kyle, aged 7, wanted to sell the surplus produce at the Wednesday Flagstaff Community Market. They asked City Councilman Art Babbott, guru in chief of the market, if their sons could sell some vegetables there. He happily agreed, and, presto, Ethan and Kyle became independent entrepreneurs. Renee says they never have surplus raspberries. Her independent entrepreneurs eat them all at the vine.

Renee points out that one of the beneficial aspects of home-grown food is educational. Her boys know where food comes from. They are not disconnected from their origins. Along with a wider knowledge of food, they also have discovered just how sweet is a carrot recently pulled from the earth. Home-grown and locally grown taste best.

Something more profound also took place with Mick and Renee. The closer they grew to the earth, the deeper grew their spiritual experience. As they pointed out, the experience of burgeoning life and the goodness of the fruits of the earth lead a person to the spirituality of the soil. There is no disconnect. As Renee said, “Gardening evolved into a spiritual experience.” Significantly involved in the life of the Federated Church, Mick works with the church group, Christians for the Earth.

Scattered throughout the plateau are huge, recently milled timbers and immense logs which Mick has gathered from his work as an arborist. Making sure not to shade the gardens, he plans to build a tree house halfway up the bank so that they may not only dig deeper but also see farther.

If people savor fine cuisine, they’ll want to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs the better to please their palate and satisfy their souls.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Photographs courtesy of Renee Henry

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