Rhonda Dease is better than the Old Farmers Almanac
Who needs the Old Farmer’s Almanac when Rhonda Dease is at the Pike Farmers Co-op.
For 21 years and counting, farmers in and around Pike County, home gardeners and gardener-wannabes have been making tracks to the co-op to ask the advice of “Miss Rhonda.”
Never mind that Dease didn’t grow up on a farm. Never mind that she didn’t win a bushel of blue ribbons at the county fair or that she was not voted Miss Sweet Potato at the Harvest Festival, “Miss Rhonda” knows more about what to plant, when to plant, how to plant and when to harvest than can be found in any edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. At least, that’s what her customers say.
Dease was busy on the telephone Friday afternoon, “It’s a little early for tomatoes. No, I don’t think I’d put ’em straight in the ground. You’ll have to nurse them along. No, we don’t have sweet feed, my love.”
Dease’s familiarity with her customers is just one of her strong suits.
“I’ve been here at the co-op a long time and I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I had to learn and fast because where I grew up you couldn’t even call a one-horse farm. We had a small sustainable garden but that was it.”
And, too, Dease came to the Pike Farmer’s Co-op from Marie’s Nursery.
“I had been there about 21 years, too, and I’d had to learn to pray for patience,” Dease said, laughing. “But Marie told me not to pray for patience; patience is a virtue. But I had played patty-cake and counted one-two-three long enough.”
So, Dease left the nursery and hoped to find something, soon.
“When I learned the co-op was looking to hire, I didn’t think it was anything I could do,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about plants or computers. But I got the job and I was willing to learn. I listened to what my boss told me; I listen to what our customers told me. I read any information that was available.”
Dease even read what was printed on the seed and fertilizer sacks and on the backs of insect repellant cans. She learned about the products that were time-tested and true. She even learned about fuel and machinery services. She accepted advice and listened rather than talk. The knowledge she gained was stored to be shared: “It’s never too early to plant, even if Jack Frost gets it” and “Thunder in February means frost in April.”
“Sure, there will be a cold snap before Easter,” Dease said, laughing. “That’s the way it’s been and the way it will be.”
Dease said the transition from the nursery to the co-op was a good move for her.
“Tomatoes don’t talk back,” she said, laughing.
But some customers might question her advice on the practice of planting on the Tuesday after an April Easter Sunday, but she stands by what she has learned from those who put the plow in ground, so to speak.
“I hear what my bosses tell me and what the customer say and I listen to their advice so I can give the best advice I can and hope they benefit,” Dease said.
COVID-19 brought a bushel of “green” gardeners to the co-op and Dease was there to offer advice and suggestions.
“The wheels had come off the bus and we had people coming to the co-op that had never even gone to the grocery store before,” she said, laughing. “They didn’t know peas from beans or a pansy from a petunia. One customer bought $100 worth of plants and I knew that was money down the drain… but sometimes you just have to let the customer do the talking. But, when they ask, I give them the best advice I can, when to plant corn, which tomatoes – Early Girls, Big Boys or Park’s Whoppers? What’s the best way to kill spring lawn weed? Best herbicides? About bone meal and spider sprays, which seeds and how to sow them. I don’t know all the answers but I like to think I give good advice or know where they can go to get it.”
“Miss Rhonda” has 21 years of know-what, know-how, know-when and know-when not to. She is much liked a talking Old Farmer’s Almanac and she doesn’t have to be wound.
And, maybe one day down the “row,” she might retire to spend more time with her grandchildren. But until then she will continue to advise and guide her customers at Pike Farmers Co-op with her wisdom that is spiced with her wit and her “Rhondering ways.”