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Today is October 4, 2022

Mississippi Seen

Young gardeners ditch tractor for a mule

Young gardeners ditch tractor for a mule

Cody and Kalem Rogers of Neshoba County work their summer garden the old-fashioned way, with mules, but for modern reasons. Photo: Walt Grayson

    Wayne Rogers, who has a farm south of Philadelphia, called me a while back and asked if I’d like to do a TV story about his boys, who use mules to plow their summer garden. I was thinking it had been several years since I had done a story about mule plowing.
    Going through my files, I discovered it was actually 20 years ago, in 1993, that Rev. Lewis McDonald invited me out to his place to watch him work his garden with his mules. He used a tractor to break up the ground to begin with, but then used a mule to do the intricate work in the garden. Wasn’t anything better than a mule, he said.
    I had no idea what to expect when I drove up to the Rogers place and saw 12-year-old Cody and 13-year-old Kalem hooking up their mules to get ready for me to video them plowing.
    Questions running through my mind were along the lines of why they use mules instead of a tractor or a tiller. Is it a throwback to old times? Is this garden something they want to do or is it something they have to do? Stuff like that, remembering my one summer when I was about their age, working in the hay field on my uncle’s dairy farm and how that one summer of long, hot days cured me of ever being tempted to pursue an agricultural career.
    Wayne explained that the garden is the boys’ summer job and they make pretty good money at it. But it is theirs to do. All of it.
    Kalem told me the first thing they have to do is pay their dad back for the advance he gives them to buy the seed. And just like any other business, any other expense comes directly off the bottom line. That is why the brothers like to use mules.
    “That diesel fuel for the tractor costs a lot,” Kalem says.
    Mules can have a little bit of a stubborn streak, but not as bad as a donkey. I was told that a mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse and hopefully retains the best of both lines.
    But a little of what you don’t want, like stubbornness, may slip through, too.
    Cody told me what to do if the mules don’t do exactly what you want them to do: “Just put ‘em in a circle and go.”
    Meaning you lead them around in a circle and then head them back in the direction you wanted them to go to begin with.
    Mama and Daddy used to have to do something like that with us when we were kids, I told them.
     But old times has little to do with why these young entrepreneurs want to use mules. It is strictly economics and conservation for Kalem and Cody.
    Kalem explained that one of the reasons he prefers a mule to a tractor is because it “doesn’t pollute the area around us.”
    Cody immediately snickered and added, “Well, not too much!”
    Which reminded Kalem that the mules also help fertilize the garden as they go.
    The boys’ mother, Tammy Rogers, says she’s pleased her sons have taken on the garden as their summer job. She says she is delighted they are learning values a lot of other kids don’t learn anymore.
    I’d call them old-fashioned values. But don’t tell these modern young men that! “Established rules of successful living” would be more to their liking.

    Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at

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