Women ‘empowered’ by gardening, mowing

Jennifer Marsalis stands by some of her garden produce.

If you want to keep up with Jennifer Marsalis or her cousin Gail Douglas, you’d better knock back an energy drink. And carry a sweat towel.

Marsalis is a gardener. Douglas mows grass daily with a rotary mower. They don’t mess around.

When I showed up at Marsalis’ house on Winding Road east of Liberty the other day, I was knocked out by all the ornamental plants. And those weren’t even why I came.

She wanted to show me her garden. Or should I say gardens.

First Marsalis showed off some of her produce, displayed on a table next to an antique radio — eggplants, onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, okra, assorted pickles and her special chow-chow.

“My mother Lucille (Winding) passed the chow-chow recipe on to me, which we grew up eating all the time when she would make it,” Marsalis said. “It’s a cabbage relish you eat over greens, peas or even hot dogs.

“I made my first batch last year, and when my Mother took a taste test she said it was better than her own, and it made her think of fond memories of canning vegetables and fruits over the years. That really made me want to continue to make it.”

The radio also has a family history.

“My grandmother had that radio. We listened to it growing up. I was 7 then. She listened to the McComb station,” Marsalis said.

Marsalis led me on a whirlwind tour of her family property, which includes various garden patches and countless ornamental plants spread out around several residences, plus two yellow Amite County school buses that she and her husband James drive — 20 years for her, 27 for him.

Up ahead was a fence covered in lush muscadine vines.

“I got my first start from (the late) Kenneth Gordon,” Marsalis said. “Look at them now. He would be so proud if he could see them now.”

Rows of corn flanked a long, thick row of Beauregard sweet potatoes, the green vines adorned with purple flowers.

“Aren’t they the prettiest things you ever saw?” Marsalis said. “They’re fine!”

Butter peas overhung a fence, and blueberry bushes and pear trees grew here and there.  

Another garden sported a row of Georgia collards grown from seed next to her father’s old blue Holland tractor. Marsalis’ father, Cleophas Winding, is 82.

“My dad’s been gardening a long time. He’s gone through two John Deere tractors,” Marsalis said.

He also has an ancient old front-tine tiller still in use.

Marsalis has been serious about gardening for 12 years, but has actually been doing it much longer.

“We did it all my life. We had a pepper field. My mother grew snow peas. She sold them,” she said.

The peas were sold to Mexican restaurants, she said.

“We grow good tomatoes out here but the birds peck on them,” she narrated on her tour.

Rows of okra promised to grow more than anyone could eat, so Marsalis and her family give them away.

“You can only can so much. You can’t keep it forever,” Marsalis said.

Women’s Mow Ministry

After a hot, sweaty, speedy tour of the property, Marsalis headed over to Douglas’ property to look at a tall tree covered in thorns.

The tree was a thorny locust, also known as honey locust. You don’t see many as big as hers.

Douglas retired in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to her grandfather’s 150-year-old, property four months ago.

Unlike Marsalis’ sunny property, Douglas’ place is shaded by tall trees. She has fruit trees planted here and there and a pine plantation on the 100-acre tract. She’s planning to create a park in one overgrown area.

There’s also plenty of lawn, and she mows it with an old-fashioned rotary cutter.

“This is my greatest joy, my manual mower,” Douglas said.

Her 25-year career at American Honda made her is highly fuel-conscious.

“When I came here and found how much gas people consume — like between weed whackers, the mowers and edgers — I was horrified,” Douglas said.

She tried a regular gas-powered push mower but had trouble pulling the starter cord. Then a salesman showed her the rotary mower and she fell in love.

It not only cuts well, it provides great exercise and is just plain fun, she said.

She ticked off the reasons: “Cardio, saving the planet, being one with the earth, because you don’t really get the ‘feel-the-oneness.’ That’s what I wanted to get.”  

Mowing enables her to get in at least 10,000 steps a day. She mows every day, and not just her own yard but others’ as well.

She sees mowing grass as a Christian ministry.

“We want to be able to do for the least of these,” Douglas said.

She and three friends have formed a group called Women’s Mow Ministry. Anyone interested in joining may email

“I want to empower women to get out, exercise, be able to do things for themselves,” Douglas said.

Her cousin Marsalis lets her husband do the grass-cutting around her place, but she gets plenty of movement gardening.

“Gardening is a continuous exercise. It’s all year,” Marsalis said. “People say they get bored. How do you get bored? There’s always something to do.”

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