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Appalachian Horticulturist - Jean Govus

For many, Jean Govus is an inspiration. She has inspired me to grow as a gardener, offering me advice on various garden topics ranging from the best techniques to grow a tomato to the best ways to get rid of those invasive (and may we say, annoying) garden pests.

Originally from the small town of Bronson, a small town located in the South Central quadrant of Michigan, Jean is no stranger to small town life. She now lives in Ellijay, GA, another small town located at the foothills of the Appalachian Trail, and has resided there for 32 years. 

Rooting herself in a dreamy homestead on a large piece of land shared with her family, Jean is always busy, whether it's growing beautiful flowers, making fresh salsa from her garden, or enjoying her time with her husband, Thomas Govus, her cat, Max, and her dog, Mia.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Jean, where we talked about her favorite plants, meals, and more. Explore the interview below and get to know the woman who has inspired many women from Georgia to Alaska.

How did you get started in agriculture? Did you come from a family of farmers/gardeners?

My parents always had a garden. They grew up during the Depression in rural areas, so their parents had always gardened. We had 30 acres that a neighbor farmed on shares, so I was surrounded with crops growing in our fields. The area was an agricultural community at that time. 

Potatoes from Jean's Garden

Did you always know that agriculture would play a large part in your life? 

I think I did. It just took me a while to figure out how. I started first with forestry and then got a degree in horticulture with a focus on ornamentals. Thank goodness I moved to the mountains of Georgia and found my real love--organic gardening. I wish I would've studied small scale organic agriculture when I was in college, but nothing like that was offered.

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What is your favorite gardening/farming memory?

My Dad always ordered seeds from the same company every year: Gurneys. They sold a penny seed package for kids and Dad would get it for me. I think it was seeds that had dropped on the floor while they were packaging seeds. It was a crazy collection of seeds. I might have 2 corn plants, 3 or 4 bean plants, some carrots, a few zinnias and a sunflower. I always loved planting those seeds and waiting to see what came up. It was also special because Dad gave me a part of the garden to tend myself.

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What is your ideal gardening/farming location?

Any garden or farm needs sun. And lots of it. Of course, the perfect place would be a flat area near a creek. I also think it has to be close to where you live. You need to be able to walk out your door and see it. That way you are more likely to visit it every day and keep an eye on things.

What is your most cherished plant?

After living here for 32 years, I have several. We’ve planted so many things over the years. Before my parents died, I brought gooseberry plants and a dark purple lilac bush down here. I’m always very thankful when I see them leaf out in the spring and I know I will have them for another year.

Berries

What are your top five favorite plants to grow?

I have a lot more than 5, but if I had to cut the list down, it would be garlic, sweet corn, potatoes, blueberries, raspberries, and tomatoes.

 

Have you learned any special gardening technique(s) that you would like to share?

Give everybody space. Growing things too close together is a recipe for diseases and insect problems. Learning the weeds, insects, and diseases that are common in your area is so important.  And if your garden is wet, stay out of it. It’s so easy to spread diseases. 

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What is your favorite dish that you create from your garden? Your meals are always amazing!

Favorite dish from the garden... that is so hard. There is nothing in the world as good as fresh sweet corn and green beans. Fresh pesto on tomato sandwiches is to die for. Summer meals are fun to make. Last night, we had veggie burritos (which had onion, garlic, yellow squash, okra, tomatoes and corn in them) with fresh salsa and green beans. You couldn’t ask for more!

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If you could give advice to anyone wanting to start a career, lifestyle, or hobby in agriculture, what would you tell them?

Don’t get discouraged. Figure out what works for you. A career in agriculture is going to be a lot of work, so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. But gardening for your family is so rewarding. You should love going into your garden no matter what size it is. It should bring you happiness and vegetables.

 

Thank you to Jean Govus for taking part in this interview that was exchanged via email. Questions formulated and edits completed by Kelsey O’Manion.