On Sweet Potatoes and Humility

Sometimes the smallest things produce the biggest results. My new role of farm wife is teaching me just that!—in more ways than one...

One day last spring my farmer husband of less than a year asked me to pick up twelve sweet potato plants at the local garden center while I was in town. He’d cultivated the garden and was ready to plant them, visions of delicious sweet potato fries, casseroles, and pies dancing in his head.

Eager to please and eager to prove myself as a capable farmer’s wife despite my suburban upbringing, I headed to the garden center. I asked a worker who was watering flowers to point me to the sweet potato plants, to which she inquired, “Sweet potato vines?” “Sure,” I said, feeling a twinge of doubt concerning that word vines but quickly pushing it aside, not wanting to appear as though I didn’t know what I was doing. She directed me to a display covered in lovely pale green and purple leaves. I selected twelve of the best-looking plants, filled a large tray with the small plastic pots, purchased them, and drove to the farm.

When I walked up to the front porch of the farmhouse carrying my flat full of plants, I encountered my father-in-law. The twinkle in his eye and wry smile that spread across his face as he glanced at my armload instantly alerted me to the fact that I’d made a mistake. I recalled my earlier doubt at the garden center, blushed, and said, “I bought the wrong thing, didn’t I?” Ever the diplomat, he simply shrugged his shoulders and allowed my sister-in-law, who’d happened upon the scene, to take over the conversation. “Oh, well!”, she said, having mercy on me. “If you’d never seen them before, you’d have no way of knowing which plants to get.” This gracious response to my blunder helped me to catalog this experience in my mind as one of humility instead of humiliation. My husband responded similarly but sent me right back to the garden center to remedy my error.

The ten-minute drive into town gave me time to ponder this new life of mine and the fact that it felt hopeful and beautiful, yet at the same time foreign and awkward. My previous two jobs had required me to be skilled in performance—one focused on musical performance and one public speaking—so confidence had been a key factor in my success. I was beginning to suspect, however, that it would not primarily be confidence that made me flourish in my role of farm wife—in fact, overconfidence had gotten me into trouble!—but rather humility. I'd need a willingness to admit that there was much I didn't know and a teachable spirit to learn from my husband and others who would help me become acquainted with the unfamiliar yet rewarding ways of farm life.

When I arrived back at the garden center, the teenage boy working the cash register was fortunately uninterested in my embarrassment. He mechanically exchanged my $20 worth of sweet potato vines for $3 of sweet potato plants. To my surprise the twelve plants were tiny, each about six-inches long and together forming a bundle no bigger around than a nickel! I felt silly carrying this flimsy little cluster wrapped in a wet paper towel back to my car when just moments earlier I'd emerged from it with arms full; anyone observing the transaction would be sure to know I wasn't from around here. When I returned to the farm, I helped my husband plant the itty-bitties, again surprised because he’d made twelve mounds of dirt that were very large—much larger than the plants I held in my hand could ever warrant, I thought. But I’d learned my lesson, so I kept these doubts to myself.

Several months later it was time to harvest our sweet potatoes. My husband dug the potatoes while I put them into empty seed sacks. The first sack filled up quickly, and soon we had filled a second…Then a third! By the time we’d harvested all of the sweet potatoes, we had a crop of over 200 pounds! I couldn’t believe that the twelve wimpy-looking plants over which I'd agonized had yielded such an abundance. Our bumper crop even included a huge state fair-worthy sweet potato that weighed 11.2 pounds!

For me that sweet potato harvest was metaphorical. In the same way that the tiny plants produced a large harvest, my small, inconspicuous decision to approach my new farm life with humility has begun to produce big results as well. Through asking a million questions, letting others show me the way, and getting my hands dirty I've learned my way around this way of living a bit more and become more comfortable in my own skin here too. I know my lessons are just beginning, but they are not without their delightful rewards--like the perfectly crisp grilled sweet potato wedges we ate for dinner tonight!

What about you? What small thing can you cultivate now that might produce a big result later?

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