Getting My Hands Dirty

Tamekia Miller-Madden keeps family traditions alive.

Tamekia's jars of canned fruits and vegetables.
Out of the 14 different jars of fruits and vegetables Tamekia entered in WNC Mountain State Fair’s preserves competition, 8 won awards.
By Tamekia Miller-Madden –

Gardening is more than just playing with plants; it’s all about connecting with nature, earth, harvesting and keeping the family tradition alive.

Born and raised in the beautiful western North Carolina mountains, I’m super into gardening and canning. It’s a tradition passed down through the ages. My family used to garden, so I learned tons of gardening tips from them. Through trial and error, I’m still learning about picking the right seeds and caring for the plants. It has been a journey in my own little school of gardening.

Savoring the Goodness

Canning goes hand in hand with gardening. It’s about keeping the delectable taste of fruits and vegetables all year long. Think of it as ‘putting summer in a jar!’ My pressure canner hisses, and my kitchen smells amazing when I’m canning. It’s like a trip down Memory Lane to all those family harvesting and gatherings. As an African American woman in a fading tradition of gardening and canning, one can find it difficult to connect with others who can and preserve. I’m loving it, because it’s part of my family’s history.

Tamekia with State Fair blue ribbons.
Tamekia with State Fair blue ribbons.

Gardening in Small Spaces and Containers

I have learned on my journey that you don’t need a big piece of land to succeed at gardening. If you’re like me and have limited space, container gardening is a fantastic option.

Whether you have a small yard, a balcony, a tiny patio, or even a sunny windowsill, you can grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs in containers. It’s a great way to make the most of the space you have and still enjoy the joys of gardening.

Gardening in containers is not just a practical solution; it’s a way to nurture your connection to the land, eat healthier, and chart a family legacy—one pot at a time.

Tamekia’s hot peppers won First Place and Best of Show.
Tamekia’s hot peppers won First Place and Best of Show in the competition.

Stepping into the Fair

This year, I finally felt ready to join the preserves competition at the WNC Mountain State Fair. For the competition, I entered 14 different jars, each filled with the flavors and stories of my summer gardening season. There were lots of other talented canners, but guess what? Eight of my 14 jars were awarded . . . and my hot peppers won First Place and Best of Show!

It felt awesome to be recognized by professionals. In fact, I’m thinking about offering guidance and container gardening classes to help others discover the beauty of growing their own food even in the smallest of spaces. I want to empower people to connect with Mother Earth and revive the heritage and the traditions of gardening, no matter where they live or how much space they have.

Alongside the canning classes, My continued journey with gardening and canning is about keeping traditions alive, embracing my heritage, and showing that we can all learn from our past. My success at the WNC Mountain State Fair is a way of saying that this tradition is worth sharing with others. So, whether you are gardening, canning, or anything else, let’s keep these traditions alive!

Again, I must say, winning at the fair isn’t just about ribbons and prizes; it’s about honoring my roots and showing that traditions are important.

We should all be proud of where we come from and what we do. I hope to pass these gardening traditions on to others.