Michele Harris

Age: 50
Co-Owner and CFO, Home-Land Title and Real Estate Services
“Head Cabbage” at Rosie’s Community Garden
Certified Yoga Instructor

I have always admired those lucky individuals with green thumbs. You know—those folks that just seem to have a knack for making things grow. Michele Harris of Brandon is one of those people—times ten. As a successful business owner with her husband Thomas, this CFO, philanthropist, mom, and healthy living advocate cultivates much more than crops. In addition to the vegetables grown and donated to food banks and shelters, she sows determination and reaps results. Sows kindness and reaps love. Sows encouragement and reaps friendship. I talked with Michele about gardening, becoming a yoga instructor, and how life is more exciting when you never stop growing.

The Lovely Ride: You are obviously busy, career-wise, so what inspired you and your husband to start a garden?
MH: It’s funny because my husband Thomas and I were never really gardeners. I never thought that would be fun. But at the time, my father-in-law was experiencing such great health benefits from a mainly plant-based diet that I became more interested in incorporating different types of vegetables in to my meals. Also, I had a friend who was involved with a charity that would take extra vegetables from farmers and get them to food banks. That friend shared with me a vision of a beginning a garden specifically for growing vegetables to give to food banks and shelters. Fast forward a few years, and the money comes along (via prize money from their church “draw down” fundraiser), volunteers come along, donated vegetable plants come along, and support comes along.

TLR: So this car kind of drove itself and you went along for the ride?
MH: Yes! I felt drawn to the different pieces of the puzzle that fell into place. And now, looking back on it, I see that I was being prepared all the time. All the skill sets and the relationships that I have just naturally led to this purpose. I went to my father-in-law Tom and told him I wanted to start a community garden. He warned me that it would take a lot of work and a lot of volunteers. I said, “Well, I am not afraid of hard work, and I know a lot of people.”

TLR: So you and Thomas went forward with this huge task despite the fact that you were far from experts in vegetable gardening?
MH: Yes, but when I look at the skillsets that God has developed in me over the years, I see that he gave me everything I need. I just needed to put it in motion.

TLR: Do you ever doubt that decision or feel like it’s just too hard?
MH: Every three months or so, I’ll get to the end of a “roll” and I’ll think, “Okay, what’s next?” And I pray. Then lo and behold, I will get a phone call from a random person about a donation or sponsorship and I know that I am meant to continue on this path. I am a very small piece of the puzzle—I am not in control. I am along for the ride as a servant. I used to think I had to know exactly what I am doing. But I don’t when it comes to the garden. But having the garden has brought people to us that do know how to make these things happen.

TLR: Do you have a trick to managing your time?
MH: I try to wake up early; I am at my best in the morning. I keep a to-do list. I list them in order of importance and then pick three priorities and focus on those three things. If I don’t get the most important things done, that stresses me out. I use my phone for the calendar, but for to-do lists, I like to hand-write them, and check them off by hand as well. Anything that doesn’t get checked off that day, gets moved to the top of the next day’s list. Also, I make sure I leave enough time clear in my day to handle unexpected tasks.

 

You want to maintain a good balance in life too. New people and experiences bring new “nutrients” for you to draw from.

TLR: As if being a business owner and running a community garden wasn’t enough, you have now added “yoga instructor” to your resume. How did that come about?
MH: I just turned 50. I have heard that particular year referred to as the “jubilee year.” It’s a year for the celebration of life. I have always been interested in yoga, but this summer I had an opportunity to attend a Christian-based, intensive yoga certification retreat so I just “went for it.” I learned about the principles of relaxation, breathing, positive thinking, diet, and meditation. Exercise is only one piece of the puzzle.

TLR: How does yoga benefit women our age?
MH: I am very active in lots of ways, but I am aware that as we age, we have a harder time recovering from things like running and CrossFit. Yoga is not as hard on the joints, and is a total workout of body, mind, and spirit. The slow, methodical movements engage your muscles from head to toe. It increases blood flow and forces more oxygen to your brain and to every single cell in your body. That alone is a health benefit. It can also be modified for individual levels of ability and flexibility.

TLR: Circling back around to gardening…what have you learned from growing vegetables that applies to life?
MH: Just like life, it’s very “trial and error.” The conditions every year are different—the weather, the soil content, fertilizer, everything. Just like in other areas of life, you think you have prepared perfectly, then all of a sudden, the plug is pulled out. For example, we had a beautiful crop of tomatoes planted—everything was prepped, we tested the soil, made sure we were using the right amount of water—then they don’t produce. And I am thinking, “But we did everything right.”  But an unexpected heatwave came through and caused the flowers not to produce. At that point you have to regroup and start over. So there is always a new beginning—a new growing season. In each decade of my life, things happen to cultivate more wisdom. In the same way, every year of the garden, more soil and more fertilizer and more organic material is added to the soil and it becomes richer and richer and produces a better crop. It’s also a good thing to rotate crops, because the crops in each bed suck out certain nutrients, so you don’t want to plant that same crop in that same bed the next season, because the soil will be depleted of that nutrient. You want to maintain a good balance in life too. New people and experiences bring new “nutrients” for you to draw from.

 

Michele’s Tips for a Well-Rounded Life Over 50:

• STAY ACTIVE
Whatever that means to you—playing tennis, dancing, walking, gardening—any kind of movement. Even if you have aches and pains, you can still move, especially in yoga. It can be done in small movements and small time increments. Even 10 minute sessions can help.

• EAT HEALTHY
You don’t have to sacrifice nutrition for convenience. I have a lot of quick no-recipe veggie dishes I cook often.
Roasted Okra: Use a whole piece of okra—not too large. Put it on a baking sheet and brush it with olive oil so it’s evenly coated, sprinkle with salt, put it in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Turn it so that it gets browned and crispy on all sides, and maybe add some Cajun spice if you like that. It’s super easy and delicious.
Long Green Beans: (Like the ones pictured in the “tunnel.”) I cut them in sections and then steam them in the microwave with a little bit of coconut oil and salt.
Eggplant Medallions: (Works well with the thinner, Japanese eggplant) Slice thin rounds and put them in the toaster oven with some seasoning.
Raw Vegetables: Any vegetable roasted is amazing, but there are so many varieties that are good raw—cucumbers, carrots, or broccoli—with a little light dressing.

• KEEP ROMANCE ALIVE
My husband Thomas and I have been married for 27 years, and we actually work together. We still have spontaneous dates. It’s a must. Go for a drive and pack a picnic that you make yourself. Travel when you can. You have to make time in your schedule.

Michele Harris and her husband Thomas live in Brandon, Mississippi and have two children—Mabry and Jonathan. Visit rosiesgarden.org to learn about donation or volunteer opportunities to help with planting, harvesting, and delivering. Volunteers can even enjoy Yoga in the Garden from time to time!