Young gardener nurtures herbs from garden to market

June 10, 2009

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


It''s been recorded that the ancient Greeks crowned their heroes with dill and laurel. Mint was credited by long-ago civilizations with mystical powers to neutralize the "evil eye." Yes, man''s fascination with medicinal, ornamental and aromatic herbs can be traced through the ages, surfacing in romance, religion, food, health and superstition.  


Fortunately, "evil eye" sightings are few and far between these days, so many modern-day gardeners -- like 11-year-old Emma Rose Davis, of Columbus -- grow flavorful herbs for the kitchen, where they add zest and character to our favorite dishes.  


While most rising 6th-graders are still sound asleep, Emma Rose is up at 5 a.m. each Saturday, eagerly getting ready for the Hitching Lot Farmers Market at Second Avenue and Second Street North, where she sells small, ribbon-bound bundles of fresh dill, parsley, oregano, basil, chives and fennel for the modest price of 75 cents to $1. The homegrown produce comes from the family''s inaugural back yard garden in their residential Southside neighborhood.  


"I''m getting really good business," said the Heritage Academy student. "I think a lot of people are interested in buying herbs."  


And the satisfaction of planting, tending, harvesting and getting your own produce to the public is a novel thrill for this budding entrepreneur.  


"It''s a really great feeling; it''s like you''ve accomplished something, and you feel really good about yourself," she added.  




Passing it on  


While this may be the first garden Emma Rose and her parents, Abby and Mike Davis, and brother Scott, 15, have had at their Columbus home, it''s far from the first time they''ve gotten their hands in the soil.  


"I sort of grew up picking vegetables in my grandfather''s garden," shared the young cultivator.  


It was granddad Bilbo Davis -- or "Papa" (pronounced "Pa-paw") -- who brought his tractor to town from Caledonia to till the plot for his son''s family.  


"My mom has wanted a garden for a long time," Emma Rose said. "She came home from a meeting one day, and my Papa had tilled up a big thing of dirt in our back yard. He surprised her." 


For Abby, growing up in rural Looxahoma, near Senatobia, produce gardens were a way of life. Her own family''s efforts produced "the biggest squash in the county one summer -- it was in the paper," she laughed. 


"We really lived in the country, and my grandmother had a huge garden; she fed us and everybody else," said Abby, who once helped start a local farmers market while living in Acworth, Ga. "And Mike''s daddy has fed us all summer long for as long as I can remember with his garden. He''s taught the kids how to shell peas, pick green beans, put up squash -- we just love the summertime." 


That appreciation for "growing your own" has been passed on to Emma Rose, who helps tend the cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, sweet peas, squash and strawberries the family planted this season, in addition to the herbs.  




Mmm, Mmm good 


"You can definitely tell the difference in the cucumbers from the store and the cucumbers from the back yard," Emma Rose said, praising the home version. "It''s a lot more fresh, and we''re saving a lot of money." 


In a clear example of farmers'' market freshness, when a local downtown restaurant purchased some of the Davis'' produce, Abby observed, "It''s kind of funny, the food is not moving more than three blocks from where it was grown." 


The family garden is paying off in the kitchen, too.  


"I''ve really been interested in cooking, and I like to cook with the herbs -- especially my pasta salad with chives and dill," said Emma Rose, who looks forward to attending Mississippi University for Women''s Culinary Camp for Kids next week.  


At the Davis house, the watering, weeding and early mornings are all worth it, according to one of the farmers'' market''s youngest vendors.  


"I think it''s fun, and it''s a good bonding time for my mom and me," Emma Rose shared. "We really enjoy it, and I''m learning things I feel like I can use for the rest of my life." 


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.