Rory Feek on Growing After His Wife Joey's Death—and Taking on the Garden She Loved so Much​​

“I’m never gonna be the gardener that Joey was. And that’s okay.”

rory feek daughter indiana farm
Bryan Allen

The following passage is an excerpt from Rory Feek’s new book, , which comes out June 19, 2018. In it, Rory shares stories of life after Joey, his wife and musical partner, passed away in 2016, including how he's raising their four-year-old daughter and doing what he calls "lifesteading" on the farm. In this exclusive first look, Rory talks taking on Joey's garden—and doing a little bit of growing himself.

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I spent the early part of this morning the same way I’ve spent almost every sunrise for the past month or two . . . with a stirrup hoe in my dirty hands. And, strangely, it’s awesome. I guess I knew it would be. Because it was for Joey. She loved everything about gardening. The labor and the fruit of the labor were the same things for her. I saw it on her face every summer of the fourteen years we were married. She didn’t spend her mornings in the garden because she had to; she had to because the garden was inside of her.

Once upon a Farm: Lessons on Growing Love, Life, and Hope on a New Frontier
amazon.com $16.99

Last spring and summer, after Joey passed away and we came back home to Tennessee, I grew a garden then also. But it wasn’t my garden. It was still hers. She had given me gardening notes from her hospital bed, and I had done my best to make sense of what came naturally in her. But the truth is, it didn’t make any sense. They were notes on her way of growing a garden. Her mama’s way before hers and probably her Grandma Sparks’s way even before that.

I did what she said to do last year, and some things grew. They grew a lot, actually. But I didn’t. By late summer the garden was an overgrown mess of vegetables and weeds, almost impossible to tell the two apart. I had done what Joey had said, or at least I tried to. But I had failed. The corn was inedible.

By the time I harvested it, the flavor was gone, and the kernels were large and mushy. It looked good lying there in the wheelbarrow after we picked it, but lying on our plates was a different story. It was bland and didn’t taste like corn at all. My neighbor Jan Harris helped me freeze some anyway, but time couldn’t help what was wrong with it. The work was there, but the love wasn’t. There’s a big difference between the two, I think.

And so this year I decided to do something different. To make it my own.

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It is still Joey’s garden. There’s a sign over the pergola at the entrance that says so, but this year it is mine also. It’s late July, and there’s barely a weed between the rows to be found. And our freezer is already bursting at the seams with carrots and okra and beets and squash that not only tasted great on our plates the day we picked them, but I know for a fact, they’re going to be heavenly in the fall or winter when all those sealed freezer bags find their way to iron skillets and sauce pans.

“I love what it’s teaching me. And I love what it’s providing for our baby. Just like Joey did.”

What’s the difference? Love, I think. I really do. You can’t just like the idea of something. You have to actually love the thing. And I’m learning to. To be honest, I don’t always love the sweat running down my face and the pain in my back after spending a long morning bent over a dozen tomato cages, but I love what it is and what it’s teaching me. And I love what it’s providing for my family. For our baby. Just like Joey did.

I’m learning a lot about farming and gardening this year that I didn’t know. That I didn’t know that I didn’t know. And it’s amazing how much those lessons are like the lessons I’ve learned in other areas of my life. In love and dreams and family.

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“I’m never gonna be the gardener that Joey was. And that’s okay.”

Like how you have to make sure your heart is ready for the seeds of change that you’re wanting to plant. And how you can’t grow love in darkness. It needs a good amount of light to take root and become all that it’s meant to be.

I’m still only halfway through this year’s gardening season, and I’m already thinking about the future. About what I’m gonna do next year. Hopefully I’ll have learned something from this one. That would be helpful.

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Bryan Allen

I’m never gonna be the gardener that Joey was. And that’s okay. I don’t think I’m supposed to be. I’m trying to learn to be the best “me” that I can be. The best gentleman farmer, in bib overalls, with starched shirts and a camera in one hand and a toddler in the other…trying to grow life and love in the soil God planted me in.

Taken from by Rory Feek Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

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