Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden to Go: Teen Farmer Eschews Miley Cyrus for Seedlings

Posted By on Mon, Jul 19, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Alexandra Reau, 14, in her financially lucrative backyard garden.
  • NYT
  • Alexandra Reau, 14, in her financially lucrative backyard garden.
Statistically speaking, there's nothing all that spectacular about Michigan teen Alexandra Reau. She's 14; she lives in a rural part of Michigan on land her family farmed for generations, so she, too, knows a thing or two about working the land. She's a 4-H member who lives in an area where seniors can ride their tractors and four-wheelers on the last day of school. She raises bunnies on the side.

As the New York Times put it in a story about Alexandra: "While her peers are hanging out at Molly’s Mystic Freeze and working out the moves to that Miley Cyrus video, she's flicking potato-beetle larvae off of leaves in her V-neck T-shirt and denim capris, a barrette keeping her hair out of her demurely made-up eyes. Who says the face of American farming is a 57-year-old man with a John Deere cap?"

This is the sort of thing that a teenage me would have scoffed at. Ag classes, 4-H, country roads, dilapidated barns, quilting lessons: Been there, done that. And there was nothing more boring to me than embracing my own roots and doing what was expected of me. My solipsistic teenage mind was sure there was nothing for me within 500 square miles of what I knew. Take that, bluegrass festival on the square!

I spent my earliest memories in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Byrdstown, Tenn., where everyone has a garden in their backyard, and the idea of going to the store to buy produce is practically unheard of. But gardens need tending, and so my sisters and I were drafted to pick green beans, shuck corn and can vegetables every summer — child labor paid for with bushels of corn or cartons of blueberries to take home, something that, at the time, seemed like a royal rip-off. To me, it was indentured servitude, a country way of life best departed for the city.

Little did I know, the joke was on me.

If only I'd known Alexandra Reau, coolest teen in the universe: Not only is she into the farming she's picked up, she's good at it. She started her own CSA, called Garden to Go, out of her backyard garden, with 14 paying customers dropping nearly $200 a pop for two months of harvest that includes tomatoes, squash, beets, zucchini, kale, and more. (The tomato seeds came from her neighbor, a World War II vet who was given seeds by a German hospital guard in the war.) She got funding from a youth inventor competition she entered with her idea for Garden to Go, and her customers sing praises of her ambitions as equally as her corn.

She won the state 4-H award for horticulture, and she's now raised enough money to buy a laptop, not to mention a far more enviable reward: the sense of accomplishment that comes from embracing your heritage, working with your hands, making something grow out of the earth and seeing something all the way through to its inevitable conclusion. You can read all about her here; I'll do the weeping.

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