Enriching the lives of many with fruits of the garden

Published 12:09 am Saturday, September 26, 2015


By Mark Schmerling


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Beginning at age five, Jessie Mae Jennings, originally from Oak Grove, now of Landrum, has raised her own produce.


Ninety-three years later, she’s still raising vegetables, as well as fruit and chickens, and selling much of what she produces. She’s rightly proud of the self-reliance that allows her to eat well from her own labor.


This year’s crops include tomatoes, corn, beans, okra, watermelons, butternut squash and cucumbers


“I’ve done it all my life,” Jennings reflected on gardening which she’s done since she was five years old.”


From toddler age, until she was married to Ellis Jennings, Jessie Mae lived on a farm her father carved out of land near Gowensville.


“I was three years old when Daddy bought that farm,” she said. She remembers her father clearing land, and building a two-story house.


“My momma used to raise vegetables and sell them. That’s all I’ve ever done, raise vegetables and sell them.” She also raised cows, pigs and chickens.


“I know how to survive, I reckon.” She’s been able to earn considerable income from her labor.


“I made more money on that than he did on cars,” she said, referring to her husband who owned a car-repair business.


“You’ve really got to know how to do a lot of this,” she insisted. “You’ve got to have a gift. He (Ellis) worked all the time, but he couldn’t sell nothing. “Ellis had also grown up on a farm. He knew how to plow,” she said.


Jessie Mae and Ellis lived on nearby Bird Mountain for scores of years, and were married for over 70 years, before Ellis passed away at 95, an age at which he predicted he would die.


Following his passing, Jessie Mae moved to her present home on Redland Road, just East of Landrum, about five years ago.


“I built this house with garden money,” she announced proudly.


Her daughter, who owns land along Redland Road, wanted her mother to live there, so she wouldn’t be alone on Bird Mountain. Jessie Mae’s garden occupies about one acre.


“I’m 98 years old now. I always liked to can things,” she noted, and has canned large amounts of fruit and vegetables. Even now, she raises some 20 chickens for eggs.


“I used to raise hundreds of chickens for meat as well and put them in the freezer. I like my own eggs,” she announced with pride. I don’t like store bought eggs . . . I know what I feed them (the chickens).”


In her much younger days, “I hauled cotton for 40 cents a day. I lived through the Depression, got married in it.”


She’s especially proud that she and Ellis were hard workers who saved as much of their money as possible. She said that living through the Depression taught her to “know what a penny meant.”


As a girl, she rose early to milk cows and wash dishes.


“We had to get up early, and do all that kind of work to meet the school bus by eight o’clock.”


On Bird Mountain, Jessie Mae operated a produce stand under a tree outside their home. When she was unable to attend it, she used an honor system for those buying produce.


Jessie Mae recounted that many years ago, her family, like many others at the time, raised molasses cane, and produced considerable quantities of molasses for sweetening their own food.


“Back then, you had to raise what you ate,” she related, adding that in this area, large supermarkets hardly existed, and small local stores did not offer a large food selection.


All of her produce, Jennings noted, is organic.


“I sell my stuff way cheaper than the store, she said, acknowledging, “People have to come here and get it.”


How long Jessie Mae Jennings will continue to produce and sell food grown with integrity is uncertain.


Uncertain rainfall and rising expenses are factors. Still, she’s able to sell what she doesn’t need.”


In addition, she admitted, “I can’t walk worth a dime. I don’t feel bad or hurt. I just can’t get around like I used to.”


Regardless, her labor has enriched the lives of many nearby residents. If she’d like to take a break now, she’s surely earned it.