I sat down with a wonderful woman the other day, her 94 year-old mother by our side, and talked about gardening, and the healing properties in its harvest…
She is a vendor at the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market, and runs a small business, Passion Gardens (click link and scroll down). In addition she is the president of the Tx chapter of the Nation Women in Agriculture. We talked and often laughed for a good while as I jotted down notes to prepare the story you are now reading. Through the entirety of the interview, it never dawned on me to ask her where she came up with the name for her business…. and now, as I began to put pen to paper…it came so easily. I didn’t need to ask. She had provided her answer in the cadence of her words describing how she is at home with her hands in the soil.
Kay Bell, is one tough and compassionate woman. She is a schoolteacher, a wife, a daughter…. But more than any of these things, Kay is a caretaker of Mother Earth. Well, at least Mother Earth found on the few lots surrounding the cross streets of Taylor and Elm in downtown Waco. If you drive down Taylor street in East Waco, you will have no trouble spotting the bright and beautiful raised beds where she grows her colorfully blended quilt of herbs, edible flowers and veggies. In these lots, Kay grows the herbs, plants and flowers that produce her secret recipe healing teas. Although I tried to gain a hint of two of what goes into her secret concoctions…Kay wouldn’t budge… Like a mother to her child, she holds her recipes close to her bosom and won’t let loose!
Kay attributes her love and understanding of earth’s many bounties to her childhood. “I am from Jacksonville, Texas. We lived on a farm and had about 80 acres. While other kids would be inside playing games, Daddy had us outside working in the fields. Lord, I hated that work. I just hated it. But it’s probably why I can do it so easily now.”
The Bell’s moved from Jacksonville to Waco around 2008. When they first moved into her house, there was a large lot alongside that was most likely used for a dump of sorts for many years. Trees and weeds had overtaken the lot as it had sat vacant so long. Kay had a hunger to work with the earth again, and wanted to plant a garden for the family. She decided she would approach the owner and ask if he would be willing to sell it to her. He did, and with much sweat and labor, she refurbished the space and planted a small garden. A funny thing happened in that once vacant, ugly lot. “I planted squash and tomatoes mostly. Before I knew it, I had squash growing so fast and so big it was hard to believe. I guess all that trash had created a rich compost in the ground, because my plants grew and grew and grew!” Bell continued, “I kid you not! There would be people just driving by in there cars and slowing down to look at my giant plants. Some would even stop to take pictures!” One day she was talking on the phone to an old friend about her bounty, and he made a suggestion she took to action. “He said since I had such an abundance of squash and tomatoes, I should take them down to a local farmers market to sell.”
Shortly after that conversation, she came across an ad in the paper for vendors needed at a local farmers market that set up in the parking lot of the ExtraCo Events Center. The next week she brought her small booth fee, veggies and a card table to set up in that parking lot. In one hour she had sold out. She kept that booth at the market and turns out, it paid off… Soon, her backyard business began to grow as fast as those zucchinis! Bell recounts…”That first Summer, just those three months, paid for the lot.” One year later she bought another lot to keep up with the demand. Four years later they were sitting on four properties full of plants and potential.
Most recently, an in-kind donation came from the Rapoport Academy in the form of another lot near Bell’s house, and just down from the school itself.
Before we fast forward present day, allow me to provide you one more key event in Bell’s past that led to her interest in growing herbs. In 2002, Bell was diagnosed with Cancer and had been weakened and frustrated by the side effects of her chemo and radiation treatments. She began doing research into alternative treatments and came across information about the healing properties of herbal tinctures/teas. Quitting chemo and not looking back, tired of the wrath it took on her body, she began her journey into herbal teas as a remedy.
Well, you already know the outcome, as I sit next to this vibrant woman, full of energy, telling her story… Bell is in complete remission and has since developed multiple other tea remedies targeting such afflictions as: Liver and Kidney ailments, Thyroid imbalance and low energy levels. Passion Garden Tea has quite a loyal following at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. In fact, her herbal remedies have become so popular, Drug Emporium now carries a line of her dried packaged teas. Even with her proven successes, Bell isn’t done yet.
Among her other goals: A children’s garden located near her house off Elm…she calls the initiative Global Revive… In a sense she is making an effort on a small, local scale to re-educate our youth (and future generations) to understand, grasp and commit to supporting an organic, self sustainable lifestyle within our own communities. Recent visitors to her children’s “classroom” were Vanguard Prep School, home schooled children from the Children’s Garden and Outdoor Classroom, and Neighborhood Works.
Well, as you have guessed by now, her energy and vision doesn’t stop here… “My dream would be to be able to put a small building right there (as she points to the middle of the beautiful garden we are all sitting in) to hold classes to teach people about healing teas.” She plans to retire as a public schoolteacher and devote her time to being a teacher of nature instead.
I encourage everyone to visit the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market and while you’re there, drop by Bell’s booth and sample some of her wonderful teas, vegetables, or zucchini breads. Stay around and visit.
You too, will see how the passion bloomed in Passion Garden.
Narrative brought to you by: Rianna Alvarado