By Sue Moore
Jerry Harrell grows vegetables in his expansive garden, just to give them away. It is his “garden of eating,” as he calls it. He estimates that his garden grows over 1,000 pounds of produce each year to give to friends and neighbors in Schoolcraft, and gives over three million seeds to people across the U.S.A. Tomatoes are his specialty, but he raises other vegetables, fruit, and flowers.
He and wife Lisa moved here from North Carolina five years ago to care for grandchildren. Since then, Harrell has been developing his garden from a flat piece of land on South Street. At the same time, the 54 year old, disabled former wine salesman (who doesn’t drink) has been perfecting his garden step by step.
First, he planted fruit trees that he bought on sale, then put in raised beds to grow vegetables more efficiently. He organized the South Street American Seed Alliance Web site, where he shares tips on gardening and gives away seeds to other gardeners. He breeds heirloom tomatoes, with almost 200 varieties raised in his garden alone. To make room for all these, he built a tomato trellis. He constructed hoop houses early on. These have since turned into a greenhouse he designed and built himself.
“My chair in the garden is my office,” he jokes. With a disability limiting him to working a few minutes at a time and then resting another few minutes, building these gardening facilities took a lot longer than it would have taken others. He keeps meticulous records in his gardening book, listing his failures and successes. He weeds a little bit every day, while picking fresh produce he displays on South Street, with a sign indicating that it is free for the taking.
“I grew up poor and know what it’s like to feed the family without much money, so I started gardening over 30 years ago, as a practicality,” Harrell explains. “I plant it and it grows. I don’t do anything special.” Still, the secret to that success he claims is the exclusive use of cow manure and brown leaves. He doesn’t plant anything in dirt, just the compost that he nurtures all year long.
Another entry epitomizes Harrell’s philosophy. “What a wonderful organization. The sheer dedication to helping people learn to grow their own food, teaching people and giving inspiration and hope where it once was lost,” says Michelle Walles Schuff’s posting on American Seed Alliance Facebook page.