My interest in farming and the outdoors began when I was about 8 years old, helping my grandma in her garden. I remember she asked me to get some peanuts, but when I went down to the garden, all I could find were tomatoes and squash.
“You have to dig them up!” she said. That was the beginning of my education. I also remember seeing my Uncle Fred garden when I was 4 years old, growing all kinds of great vegetables. My father is a huge pepper nut — he grows the most amazing hot peppers and cans them with my mom and grandma.
Growing Up to Grow a Sustainable Life
In 2002, two women who lived in a bungalow on the edge of my family's property passed away, and I took over the land. I started to build a home in a sustainable way, reusing and repurposing furniture and other objects found around the property. My grandfather collected antique furniture since he was 12 years old, and seeing all of his stuff growing up, I never wanted to buy furniture at one of the big stores. I love reusing old pieces that have great history and that don’t leave a big carbon footprint.
My lifestyle started to change around 2011. I was eating tons of fast food, and drinking tons of soft drinks. I started noticing that I was overweight and that I didn’t feel well, and something clicked. I decided I needed a change and started researching and discovering people like Daniel Vitalis and David Wolfe. I became inspired by the concept of “ReWilding,” eating raw foods, and blending. My wife and I started exploring this together, and that’s when we started our own garden.
I found an old book called The Farmer’s Almanac. My father always talked about it, but I never gave a second thought to it before. We bought some non-GMO heirloom seeds and tried to do everything totally natural.
I remember thinking it would be a small garden, but it ended up being 60 feet by 40 feet. My uncle helped us get started and we did everything by the letter, planning it out by the phase of the moon, making sure we started it on the right day of the week, etc.
I discovered that our garden was in the same spot where the old ladies’ garden used to be, and it felt great to keep their legacy alive. We planted tons of squash and other heirlooms, always making sure to get non-genetically modified seeds. We had an incredible black calypso bean bush, heirloom arugula, and a ton of pumpkins — but the squash was our favorite.
Inspired for Healthy Living
As our garden grew and we learned more about the benefits of natural and organic seeds, our interest in healthy lifestyle began to spill over into every aspect of our lives. My wife earned a degree in health and wellness, with the goal of working in alternative medicine. In the U.S., we’re so focused on treating diseases after the fact, but when you look at eastern medicine, there are so many things people can do to stay healthy by taking supplements and making sure to get the minerals, nutrients and vitamins you need from plants and other raw foods.
We always tell our friends who aren't feeling well to take a look at what they're eating and try to invite more raw or organic grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts into their diets. In a lot of places around the country, people aren’t getting the nutrition they need.
Hunting and Food Foraging
Going out into the woods and finding great natural foods became a passion of mine. I go hunting for dryland fish morels, a type of mushroom. My friend used to tell me that when you find them, you need to keep it a secret or people will dig them all up — they’re so delicious. When you dig them up, make sure to pull all the way from the root, because the spores go into the ground and you can sometimes replant them and get another crop.
There’s also a tropical fruit in Kentucky called the passion flower, with a green orb. Once the orb falls off, you can pick them off the ground and break them open, and it has the most delightful floral smell. You can suck on the seeds, and they’re actually used in a lot of homeopathic calming remedies. So, now I have a whole vine of passion flower growing in the back of my house.
We have local persimmons, which are incredible, and pawpaws, or what we call "hillbilly bananas.” We make salads out of dandelions by taking out the root and drying it out, and it actually makes a great coffee substitute that’s great for your kidneys.
One of the greatest things we discovered was that our propriety has a huge set of pecan trees from the 1940s. Pecans are expensive! Every other year, they produce a great crop and we always pick them and give them out as gifts, or make them available for everyone to enjoy.
My transition to a healthy, sustainable lifestyle didn’t happen overnight. There are times when I kick myself for not doing enough to keep myself and my family healthy. But we can’t be perfect, either, and the journey to living better is about making mistakes and finding successes. There are many steps that we can take to stay healthy, no matter what our lifestyle and personal challenges are, and we have to take it one step at a time.
This guest blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS was written by John Fred, drummer for the band Black Stone Cherry. Connect with John on the band’s website, and check out their new album Kentucky, on sale now.
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