By Alexe van Beuren
Ten years ago, Gladne Harris lived in a Louisiana subdivision with her three children and her husband. And then they took a vacation.
“We spent 11 days traveling to Washington D.C.,” she recalls as we sit on her screened-in porch. “We stayed with family on our way there – and all of them have farms.”
After the vacation, they pulled up to their home and didn’t want to get out of the car. Since Gladne hails from farming stock – her great-grandfather sold produce in the French Quarter – and her husband grew up as a Tennessee country boy, their decision to leave behind the small yard of their subdivision house came easily.
Ten years later, the Harrises live on 22 acres a few miles from downtown Water Valley.
“We moved here without knowing anything about the community,” Gladne says. “I think God just packed us up and put us over here, that’s my only explanation on how we came to Water Valley, and how good it’s been.”
Their property boasts two ponds, a barn, baby ducks, and extensive gardens – all of which Gladne manages organically.
“We have plans to expand once David retires,” she says apologetically. “I’d like to be able to grow all our own food.” But for now, Gladne tends the fruit trees, blueberry bushes and vegetables herself without using any pesticides at all.
“People tell me you can’t grow pumpkins without spraying,” she says, holding up the unblemished pumpkin she brought inside to show me. “But I do.”
When we walk through her gardens, Gladne points out the heirloom tomatoes – which are open-pollinated, non-genetically-modified varieties with names like Mortgage Lifter, Green Zebra, and Big Rainbow. Her plants are untamed but vigorous, with no sign of disease. Gladne attributes their healthiness to the homemade compost and her soil.
“Each year it gets better and better,” she says. “At the Master Gardner’s class [of Lafayette County], they call me the Dirt Lady.” Gladne is a charter member of the Master Gardeners, and recently taught a class about compost tea; “it’s the organic version of Miracle Gro,” she tells me.
We pass white pumpkins as well as regular orange ones, pineapple sage and horseradish given to Gladne by an Ozarks herbalist, an asparagus bed, white pittypat squash, Egyptian walking onions, as well as multitudes of bell peppers, peas, corn, okra, and an endless number of tomatoes. She points out the plants’ vigor over and over again – and indeed, none of her leaves are bitten and her squash shows no sign of the gray bugs I battle in my own garden.
We walk over to the pond to coax the ducks – who roam at will – over to us so that I can see the babies. Gladne tells me that these are Muscovys, the third generation to live on her farm; she keeps them to deter snakes and eat bugs. From the look of her gardens, it’s working.
When she first began growing produce, Gladne approached local restaurants and grocery stores to see if they would use or sell her herbs, garlic, and onions.
“They weren’t interested,” she tells me, and so for the last three years, Gladne has been a member of the Midtown Farmer’s Market in Oxford. This summer, she’ll be selling at the new Water Valley Farmer’s Market.
“The whole point,” she tells me, “is to give local farmers a chance.”
(Editor’s Note: If you know someone who would like to be featured in Talk Of The Valley, e-mail Alexe at email@example.com.)