HOW GROWING PLANTS SAVED MY LIFE
I was born in Grand Rapids, MI in 1977, a run down city at the time filled with salt-of-the-earth working class folks, Teamsters, and piles of snow. My great grandparents were Dutch Protestant Reform farmers with large families, and I grew up hearing about aunts and uncles scattered all over, most of which had escaped to warmer climates and an easier life.
Michigan to me was sand dunes, the beach, corn fields, a cabin in Pentwater, and the tulip festival. It was also a big helping of trauma.
My dad, a big, charismatic man with a beard and a million dollar smile, could start the day with a highball glass full of corn liquor. He was a bit younger than my mom and couldn’t settle down for the family life. They divorced when I was 6. Later, when I was 17, he died in prison, his body shut down from the bottle at 42.
A few years after the divorce, my courageous mom took my sister and I to live in Altamonte Springs, FL, just outside Orlando, to get away from the messy past and start a new life. Florida was the promised land at the time for that generation, living in cold and dreary Michigan. Paradise.
We were very poor. I remember being 14 when I took my first job working at a fruit stand to help with the bills, riding my bike quite a distance over congested Florida roads to get there after school. We had cats and at times the carpet at our rental house would get infested with fleas, so bad that if we wore white socks they would crawl up our leg. One early memory I have is my mom getting mad at me for wanting a burger bun for my hamburger instead of plain white bread.
My mom had her own special demon, bi polar disorder. The disease manifested as almost exclusively mania in her case, very similar to schizophrenia when off her meds. The heavy meds and hard living (Sierra Mist and Doral 100’s) took its toll and she died of lung cancer and other complications at 62.
No surprise that I’d end up with my own demons. I’ve been a booze hound ever since someone pulled out a bottle of peach schnapps they stole from their parents when I was 15. High school was a blur after that; house parties, all night raves (90’s Florida), and always drugs and alcohol.
I landed in Asheville in 06 to work at The Biltmore Estate- dead broke, marriage on the rocks, and a 3 yr old in tow. When we got to town we were living on credit cards in a 3rd floor apartment at Ascot Point in south Asheville, which was still getting built at the time. The marriage lasted barely 6 months after that.
As I got older, jumping from kitchen job to kitchen job, the drinking got worse. For months at a time I would go through the motions at work with a pounding head just to get through the day until I could get my first PBR tall boy for the drive home. Sometimes I would straighten up for a bit, only to fall back into those same old habits and bad decisions.
When I turned 39 I left my last stressful, booze soaked job in the kitchen and in a haze took out a massive line of credit on my house to buy a food truck and a bunch of rusty catering equipment, most of which is now in the junk pile.
That’s when things started getting scary. That PBR would get chugged down so fast that I stopped at the next gas station a few miles up the road to get a 12 pack. Sometimes I’d get home and slug all 12 of those down in a few hours, smoking cigs, with nothing in my stomach, until I’d literally pass out in the bed at 8 or 9.
I was barely surviving; depressed, deep in debt, and spiraling out of control with alcohol.
For those who know addiction, it’s a typical story. Guy plays with fire until it burns. It’s an old, well worn tale and I’m done playing the tiny violin.
Sometimes life gives you lemons. It’s up to us to decide what to do with them.
So I let it go. I had my last drink on 12/31/18. It was 6am in the morning after drinking hard and chain smoking all night. My head was already pounding before it hit the pillow. I was sick of myself to the bone.
That’s when I realized that I have a really pretty piece of land. Sure, I need a pick mattock just to dig a hole, but I can make something out of this ole red clay. Farming is in my Dutch blood, after all.
I started that week in January with one grow light, a Michigan basement, and three short rows of cloddy soil.
Growing plants took my mind off of the booze, even when all I wanted was that end of day cocktail. That’s still true today, thank goodness.
We all come from somewhere, and have our own good fight to fight (or is it surrender?) I’m grateful for all of it, and wouldn’t change a thing. I had a lot of love through the years, and good family by my side. What I wouldn’t give to give them all of those flawed people in my past a great big hug again.
It’s been three years now on the straight and narrow, and I’m happy to say that life couldn’t be better. I’ve met the love of my life, Sarah Macrae, a Florida girl, and also 3 years sober, and we are working hard to turn this perennial nursery into what we hope is as special for you as it is for us.
I am so grateful to be growing with you, friend.