She cares for her mints over here. Spices over there. Fruit trees — guava, peach, pear, banana, apple and persimmons — back over yonder. “It’s a pretty self-sufficient garden,” said Ruth West, 56, of LaGrange, Georgia. “I probably spend 1 to 2 hours every few days to weed and feed them.” It’s her personal pharmacy of sorts. Maintaining under a quarter acre garden helps West keep healthy eating at the forefront of her lifestyle. The garden also is an easier way for her to operate a small agricultural business.
“For me, gardening is therapeutic,” said the county planning and zoning tech, “but above all, it’s the healthiest way to eat.” Daily food preparation oftentimes starts in her backyard. She gathers the rest from fellow farmers of the West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative (WGFC) in her local community. West’s garden is laden with joint relaxers, stress relievers and fun snacks. With up to 25 different herbs, fruits and veggies, each bed receives the right amount of fertilizer, water and sunlight to grow natural goodies. Her backyard business bears everything from rosemary, thyme, lemon grass, pineapples, rattlesnake beans, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, figs, stevia, plums and blueberries.
And there’s more. Much more. The lifelong gardener farms with the same curiosity and vigor as her childhood days on West Indies island Montserrat: carefree. “Farming with my grandparents was freedom,” West said. “Yes, I had chores, but helping them on their farm wasn’t something forced. We enjoyed it.” Montserrat is one of 14 United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Known for its devastating past volcanic eruptions, the island only houses 5,000 residents today. The island is a mixture of volcanic debris areas; lush green landscape to the North; and mountains stretching for miles.
Her grandparents raised everything from goat, sheep and cattle to chickens and pigs on leased land. They also farmed cotton, corn and peanuts. “I followed in their footsteps for the most part,” West said. She moved to America during 1978 to live with her parents. West spent the majority of her time in the United States, relocating to various cities and towns by way of the military. The Army is how she ended up working and eventually settling in LaGrange. She’s been a resident of the Southern city for the past 15 years. An active member of the area’s grassroots collaborative WGFC, West cans peaches, pickles and okras to sell with the co-op at local Saturday morning farmer’s markets.
“Joining the West Georgia Farmer’s Cooperative gives me exposure,” said West, in her second year with the co-op. “It’s an opportunity to make money by getting my products out there through community support.” From June to November, she grows, packages, labels and markets. Some of her signature selling items: hot sauce: $5; herbal teas: $3.75; cooking spices: $2.75; creamy jams: $3 (4 ounces), $4.50 (8 ounces); and infused oils: $3.
If she’s not exercising her rural gardening and retailing skills, West is continuing to educate herself about best practices in agriculture. “I pick up a lot of helpful gardening and recipe tips from The Old Farmer’s Almanac and National Gardening Association,” she said. “There’s so much information available now. I also learn a lot from ‘Homegrown Herbs,’ which is a really good guidebook you can order on Amazon.”
West recommends beginner gardeners start small. Investing too much time and energy into a large operation makes managing it overwhelming, she said. The best thing to do: Research. Read. Repeat. “You don’t even have to have a farm to get started,” West said. “As long as you mend the soil, you can begin anywhere.”
Throughout the years, West has slowly cultivated new produce into her outdoor enterprise. It’s a process, she said. “I really take my time,” said West. In between planting and weeding, West creates fairy gardens, handmade cards and vintage-like cloth purses inside her arts and crafts studio abutting her country-style home. She attends area festivals to showcase and sell her detailed designs as well. West hopes young folk realize the importance of the arts and agriculture.
“I want more young folk to take gardening and these types of creative projects seriously,” she said. “The last thing I would want is for small farming to die out in our communities, especially through our gardens.” West plans to add a chicken coop to her rural sanctuary by 2020. “I want to raise chickens for eggs,” she said. “It’s a lot to do, but it’s worth it for me.”
Visit Ruth W Crafts on Facebook to view this Georgia gardener’s produce and artwork. For more information and purchase inquiries, call 706-415-0532.