Daniel and Amanda’s Weblog

November 22, 2007

“Every day is Thanksgiving.” -Joe Hehe

Don’t know the author? Yeah, me neither…until yesterday. Let me describe to you my “heroes of the week.”

Amanda and I are visiting her mom and family in Lexington, TN. We had an hour to spare before dinner time, so we went to visit their friend Joe’s hydroponic tomato farm in some tiny little town with a population of about 400 folks. Saltillo, TN. Average household income was just over $20,000 when Wikipedia last checked. Guess I wasn’t expecting to meet two true American heroes there.

Joe and his brother George have been farming for probably longer than I’ve been alive, but the last 15 years they’ve been using the hydroponic method. Greenhouses keep the temperature controlled, and after germination the plants go in little slits in a big 100 feet long PVC pipe. The roots all grow inside the PVC pipe, water soluble nutrients are pumped in in liquid form, and the plants grow beautifully. If one can afford to warm the greenhouses all year round, this system can grow crops all year long in any state. Joe and George have either 3 or 4 greenhouses, the longest 130 feet long, and grow thousands of plants at a time. They sell locally, both to grocery stores and individuals.

They built everything themselves…poured the concrete and built the greenhouses. They recover the greenhouses with plastic every few years, changed the heating/cooling system plastic when needed, and also raise goats! These two guys are hard working American farmers. I grew more appreciation for the farmer yesterday. I wondered what is happening in our country, where the majority of children grow up not knowing how (or having the strength or work ethic to) lift a finger on a farm. Even I, growing up on a small farm and doing chores daily, have probably never worked as hard as these guys do on a typical day. College degrees enable us to go through our entire life and make lots of money and never have to break a sweat.

What really made me deem them the “heroes of the week,” though, was their joyful attitude and unselfish generosity. As they gave us a tour of the greenhouses, they told us about them not being able to grow year round anymore. Reason? Fuel. With growing fuel costs, they said heating the greenhouses through the winter can run $4,000 a month. Which is just too much for a tomato farmer to overcome. When asked why they didn’t raise the prices to reflect the rising fuel prices, Joe replied “Nah, there’s just a bunch of old folks around here, they can’t afford it. Sometimes they don’t have enough as it is, so they just give us what they can.” One in our group offered “But you have to take care of yourself, too!” Joe smiled slyly, and Amanda and I noticed that he really believed it when he said “You can’t take it with you.”

$1.25 a pound. Less than that if a neighbor can’t afford it. George’s house was in complete disrepair. Shutters were broken and out of place bricks sat stranded on the front porch. His house was in huge need of about $20,000 of work including a new paint job. Or is it a need? Maybe they see the true need, and that is to love their neighbor as themselves. To refuse a new house uplift because there are those who can’t pay $1.25 a pound for tomatoes. To continue working hard through their 60s, or even 70s, because they enjoy farming and giving.

“Every day’s pleasant…some more pleasant than others, but every day’s pleasant!” Joe said. These two older gentlemen had smiles on their faces and jokes ready. You could see pure joy in their eyes. Joe and his wife go country dancing a couple of times a month at the community center. They work hard, love their neighbors, and enjoy life. There’s no need to live in big new houses or drive new cars. It’s a simple life, a beautiful life. I have no idea if they are Christ followers…but they probably exemplify his teachings more than most Christians.

When the world went to war and raised oil prices, nobody asked the farmers who need fuel for their greenhouses. Increased gas prices affect us, but not that much. As usual, it’s the poor who always pay. Especially the honest ones, who won’t raise their prices to make up for the fuel increase because their community can’t afford it.

Toward the end of our tour, someone asked Joe if he was ready for Thanksgiving. If anyone has cause to be depressed, it’s these two men who’ve worked hard their whole life only to be overlooked by our government. If anyone has reason to be angry at the corporations, industry, war, greed, and everything in this modern day where the doctors and lawyers are respected and the farmer isn’t, it’s Joe and George. But Joe just smiled again and simply said, “Every day is Thanksgiving.”

Joe and George Hehe, I salute you. Amanda and I have resolved to shop at the Farmer’s Market as much as possible from now on because of you. You deserve to be respected, to be held high, as true American heroes. And yet you remain content, not because of worldly wealth or respect, but because of a simple life of joy, hard work, and selfless giving. America may overlook you, but you are heroes in my mind.

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5 Comments »

  1. Wow. Amen. That’s a refreshing look at the American dream

    Comment by Josh — November 23, 2007 @ 4:50 am | Reply

  2. […] On being a neighbor $1.25 a pound. Less than that if a neighbor can’t afford it. George’s house was in complete disrepair. Shutters were broken and out of place bricks sat stranded on the front porch. His house was in huge need of about $20,000 of work including a new paint job. Or is it a need? Maybe they see the true need, and that is to love their neighbor as themselves. To refuse a new house uplift because there are those who can’t pay $1.25 a pound for tomatoes. -Daniel […]

    Pingback by On being a neighbor at Trying to follow — November 27, 2007 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  3. great post! my CSA farmer heats his greenhouse using a wood burning stove and some pipes with water. i wonder if this farmer could talk to my farmer friend to find out how to do this? do you have his contact info?

    Comment by jody — November 30, 2007 @ 11:09 pm | Reply

  4. While I think the sentiment of this story is sweet, I’d say it’s darn near tragic and an unnecessary way to live. It’s nice that you’re friends want to help their neighbors, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be at the expense of their own livelihood. I recently wrote a fiction novel in which hydroponics farming played a key role, and the research I did corroborates this same mindset: in order for one to win, the other must lose.

    Have your friends considered selling their products at farmers markets, large ones that draw a sizeable crowd? The quality of hydroponics products command premium prices at such venues because, when given the chance, customers appreciate the value they receive for their money and are happy to pay for it. It’s all about presentation, not selling, because the products can do that for themselves. Give people free samples; explain the difference between the hydroponics products and what one can expect to find in a grocery store. The people who shop at Farmer’s Markets already care about what they feed their families, that why they shop there. All your friends have to do is be available with a high quality product and able to answer questions.

    Comment by Chris — March 5, 2008 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  5. Chris, I don’t agree with your statement “in order for one to win, the other must lose.” I’d be interested in hearing more of what you have to say about success…what does it mean to win? I believe our vision of that will differ in a huge way. I think these guys are winning. You mention that it’s great that they want to help their neighbors, but “it doesn’t mean that it has to be at the expense of their own livelihood.” I happen to believe their livelihood is closer to winning, to true happiness, to success…than any rich American who gets rich at the expense of other peoples’ loss.

    Secondly, while hydroponics farming does offer a distinct edge and I agree can be a great way to sell a product, remember that many places don’t offer that chance. The closest large farmer’s market to them that I know of is two hours away, and the regular tomatoes there sell for 1.25 a pound.

    I truly admire them. It wasn’t meant to be a “sweet story.” This is what I want to look like when I’m old (maybe not specifically with hydroponic farming). I want to live in a less than perfect small home and I want to have so much more than large amounts of cash when I die…I want people to miss me for who I was, and for how I loved, not for how financially successful I was. “Tragic and unnecessary way to live”??? No, I don’t buy it…I still hold them as my heroes, and I’ll bet their joy in life is far greater than most of the rich in the US (the richest country in the world…with the highest rate of depression).

    Comment by theburts — March 12, 2008 @ 8:47 am | Reply


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