Generous Gardener: Aberdeen Man Shares the Fruits of His Labor
Alvin Davis knows the secret to growing the perfect tomato, and he's a man on a mission.
"I don't divulge secrets," he says. "But they need a lot of TLC. You need to worry about them."
Davis has been gardening in his small backyard located on the corner of Sycamore and Elm streets in Aberdeen for the past 13 years.
What began as a six- by eight-foot garden has crept over time to span the entire area of his backyard, turning it into a jungle of vines and stalks bearing tomatoes, okra, squash, cucumbers - essentials, Davis says, for the ideal summer garden.
"This would probably be the most micro of micro farming," he says with a laugh. "It started as a small place - about as big as a picnic table. I just added on and added on a little bit until I couldn't add anymore."
Potted okra and tomato plants began sprouting around the garden's perimeter after Davis ran out of dirt.
Over the last three months, Davis and his partner, Shirley Whitley, have been nurturing around 460 vegetable plants, diligently watering and -fertilizing as nature rewards them with copious amounts of summer produce.
"We love watching them grow," Whitley says. "It's a miracle to watch things just mature like that before your face and know that you had a hand in it."
A constant supply of fresh summer vegetables isn't bad either.
"I prefer to raise what I eat when I can," Davis says. "I know where it's coming from. I know it's healthy and fresh."
Whitley often makes pasta sauce with the tomatoes and does a lot of freezing and canning for winter.
Davis prefers a fresh tomato on a classic B.L.T., or stirred with cucumbers in a light salad dressing.
"And don't forget the salt shaker," he adds with a grin. "We are in the South."
Though Davis admits it's hard to pass up a fresh tomato from the garden, he gives away most of his produce.
This year's plenty of Big Boys, Better Boys and Whoppers, along with almost 50 different tomato varieties, okra, squash and cucumbers, has gone to those who do not have the luxury of fresh produce from a summer garden.
Davis donates most of his produce to the Interfaith Food Pantry, located on Knight Street in downtown Aberdeen.
"Once we found a need right around the corner from us, it was not a hard decision," Davis says. "I don't think I'm that unusual as far as that goes."
The pantry serves residents of Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Pinehurst, Taylortown, Addor, Jackson Hamlet and Pinebluff.
According to Marie Lomac, a volunteer director at the pantry, Davis and Whitley have donated approximately 1.25 tons of produce from his summer garden.
"Alvin's a very special man," she says.
Davis says he approached Lomac about donating produce to the food pantry last year.
"You're always going to have more than you consume yourself," Davis says. "If we couldn't use it, I was going to give it to people who don't have anything."
Lomac sees the gratitude in people's faces when they -discover fresh produce in their grocery bags.
"We hear, 'Tomatoes! Oh, I love tomatoes!'" Lomac says. "At Providence Place, they went bonkers. He's a wonderful person for doing this."
The pantry also receives donations in produce from the Sandhills Farm to Table Co-Op, but the amount of produce is nothing compared with Davis's supply.
"He has been a major source of our produce throughout the entire season," Lomac says. "They have been extremely generous to us."
Lomac says that Davis and Whitley's produce helps get the health benefits of fresh food to the people who need it most at no cost to the pantry.
"Fresh produce is far better for the people we serve," Lomac says. "Davis has provided fresh produce that's free, and they use it. Fresh produce is a lot better than something out of a can."
For Davis, the act of generosity is just one of the many rewards of gardening.
He takes great satisfaction in cultivating a healthy plant.
"There's some sweat involved," he says. "My shirt stays wet, but I love doing it."
Any seasoned gardener knows that growing plants is a constant process.
Work begins at daylight, usually around 6 a.m., with watering plants. Davis goes down his crowded rows making sure that each plant gets ample water to withstand the dry heat of the day. After watering, he and Whitley begin picking produce. By 10 a.m., the produce is ready for delivery down the street.
After the work is finished at Davis' home, he and Whitley go to Pinebluff, where they repeat the process with another garden.
"There's nothing mundane about it," Davis says. "You're trying to grow them even better every year."
Davis readily admits that he was a true novice when he first began gardening.
He heard all kinds of doubts when he started to plant - the light was too shady, the soil was too sandy, the area was too small.
Davis didn't care.
Over the years, he has spent a lot of time doing research online to determine what's best for his plants
Now, his tomato plants grow well over six feet in thick rows every summer.
"I thought everybody's tomatoes were that big!" he says with a laugh.
In order to keep his operation going, Davis began selling his produce out of his garage.
Patrons, mostly neighbors, stop by for a tomato or two, but Davis hopes that over time, sales will help him bring more fresh, locally grown food to those who have limited access to healthy options.
As the last of summer's tomatoes fall off the vine, Davis is already preparing to plant rows of collard greens for fall.
Lomac says the pantry plans to distribute vouchers for Davis' collard greens as the crop comes in so people will be able to go up the street and pick them up from Davis and Whitley directly.
"It's going to people who need it," Davis says.
The days are getting shorter as a new season approaches, but Davis and Whitley know they will continue to provide fresh food for their neighbors down the street.
Contact Hannah Sharpe by e-mail at email@example.com.
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