Renee Studebaker

Jan 19th, 2018 | By | Category: guest bio, the show
Renee Studebaker, Garden and Food columnist, Austin American Statesman

Renee Studebaker

Renee Studebaker former garden and food writer for the Austin American Statesman, currently does vegetable garden design and installation work and teaches vegetable gardening and culinary skills to grade school students.

She is also the current president of the non-profit Green Corn Project.

“My affection for homegrown vegetables began when I was a kid spending summers at my grandparent’s farm in Arkansas,” she says.

Renee confesses that shucking corn,  picking tomatoes and shelling purple hull peas wasn’t much fun, but the payoff  at dinner time was huge: “A plate of purple hull peas cooked with a small slab of salt pork, thick slices of tangy sweet no-name beefsteak tomatoes, and to-die-for creamed corn that had been scraped off the cob and simmered with a couple of pats of homemade butter just minutes before serving.”

She says sliced cucumber and banana pepper added crunch to the meal, and a wedge of skillet cornbread was at the ready to mop up juices.  “It was heaven on a plate.”

As a young adult in 1980 Renee moved to Austin and rented a tiny space in a big house with a big back yard off South First Street. “That spring, I rented a tiller and planted a garden of  tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.” She says in no way was she  going to eat vegetables out of cans.

By May, her first Austin garden was looking good and the vegetables were coming on strong. Then came the infamous Memorial Day Flood and much of her garden was swept away. She’s philosophical about it, though. “I learned a hard lesson that day: The weather can be your best friend and your worst enemy, all in the same weekend.” No hard feelings.

And now, 30+ years later, growing food and “complaining about the weather (and the crummy Central Texas soils)  is just as much fun and rewarding as it ever was.” Renee says this is especially true today, and adds,  “It seems like everyone has a vegetable garden or wants one. ”

Although her grandmother has passed, Renee says she feels her influence on her life every day. “I sometimes wish my grandmother were still alive,” she says, “so I could tell her about all the young people who are getting excited about  growing vegetables. ‘Well, I’ll be,’ is probably what she’d reply.”

Well, I’ll be, indeed.

Below is a video featuring Renee and her garden that aired on Central Texas Gardener, a weekly series from Austin’s PBS affiliate, KLRU.

A few things have changed in Renee’s garden and her life since this piece aired originally, but one thing that hasn’t changed is her passion for homegrown food.

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