Doing the “Heart” Work

A woman smiling and holding a planter full of lettuce. A woman giving a man a jar of food. A girl holding a bowl of pecans. A mural that lists Buy Local Produce.
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Sharing the Bounty

Master Gardener gives back through gardening, food

Story by Susan Collins-Smith • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Susie Harmon laughs when she relates her granddaughter’s observation of her favorite pastime.

 “She tells me all the time, ‘That’s all you do—dig in the dirt,’” Harmon chuckles.

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But, Harmon explains, gardening and canning are her passions. She’s been doing both since she was a child, working alongside her grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins on the family farm in Starkville. She, her 11 siblings, and her cousins still own and work the farm—each one with their own enterprise.

Although Harmon has lived and worked in Tupelo for more than three decades, she has grown a summer and fall garden on the family property in Oktibbeha County every year. She sells some of the produce and canned goods at the Farmers’ Depot in Tupelo, but a lot of it she gives away—a value instilled in childhood.

“On Sundays, I do a food ministry,” says Harmon, a retired Tupelo Public School District social worker. “I deliver to some people who are sick or shut-in, and other people come by and pick it up. I also deliver to some of the homeless people in town. As I meet different people, they let me know who needs help.”

Many times, that is a hot meal, but sometimes it’s other needs, including working in someone’s garden. Harmon said she is always looking for ways to give. Enrolling in the Master Gardener volunteer program 13 years ago helped her learn more about her favorite way to minister to people’s needs: gardening.

“My neighbor told me about it because she thought I would be interested in it,” Harmon says. “I know how to grow things, but there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know about gardening. I learned more about the science of it—plants, soil pH, grafting, propagating, and planting seeds.”

The Mississippi State University Extension Service trains Master Gardener volunteers to help educate their communities about horticulture topics based on university research and recommendations.

Susan McGukin, Extension program associate and Lee County Master Gardener coordinator, says the program has something to offer gardeners of all levels.

“Although Susie had a wealth of gardening knowledge prior to taking the course, she wanted to expand on that knowledge and be able to assist others,” McGukin explains. “By being involved in the program, she has had the opportunity to meet university experts, learn about new vegetable cultivars that do well in our area, and make connections she can contact if she has a question.”

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