William “Tama” Dickerson: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food

An Interview With Martita Mestey

Martita Mestey
Authority Magazine

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Water well. Make sure you have easy access to water at your garden. in my experience there are very few plants that are susceptible to overwatering. Plants cannot reach their full potential without enough water. Plants love water in general. Watering your plants gives you a chance to nurture them personally and you can watch them thrive almost in front of your eyes.

As we all know, inflation has really increased the price of food. Many people have turned to home gardening to grow their own food. Many have tried this and have been really successful. But others struggle to produce food in their own garden. What do you need to know to create a successful vegetable garden to grow your own food? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food” we are talking to experts in vegetable gardening who can share stories and insights from their experiences.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tama Dickerson.

Tama Dickerson is a founding partner of Olivette Riverside Community and Farm, an agrihood community located in Asheville , North Carolina, as well as Paint Rock Farm, a glamping retreat, wedding venue , and organic farm in Hot Springs , North Carolina. He is a devoted gardener / farmer since planting his first garden in 1977 in his home state of Tennessee. In addition, he is a breath-worker and Ordained Ministerial Counselor, with spiritual growth being his other primary love.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I have been a lifelong lover of nature and gardening. I moved from my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee to the Cherokee Indian reservation in 1978 and lived off-grid for four years in a log cabin tending a large garden for a Cherokee family on land bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That is when the love of gardening fully developed. My education ended with a high school diploma, and I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. Through my love of creating beautiful places in nature, I eventually became a developer while simultaneously being concerned with the overdevelopment of the area. This led to several small real estate projects in Western North Carolina where I raised my family. Equally important to my life has always been spirituality. I discovered rebirthing/breath-work in 1984 in Hawaii, along with the Loving Relationship Training (LRT). These impacted my life to such a degree I trained for many years as a breath-worker and became an LRT trainer myself. Years later I pursued becoming an Ordained Ministerial Counselor. Healing work has always been the cornerstone in my life. I love making a difference in my own life and the lives of others. All these interests eventually coalesced in the opportunity to be a part in the creation of Olivette Riverside Community and Paint Rock Farm. Both of these projects offer the opportunity to continue these dual interests.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had so many interesting things happen. I think I will stick with the story of Olivette. The crash of 2008 completely took me down financially, as I was solely in real estate at the time. I was still recovering from that in 2016 when I decided to do a Team Leadership Management Program with Landmark education. That was a game-changer. That training, which took place over two solid years, became the structure that allowed both Olivette and Paint Rock Farm to come into reality. From 2005–2008 a road contractor who worked for me had been telling me about an extraordinary property near Asheville he was working on. He reminded me of it again in 2017 and kept insisting I must see it. By that time it was bank-owned due to the crash of 2008. I took a look at it, was blown away by its beauty, and immediately showed it to potential partners. Third in the row was a neighbor who I barely knew who was a developer. I literally swam across the lake we both lived on with my little brother from Big Brother/Big Sisters, walked to his front door in a dripping bathing suit, and asked him if he wanted to look at the property. Within two weeks, two virtual strangers had the property under contract and Olivette was born. Neither of us really knew what we would be doing there or what an agrihood was. We had no idea at the beginning that it would become a nationally recognized project. I am still present to the miracle of how it all came together. It’s a place where all my dreams of connecting people to nature, farming, best practices for building, spirituality, and community can all be realized — and it all started with a pitch to a stranger while wearing a dripping bathing suit!

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Love: Has to be first. I am a loving human being. Loving those you work with and putting their needs and concerns on equal par with yours. I hope my life has been an example of this in all things.

Originality: The ability to create something new that never existed before. Both Olivette and Paint Rock Farm are examples of this.

Fearlessness: Not being afraid to “go out on the skinny limbs” and knowing you can “create something from nothing.” Take a chance; risk; go for it. Nothing big will happen while playing small. You may win some or lose some, but you will never know until you take a chance. Olivette is a prime example of that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To have all, give all.” This quote is from the Course in Miracles. It’s a reversal of the world‘s thinking. You will always succeed by following this and everything will come to you based on what you give. It’s the simplest way to succeed in life. So many things have come to me through practicing this.

Are you working on any interesting or exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have not mentioned Paint Rock Farm much yet. It’s a place where I can fulfill on other aspects of life that are so important to me. We have off-grid glamping cabins on an organic vegetable and hemp farm with a 111-acre conservation forest overlooking the French Brand River. There is a beautiful 3200-square-foot barn for hosting weddings, yoga retreats, and gatherings. We produce our own CBD products and also grow food for Bounty and Soul, an amazing organization that feeds those in need healthy food and also educates them on a healthy lifestyle. The whole idea at Paint Rock Farm to get unplugged, relax, retreat, and get tuned in through our connection with nature. There is such a need for this in people’s lives. It’s been extraordinary to see hundreds of people coming through here during the last two years of COVID safely in the open air while we all reconfigure our lives.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about creating a successful garden to grow your own food. Can you help articulate a few reasons why people should be interested in making their own vegetable garden? For example, how is it better for our health? For the environment? For our wallet?

Everything ultimately is about energy. There is an energy that goes into everything we consume. Food that is grown with good intentions, joy, and care is so important to our well-being. Commercial farming is often actually a very toxic process from both the types of fertilizers and chemicals we use as well as the unhappiness that may be there from underpaid and overworked workers. There can be dozens of chemicals applied to many commercial crops. Gardening may be one of the best ways we can learn to connect with the Earth and realize how valuable that relationship is. If we learn to love the Earth, we will begin to care more for the environment in general. During the pandemic people have learned how healing it can be to simply be in nature. Gardening gets you right in there in a beautiful way while providing the wonderful rewards of high-quality food. Yes, it can be good for the wallet, too — but you may not want to count your hours in the garden and do the math. That’s not the main thing to me. You may be surprised to learn what it takes to grow food!

Where should someone start if they would like to start a garden? Which resources would you recommend? Which plants should they start with?

Start small and work your way up! It’s much better to be successful at caring for a small garden than going too big at first. Of course, these days the internet can provide all the information you may need to garden with lots of different ideas. Connect with gardeners in your area and ask what works for them. Experiment and find out what works for you and your particular environment.

Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Vegetable Garden To Grow Your Own Food”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Choosing your site. Ideally 6–8 hours full sun, level if possible, and close to home. Enough sunlight is crucial for most home vegetable varieties. A few things can do okay in less sun. The more level your plot is, the easier to get started and tend. Terracing can be done but will add expense and could add challenges moving around the garden easily. Make sure there is good access to bring in soil amendments by truck or at least a wheelbarrow, if possible. The closer to your kitchen, the more you will both tend and harvest your garden. I currently live with a very large garden, but it’s about 1500 feet away from my house. You would be surprised at the end of a long day how far that is to go harvest, and I will often not get it it done for the evening meal.
  2. Amend your soil with an abundance of organic matter and soil amendments. Organic fertilizers are wonderful in their ability to work well without the risk of “burning” your plants as chemical fertilizers will. Feed your plants very well. One of the best gardeners I know grows immense and beautiful vegetables consistently by using large amounts of chicken manure-based fertilizers. Two big double handfuls, for example, under each plant. Chicken manure bagged products in 50-pound bags are my go-to organic fertilizer. Fish emulsion is the second most important one. Vegetable plants love a regular feeding with that.
  3. Plant and seed selection. Pick varieties that are right for your zone and don’t plant them until weather conditions are right. Many nurseries and especially big-box stores like Lowe’s will put tender plants out for sale well before the last frost date. So many well-intentioned plantings each year are killed off when people plant too early. Especially for new gardeners, pick easier things to grow. Tomatoes, for example, are one of the most beloved but challenging crops. While heirloom tomatoes are by far the best flavor, they can be very challenging to get to a successful harvest due to blight. Hybrids, while not as flavorful, can provide a more dependable harvest.
  4. Water well. Make sure you have easy access to water at your garden. in my experience there are very few plants that are susceptible to overwatering. Plants cannot reach their full potential without enough water. Plants love water in general. Watering your plants gives you a chance to nurture them personally and you can watch them thrive almost in front of your eyes.
  5. Mulch your garden and keep it weeded well. Weeds can overrun your garden, choke out your plants, and steal the nutrients you provide. There is nothing so beautiful as a well-tended garden. Weeding can be another great way to be with your plants and nurture them. Don’t think of weeding as a chore, but as an opportunity to be in your garden. Once plants are big enough you can mulch them well. This will keep them weed-free for the rest of the growing season and build your soil at the same time.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a garden? What specifically can be done to avoid those errors?

I would say for organic gardeners, underfeeding your garden is very common. Starting too big, planting too early, not preparing your soil well enough. Take the time to learn at least a little about the needs of everything you grow. It is so easy to do that now. Is it a plant that requires staking or climbing? How far apart does each plant need to be? There are so many simple questions that really have simple answers if you just look for them.

What are some of the best ways to keep the costs of gardening down?

Starting your own plants would be my number one answer to that. Plants have become so expensive! If you do start your own, make sure you have a place with enough light and warmth. Build your soil with free bags of leaves from your neighborhood if available. Buy large bags of organic fertilizer. It keeps for a long time. If you go big, see if you can go in on a bulk order of fertilizer.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

So many possibilities to choose from here, but I would have to go with a movement to start spending as much time “unplugged” and out in nature as possible. That means large blocks of time, preferably at least three days in a row where you get off your smartphone, TV, and computer. Do it with your loved ones, new friends, or solo and get to know yourself apart from the digital world. Get to truly connect with others with your beautiful, full presence. Let your mind quiet down. Hang out in the natural light and under the stars. Sit with fire and besides any body of water. Get to know nature better; it’s one of the most important relationships we have that so many are neglecting. Nature proved to be one of the most beneficial and soothing things we had during the first two years of the pandemic. When you get to know something better, you tend to care about it more. That includes getting to know yourself better as you are, not compared to others.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I will have to name three to increase my odds of having lunch! Marianne Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, and Don Miguel Ruiz. All three of these extraordinary people have touched me and left me with teachings I have drawn upon all of my life since being introduced to their work.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

To be honest, my online presence is not my strong suit, but you could follow Olivette Riverside Community and Farm and Paint Rock Farm through their websites (olivettenc.com and paintrockfarm.com), where you can also connect with their Instagram accounts!

Thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success and good health.

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