This has been an unusual year for us. First of all, the cool weather kept hanging on after the winter. We burned more wood than we ever had, which meant that I had to keep cutting it.
Second, we got more rain by June than practically any half year since anyone has kept records.
Rain makes things grow. Here in the Ozarks at this time of the year we can usually hear the grass complain when we walk on it. August grass normally crunches with a dry, brown grunt. This year, though, we have been as green as West Virginia, and only in the last few days has it gotten really hot.
Indeed, the rain made things grow. The blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash and okra grew like kudzu. But so did the fungus. All the wild fruit trees and berries here carry anthracnose fungus. It doesn't kill them, but it is murder on tame stock.
With the superwet year, the anthracnose grew all over everything, even the trees. We have a big elm tree whose leaves are yellow and crinkled way before autumn. Even some of the tough oaks are yielding their bottom leaves to the fanatical fungus. The fungus is hurting everything in our garden except for the Burmese okra.
What is Burmese okra? That's okra from Burma. This is our first year to grow it, and we think it is terrific. The problem with growing okra is it grows so fast you have to pick it every day.
For example, we picked our okra on Friday, we did not pick it yesterday on the Sabbath, and today there were foot-long pods hanging from the plants.
With most varieties of okra, by the time the pod gets that big you can hardly cut it with a knife, much less eat it, so it's wasted. Burmese okra, though, is still tender in that overgrown stage. The long pods are not wasted.
So how in the world did we get okra from Burma?
From a homeschooler.
Jeremiah Gettle was a local homeschool boy. We settled in the Ozarks 22 years ago, and the Gettle family settled here a few years after we moved here, coming here from the far Northwest. They bought an Ozarks farm about 10 miles south of us, lived on their farm and homeschooled their children.
That's the way homeschooling was back then, part of an overall lifestyle package. That's a good way to do it to really keep the family together.
After the Gettle kids grew into their teens, we saw Jeremiah at local household auctions. We were there looking for bargains, of course, usually garden tools and such.
At the auctions we noticed Jeremiah was buying up most of the lots. He was buying big items, like furniture. He was too young to be married and was still living with his folks, so I asked him what he was doing buying all that stuff. He said he was buying it to sell on eBay.
Now, that was several years ago. At the time I didn't even know what eBay was. That incident stuck in my mind, though, because it certainly seemed that Jeremiah Gettle was an entrepreneur.
Sometime after that Jeremiah built on his interest in seeds. His family is Seventh-day Adventist, I think they are vegetarian, and Jeremiah had an interest in heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are older, nonhybrid varieties.
Jeremiah's Web site
From his bedroom Jeremiah began a business of selling heirloom seeds, and he caught a wave. That bedroom-seed business became Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, at rareseeds.com, now one of the nation's largest companies of its kind.
Here is Jeremiah's brief bio from his Web site, which is a little outdated now because his business has grown even more:
"Jeremiath [the spelling of his name Mr. Gettle uses on his Web site] C. Gettle is a young entrepreneur who has a passion for preserving unique and colorful ethnic seed varieties before they totally disappear, and for fighting those corporations which are destroying much of the earth's genetic heritage through gene-altering and modern agricultural methods.
"Born in September 1980, Jeremiath says that he has been interested in gardening from as early as he can remember. At the age of 4 years, Jeremiath was planting his own garden of scallop squash and yellow pear tomatoes. At age 7, while other children were opening lemonade stands, Jeremiath was producing 'play' seed catalogs. Later, he could be found at local swap meetings, offering a treasure of seed, stored in cardboard boxes and packaged in small handmade envelopes.
"Jeremiath said that one of his favorite pastimes has always been perusing seed catalogs, deciding what to order for each year's garden; always wanting to try the odd and unique vegetables.
"'I looked through the different catalogs and bought the most unique varieties which were offered.'
"Jeremiath's interest in preserving heirloom varieties really grew in 1990 when he discovered catalogs like Tomato Growers Supply Company, who had just started offering heirlooms. Also about that time he heard about Seed Savers Exchange, although he didn't join Seed Savers Exchange until 1996, which is when his interest in seed saving and starting a seed company really began in earnest.
"In 1998, Jeremiath issued his own seed catalog. Now other gardeners were perusing the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog. Jeremiath printed 550 copies of that first catalog, which consisted of 12 black-and-white pages, offering 70 seed varieties. Customers came by word of mouth and from advertising in rural farm magazines.
"Since that time his business has grown by leaps and bounds--from the early catalog circulation of 550, to the 2004 catalog, going to approximately 70,000 customers, and offering over 900 seed varieties, many of which have been personally collected by Jeremiath during his international travel to such countries as Thailand, Myanmar [Burma], Cambodia and Mexico.
"In addition, Jeremiath's Seed Company hosts two Garden Festivals each year--April and August--attracting gardening enthusiasts from across the nation.
"And in March of 2003 Jeremiath's newest venture, The Heirloom Gardener Magazine, published its premiere issue!"
Don't hold back
And that's how we got our okra from Burma. Jeremiah went over there and found it.
I have noticed this over and over through the years. There is something about homeschooling that releases the talents of the young people.
I cannot define it exactly, but I know that is the case. I have seen it in 4-H meetings where the homeschoolers are eager and involved while the public-school students are passive and hold back.
And I have seen it in life, where public-school grads seek to move on to some other institution and homeschool grads seek to make things happen.
Like homeschooler Jeremiah Gettle. He's not just trying to make money. He's trying to make a difference.
God bless the Christian homeschoolers.