Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

An amazing teen gardener

Alexandra Reau is not yet old enough to drive, and just look:

Lawn mowing and baby-sitting are standard summer jobs for the enterprising teenager. Alexandra Reau, who is 14, combines a little bit of each: last year, she asked her dad to dig up a half acre of their lawn in rural Petersburg, Mich., so she could farm. Now in its second season, her Garden to Go C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) grows for 14 members, who pay $100 to $175 for two months of just-picked vegetables and herbs. 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?
“Let’s see,” says Reau, a quiet honor student who’s a little taken aback to find a New Yorker in giant sunglasses asking her questions in the plot next to her tidy white-brick ranch house on a June afternoon. “Those are carrots, spinach, beets, kale, watermelon, squash, zucchini, peppers, lots of tomatoes . . . um . . . corn, radishes, lettuce, beans, onions, garlic.” The weeds that sprung up during her recent class trip to Washington, D.C., are taunting her as we talk. When I tell her that people pay $4 a bunch for the purslane that’s growing into the burlap coffee sacks she has laid down along the rows for quick weeding — she flips them over to uproot any invaders, kind of like waxing your garden — you can see her 4-H wheels turning. (She’s been a member for half her life.)


Get this:

While we eat a colorful salad of spinach, strawberry and goat cheese (Reau’s spinach and strawberries, local goat cheese), deviled eggs (bartered) and strawberry shortcake (local, good) in the Reaus’ toile-curtained dining room, [Alexandra’s mother] Brenda explains that a quarter of last year’s members told her that they were attracted to Garden to Go because it was a young person’s effort. “They want to support someone who is interested in working instead of being on the Internet all day!” Brenda says. “And growing food. . . .”

Oh, hell yeah. Good for her. I’d support a good, hard-working kid like that in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you? Go to that NYT story and look at the photograph of her chard. Unbelievable, the things she’s accomplished.

Comments read comments(6)
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Caroline Nina in DC

posted July 15, 2010 at 5:23 pm

What a joyous story! It was just what I needed to see today.
Gives me hope for the future.

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posted July 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Amazing. I’ve been tending my 12′ x 12′ plot for the last 4 years, and I’m still pretty obviously a novice compared to this 14 year old girl.

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Clare Krishan

posted July 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Intriguing reflection on continental comparisons of farm parcel size (US, China, Egypt) over at
According to this article from 2006 published by the Texas Farm Bureau, the average farm in China is 1 to 3 acres. Folks in Beijing might be familiar with Green Cow, an organic farm that is partnered with Mrs. Shanen’s and provides dairy, eggs, and a variety of vegetable products. It covers 14.8 acres. Yes, a working business farm in Beijing City is smaller than a Clarion County hobby farm. Talk about the luxury of leisure!
It isn’t just Chinese vegetable farms that are smaller, by the way. Randy and I were listening to a story on Marketplace last week about Egyptian cotton. The main thrust of the report was the shocking number of young children who work these farms. But since the average family-run cotton farm in Egypt is 5 acres or less, the government ministry that would normally monitor this basically ignores it. Randy coughed at that 5 acre number. A few years ago when he was still working in Mississippi, he had an engineer that would sometimes need time off to work his father-in-law’s large commercial cotton farm. That farm, owned by one family, was more than 100,000 acres of cotton fields. I can’t even wrap my head around income difference between these two types of cotton farms.
In England, we speak of “market gardens” where the hereditary landed gentry lease smallish plots with a cottage-style residence long term (25+ yrs max. out at 99 ie a lifetime) to the working classes
– I grew up across the street from a row of such homes – smaller than most US suburban sprawl “estates” – that looked like the garden this WI girl has (but with a lot more glass or plastic cloches, since the climate wasn’t so auspicious)
The yield of the land we are stewards of could relieve world hunger in a heartbeat if we but put our minds to it…

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Clare Krishan

posted July 16, 2010 at 3:29 pm

oops sorry the blockquote tag didn’t span the second para – thay’re Jen’s thoughts not mine!
Here’s an intriguing image that resembles the hanging gherkins in the UK, vineyards in the Taklamankan desert:
Have no fear humans can farm anything almost anywhere if we put our minds to it, so long as we pass on the techniques to the next generation… the best part of the teenagers hobby? Her sharing her greenthumbs with others!

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Mike D

posted July 16, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Such and and inspiring story–thanks for sharing it Rod. I have 4 Swiss Chard plants in a container in my back yard and spend a ridiculous amount of time battling aphids along. (Did you know that ants farm the aphid eggs because they eat an aphid by-product?) I can’t imagine how she handles all that. She’s a role model.

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posted July 16, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I clicked on this late, but so glad I did. Totally wonderful!

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