Hutton Kearney
Geneticist by Day and ‘Tomato Lady’ All Other Times!

Like many other Master Gardeners in the spring, Hutton Kearney began the process of setting up her “in-house” greenhouse with a plethora of seeds, pots, lamps and shelves. Tomatoes are her favorite, but Hutton grows hundreds of different vegetables, herbs and flowers. Her goal is to have over a thousand seedlings ready by spring, when they are then planted in her backyard garden and in the gardens, patios, pots and beds of many Rochester residents.

Hutton shares this planting and growing process on social media (Instagram @genesgreens and on Facebook) in the form of beautiful pictures, allowing many to vicariously experience the life of a gardener. Once the seedlings are ready, Hutton invites one and all to help themselves to the products of her hard work. 

Once the growing season is in full swing, Hutton is equally generous about sharing produce from her garden. This year she is growing over 300 unique varieties of vegetables and herbs, which include 80 different heirloom tomatoes and many unique varieties of peppers, eggplant, squash, broccoli, kale, lettuces, cutting flowers and more.  

Sharing her seedlings and produce allows Hutton to express her love language of gift-giving and creates a community of growers around her—a sense of community that was missed by her and many others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Hutton saw her father grow tomatoes regularly in the Deep South where she spent her childhood, this “extreme gardening” was her pandemic hobby. Unlike the South, Minnesota has a short growing season which poses a challenge for growing a prolific garden, but Hutton loves a challenge.  

Hutton works as a clinical molecular and cytogeneticist at Mayo Clinic. She received a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina and subsequently pursued a clinical fellowship in genetics. Her training as a scientist taught her to carefully observe cause and effect of controlled variables and to keep organized notes—skills that are beneficial for gardening. She lives in Rochester with her three children (now entering adulthood) and her husband, their garden engineer who built 25 raised beds and trellises.

Hutton’s passion for gardening stemmed from a need to find joy during the difficult and uncertain times of the pandemic. It allowed her to create something more beautiful and bigger than her worries in the controlled environment of her home. Last year Hutton discovered that she had a metastatic recurrence of breast cancer that was diagnosed in 2014. The disease had progressed to her bones and lungs. Since then, she has endured numerous tests and treatments. Metastatic cancer diagnosis and treatment are a rollercoaster ride, emotionally and physically. There is no cure, but there is treatment, which should hopefully give her several more years.  

Hutton shares, “I hope that it helps to see someone living fully while also knowing their time will be short. Gardening and sharing the joy of tending a garden with others helps me focus on beautiful, wonderful things and takes my mind from the fear and sadness that come with the cancer journey. Gardening is one thing I do that is almost meditative. It has also helped me let go of some of my need for control. Nature has her own timing—you can try and help things grow well, or prevent disease, but eventually life will cycle as intended. Then Spring arrives again with a flush of new life. It is remarkable!”

About Author

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Sumedha has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology and has published several peer-reviewed articles in the areas of genetic causes of disease, health disparities and equity in clinical trials

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