Fighting Poverty with Passion
Living and Growing in the South
I took the opportunity, sometime last April, to weed out a small plot of land in my very un-fancy backyard in Mid-City. It was a long rectangle, maybe two feet by eight, and it was a nice day, so I didn’t mind that it took almost three hours to get every last unwanted plant out of it. I had a big plan for this plot. In an attempt to make another stronghold in my new Southern ways, in addition to my fleur de lis necklace, my vintage cruiser, using “y’all” and “”baby” whenever necessary, I was going to grow watermelon.
I’ve lived in New Orleans the past three years but until that point I was a die hard Michigan-er. We ate our blueberries in the summer right off the bushes at the all-you-can-pick’s and apples in the fall right off the tree when we would go to the cider mill, but I can’t say I ever saw a single watermelon that wasn’t already in a giant cardboard box, perfectly shaped and “SEEDLESS!” on sale at Meijers.
I meticulously placed my watermelon seeds, paying attention to the white packet that said the plants needed at least two feet of room. I watered and waited…but nothing was happening. Lucky for me, I work at Hollygrove Market & Farm where a slew of farmers, community gardeners, and people that just know their produce hang out. I asked our Farm Manager for some troubleshooting advice and his only reply was “you planted too soon”.
What?! How could that be? I thought all you needed was some warm weather and Southern hospitality. I weeded everyday! I gave them nutrients! Was it because of my northern heritage? Confused and defeated, I gazed out over my barren 16 square feet of land and decided I would pick up some rosemary starts. That stuff will grow anywhere.
But low and behold, those little guys shot up along with the thermometer. Pretty soon there were dozens of little seedlings and my mouth began to water in anticipation of summer days with a slice of my success.
What happened next was my own fault. I should have prepared better, thought ahead. But instead I made all the other arrangements like getting charcoal and plenty of ice, instead of putting up a little chicken wire. Five hours, and one backyard bbq, left a trampled field of what was supposed to be my summer crop! The emotional rollercoaster this endeavor was taking me on was almost too much…
Then one day, my faith in the South skyrocketed when one little seedling managed to survive the friendly stampede and took up the entire makeshift garden in a matter of days. Its tendrils reached out into the yard and bees happily buzzed in and out. Slowly, one little yellow flower turned into a green bulge and that green bulge began to turn into a tiny watermelon. My roommate, also from my hometown up north, and I watched with childlike wonder at the speed it gained girth. And then a second watermelon! It was a miracle.
We let them grow. We shielded them with bricks, turned them with loving care and hypothesized when was the best time to pick them. Then, one big rain answered that for us. After a torrential downpour one of the watermelons swelled too fast and split open in a brilliant display of pink flesh. The other was cut off the vine immediately.
Of course, it was the best watermelon I have ever tasted. The kitchen smelled like bubble gum for hours and the counters are still sticky from all the juice that poured out of it. What took months to grow was devoured in a matter of hours. And although our success was small in numbers, it was another step in truly appreciating what it means to live and grow in the South.
– Megan Nuismer, Tulane AmeriCorps VISTA @ Hollygrove Market and Farm