Master gardener entertains at Female Factor

Published 3:00 am Friday, June 10, 2016

Starla Richardson shared her “Green Acres”-like story of how she became a master gardener and farmer with the participants at the Female Factor this week.

Starla Richardson shared her “Green Acres”-like story of how she became a master gardener and farmer with the participants at the Female Factor this week.

When Dottie Black introduced Starla Richardson at Female Factor on Wednesday, she hinted that the guest speaker might seem to be straight off Green Acres. Actually, Richardson was coming to Female Factor straight from Jamback, which is located in Bullock County somewhere between Tanyard and Perote.

Richardson came with quite a resume. She is a registered nurse who has been honored as the West Georgia Health System Nurse of the Year and was also honored as a Top 10 finalist for Georgia’s Nurse of the Year.

A fist-full of years ago, Richardson was living the high life in Georgia. She had a beautifully manicured lawn, an irrigation system to keep it sprinkled and a gardener named Hester to tend to it all. Why, the grass was so lush that, when the notion hit her, she would run barefoot across the lawn.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Then along came a man a-totin’ a rose bush who swept Richardson off her feet. Before she knew what happened she and her rosebush were being transplanted in rural South Alabama.

Her husband, Dr. Reuben Richardson, had a long farming lineage. Her grandmother came to Alabama from Georgia on a mule and wagon.

“But farming is not an inherited trait,” Richardson said, laughing.

But farming can be learned and Dr. Richardson saw to it that his bride would be educated.

“He brought me a stack of how-to books as high as the shoe racks at Macy’s,” Richardson said, again laughing.

Being a good wife and a ready learner, Richardson read and learned. When she was ready to go to the field, she planted seeds – many, many seeds – and trees – many, many trees.

She learned to till the soil and to break ground. She planted a little garden with 60 squash plants, 25 zucchini plants and 20 cucumber plants. Her plants were hearty and she was encouraged. Until, “I woke up like Alice in Wonderland,” she said. “Worms were eating my plants.”

Richardson then had an opportunity for hands-on learning. She learned to pluck worms from plants, one by one. She learned to spray to keep the worms from coming back. And, she learned about snakes.

When a rattlesnake invaded her garden, she relied on what she had learned from Western movies and pulled out her .38 Special and unloaded on him.

“But he was not dead enough for me so I got my big Smith and Wesson and he was dead enough,” Richardson said. “But my Reuben said it costs too much to shoot snakes and he showed me a hoe. He said you can kill a snake with a hoe.”

With her newfound knowledge, Richardson grew prolific plants. She had enough squash, cucumbers and zuchinni for a log rolling, with squash as the frontrunner.

“I canned squash, pickled squash and froze squash. We ate squash raw. We ate squash cold and hot,” Richardson said. “We ate squash in stews and in soups. We ate squash with shrimp.”

And, she tired to give squash away. She became known as “The Squash Lady.”

“But people ran from me. People hid for me,” Richardson said. “My Reuben said, ‘Plow it under!’ Plow it under? People are starving in a country somewhere.”

When the deed was done, Starla Richardson rode off into the sunset on her Kubota, confident that she could operate a tiller and a weed eater. She could use a posthole digger and kill a snake with a hoe. She was a farmer.

“And, there’s no better eating than something prepared by the hands that grew it,” Richardson said. She remembered the day when her niece, who was taking chemo, ate the red potatoes that she had grown and cooked that day just for her.

Richardson told the ladies at the lunch gathering that she has continue to learn about farming – about gardening. She found the Master Gardener program offered by the Pike County Extension office to be very beneficial. She learned about everything from fire ants to landscape design and, from her own experience, she now plants five squash plants, three zucchini plants and three cucumber plants.