Over the last few weeks, I have been reading the United Health Foundation’s report entitled “America’s Health Rankings” which lists the healthiest states to live in. The report takes into account sedentary behavior, obesity, diabetes, smoking and other behaviors that could affect our health. It is a very interesting report, but if you happen to read it, you will find out pretty fast that we are not the salutatorian of the class this year. In fact, we didn’t even make the top ten. Our grade fell more in the group that should have pushed back the plate more and skipped the extra biscuit at supper time. Tennessee ranked number 39 which wasn’t last, but sure didn’t put us up there in the most likely to live longer group.
Vermont was number one. I guess all that maple syrup and cold weather helps to keep you active. Next on the list was Hawaii with a lot of northeastern states rounding out the top places. The least healthy was a two-way tie for last between Mississippi and Louisiana. There were only four other states above us from the south and they were Virginia at 21, North Carolina at 33, Florida at 34 and Georgia at 36. Let’s face it, it is time for us down this way to get healthier and active.
I plan to do just that by getting into gardening more. While recovering from some surgery recently, I spent my time seeking just the right place on my property to sink hundreds of dollars into the ground to grow 20 bucks worth of produce over the summer. But, I will use the same reasoning as other green thumb enthusiasts as we write another check for more miracle dirt, it keeps us outside and the soil is therapeutic. That never was in my thoughts as a farm kid, having to chop corn and tobacco in the hot sun, but we all change with age. You know, sort of like cheese.
A few years ago, I ordered one of those little tillers they advertise on TV, which now hangs on the wall in my garage just waiting for me to get into shape to use it. They guaranteed that it will dig through concrete and if you order all of the attachments you can sell your farm tractor and go into supplying the world grain market. And, of course, I bit. I’ve told this story before about my tiller mechanics, but it never gets old.
I’ll never forget that Saturday morning in my garage; I opened the boxes and poured tiller parts out for hours. The packaging was all vacuumed sealed and encased in bulletproof plastic. If we could encase our cars in that stuff, no one would ever have another insurance claim.
After using the jaws-of-life to open all the packaging, I began to put the tiller together. I did real well with the engine assembly and only got the handles backwards. With the pride of a kid with a brand new bike, I’ll never forget gently carrying my 20-pound two-cylinder tiller to the backyard. With instructions in hand, I pushed all the buttons and gave the starter cord a yank. The little engine started to purr like a kitten and I pulled my form fitting professional garden gloves on as if I was a racecar driver in the Daytona 500. I gave my Case/IH cap a pull down over my eyes and gave the turtle/rabbit lever a squeeze to set the tiller in motion. The little purring engine now sounded like a giant hornet locked up in a fruit jar for two days. It roared with its entire might and I immediately noticed one mechanical failure on my part that was really making a difference. I had put the blades on backwards and my little tiller had suddenly become a deranged kangaroo. I had it by both handles in a death grip, but it was bouncing so high that at times it would block the sun. I wanted to stop it but I had failed to read that far in the instructions. I had just read the starting part and I was now tilling things that I had not planned on tilling.
After a bouncing trip around the yard, my hand finally accidentally hit the kill button on the handle. My arms had become like jelly, and when I tried to remove my gloves, I had a problem of making my hands come together. I couldn’t even take my finger and touch my nose. But this year will be different. The tiller is older and so am I, plus wiser. It will not be my first “tiller rodeo” and I hope this gardening experience will be a healthier one.
It’s time to at least knock Florida out of 34th place and move up to a healthier place in the chart. Gardening may just do the trick, if you read the instructions.
- Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com