A Letter from Chip – A Farmer, a Watermelon, and a Little Girl
A farmer, a watermelon, and a little girl… It almost sounds like the opening line of a joke, doesn’t it? But that’s hardly the reality. The reality is that those three subjects are part of a powerful story that dates back to the humble beginnings of America’s Grow-a-Row. As we continue to celebrate our 20th anniversary, I find myself reflecting on so many special memories and experiences that helped to inspire me, define our values, and shape the program into what it is today. Countless people have played an integral role in establishing the foundation and contributing to the growth of America’s Grow-a-Row over the years. These individuals have been extremely influential in my life in so many different ways, and they all share in the history of America’s Grow-a-Row, no matter how long or how briefly they have been part of the program.
As we are in the midst of planting our crops and preparing for another impactful year – and soon to be entering the harvest season – one memorable interaction with a kind old farmer, a magical watermelon plant, and my daughter recently came to mind. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It all began on a sunny Saturday afternoon when my daughter Kyra, who was four years old at the time, and I made a trip to the farm to tend our little garden plot. This plot was our little “daddy-daughter” project that of course later in the season became the official start of America’s Grow-a-Row. One of the motivating factors for this project was to encourage my daughter to eat healthy foods. I figured if she planted the seeds, cared for the plants, and then marveled at how they produced fresh vegetables she would be much more willing to eat string beans, broccoli, tomatoes, and so on. I wanted to throw in something fun, sweet, and refreshing too, so we planted some watermelon seeds to round out the healthy mix. The good news is that all of the vegetable plants took off, but the bad news is that the “dessert” part of the plate did not take off, and the watermelon plant only sprouted a vine and a few flowers that did not amount to any recognizable fruit.
One Saturday we checked our sad little watermelon plant, gave it a drink (although I thought at the time that giving it its last rites probably would have been more appropriate), and left the farm hoping for the best. Being a first time gardener, I really had no idea what to do in order to perk this little fellow up. The only resource I initially relied on for gardening was the internet. But then each morning a kind farmer who worked at the farm, “Farmer Ron” as we proudly named him, would tell us how to plant and maintain our garden and provide me with all sorts of old-time farming tips and such. I learned so much from Farmer Ron. He had a gentle soul under his rough exterior and a heart as big as the 150-acre farm. He took a liking to Kyra and me – truthfully I think he had a much bigger soft spot for Kyra – and he always helped us when we had questions as we stumbled through our gardening learning curve. If it hadn’t been for Farmer Ron, the entire garden would have been a complete disaster. He must have noticed the disappointment in my daughter’s eyes in terms of our struggling watermelon plant, but I thought, it is what it is, right? As I have learned over the years, the only guarantee in farming is that there are no guarantees in farming.
That Sunday right after church we found ourselves back at the farm, as we were on the way home and decided to stop by to see how the plant was looking. I vividly remember getting out of the car, with Kyra in tow holding my hand, and then watching her race up to see how her watermelon plant was doing – a plant that just the day before was as close to the end of its life cycle as possible. When she got up the embankment to our plot, her eyes were as wide as could be and she had a smile that wrapped from ear to ear! She yelled to me that we had a watermelon on the vine! And a big one too! It was a miracle! In less than 24 hours we had a fully mature watermelon, ripe for the picking! Hmmm…that soil looks like it was recently turned over. And why is the vine about 10 times the size it was yesterday? And there were no signs of life on the plant yesterday… Yup, just a moment or two later from around the corner of the barn came Ron, with a smile just as big as Kyra’s.
Ron, the burly farmer with hardened hands, a grip like a vise, and a booming voice you could hear across the farm, had the softest and most compassionate heart…and he touched me to my core. He didn’t want to see Kyra, or me for that matter, get discouraged and give up. Maybe he knew something we didn’t realize at the time – what our little garden would become and how it would yield something so much bigger than a little watermelon or anything else we could have imagined. Ron wasn’t just sowing seeds into the ground; he was sowing seeds into our hearts and souls. I miss Ron. Sadly he passed away a few years ago, but his legacy lives on, just like so many others along the way who encouraged me personally, as well as our entire team, to keep moving forward no matter what challenges we face. Ron’s actions that day are a constant reminder to me that miracles can happen when the right people come your way.
I know that God placed Ron along our path, and he was a blessing in our lives. And so is everyone who has ever helped us get to where we are today, whether through volunteering, financially supporting our work and mission, sending us timely and encouraging words, or even thinking of or praying for us. Whether you realize it or not, YOU too are all part of the history, the story, and the miracle we call America’s Grow-a-Row.
Thank you for your continued support as we look to help feed those in need for another 20 years and beyond.
See you in the fields!
President and Founder