Seniors share gardening passion
Published 12:01 am Sunday, November 29, 2015
NATCHEZ — The approximately 3-acre patch of land across the street from the von Drehle Corporation in Natchez might be mistaken for a farm with a single owner.
A more careful inspection shows the diversity of the rows. Instead of one farmer, approximately 23 area seniors ages 55 and up work the land.
The county allowed seniors to start growing food on the land approximately 30 years ago. Each senior is responsible for planting and tending their own plot.
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Farmers must bring their own seeds, but the use of the land is free.
Carl Profice Jr., 68, grows mustard greens and collards.
“I enjoy raising a garden, and I love eating fresh fruit, fresh greens,” Profice said.
Working the area has become something of a family tradition for him. At one point Profice’s father, Carl Profice Sr., was in charge.
Carl Profice Jr. worked alongside his father, and has now taken over the responsibility. Profice helps seniors get started and plows the land for free.
“I’m over it now,” Profice said. “Me and Robert Bethely.”
Bethely said he used to have is own garden, but the shade produced by area tree growth killed it.
“I couldn’t get anything to grow around there,” Bethely said.
So, for the past two years, he’s taken his green thumb to the small area on River Terminal Road to plant vegetables such as broccoli, kale, onions and peppers.
It’s not always easy. There’s a lot to take care of between grass growth and unwelcome visitors — deer.
Alvin Stewart, one of the seniors who grows food at the site, said deer are particularly bad when it comes to peas, leaving behind “nothing but stems.”
Sometimes, Stewart said, people will even show up uninvited and start picking food from the seniors’ plots.
“Can’t stop the deer and can’t stop people coming in,” Stewart said.
But when the seniors collect the harvest, it’s not always something they keep for themselves. Stewart said his siblings come down and pick food from his plot.
Others have relatives who lend a helping hand. During the summer, Bethely is joined in his work by his grandson.
For Bethely, it’s not just about being able to grow food though. He said growing his own food keeps him active.
“I’m a retiree, and it’s no fun sitting in the chair all day,” Bethely said.
Bethely is 72, not a surprising age among the seniors who work the land. Stewart is 66.
And although no set time for working in the garden exists, socializing is not uncommon.
“We come down here and get together, plant a few greens and talk,” Stewart said.
With socializing also comes a sense of friendly competition to see who can grow the best.
“We’re not really competing against each other,” Stewart said. “But we see how everyone’s garden turns out.”
It’s not something some of the seniors intend to quit soon either.
“As long as I have strength to come down here, I’ll be doing something,” Bethely said.
For more information, call Profice at 601-597-3079 or Bethely at 601-807-3052.