Archive for Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paying it forward

North Lawrence gardener shares food with community

Corbet Collins, 74, gardens an acre of land in North Lawrence. The retiree distributes his produce throughout the community, including at senior living centers such as Babcock Place, 1700 Mass. What he won't do is accept payment for the fruits of his labor. Below, Collins is shown working his land.

Corbet Collins, 74, gardens an acre of land in North Lawrence. The retiree distributes his produce throughout the community, including at senior living centers such as Babcock Place, 1700 Mass. What he won't do is accept payment for the fruits of his labor. Below, Collins is shown working his land.

September 10, 2008


Corbet Collins: 'Santa Claus' of local produce

Corbet Collins, a gardener who donates much of his produce to friends and the elderly, talks about his life. Enlarge video

Corbet Collins

Corbet Collins

For the past 17 years, Corbet Collins has been the Santa Claus of produce for many in the Lawrence area.

Only you don't have to be naughty or nice to get your Christmas in July. You just have to keep your wallet out of sight.

Starting each spring and continuing until the first blush of fall, the Lawrence resident doles out many of the fruits of his garden - giving them by the bagful to neighbors, retirement community residents and anybody stopping by his plot of land near the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

He won't take any money for the bounty of his acre garden, just a smile.

"Oh no, I don't sell nothing. Nope, no," says Collins, 74. "You know what I've always told them: 'If it's good, that's fine, if it's bad, you can't complain - the price is right.'"

And this year, with the slumping economy hitting food prices especially hard, Collins has had quite an easy time finding homes for his fruits and vegetables.

"This year, it hasn't been no trouble, people are just waiting for it now. I mean, I guess things are a little tighter than normal," Collins says. "I used to have some trouble giving it away. I mean, it would be backing up on me. ... But this year, guess what? I think more people was wanting those fresh vegetables and stuff."

In the beginning, Collins didn't know he was in for a community garden. He and his wife, Jean, bought a plot of North Lawrence land, a few miles from their longtime Lawrence home. There was an old farmhouse on the acre of land, and Collins was convinced he could fix it up and then set up a nice garden on the rest of the plot.

But the house turned out to be too termite-ridden to salvage, and he got permission from the city to burn it down. In its place, the entire property became one big garden.

Collins planted rows of potatoes, corn, beans, tomatoes and okra. And when it came time to harvest, he began bringing it over to neighbors, such as Donna and Mike Neuner. The Neuners, the Collins' neighbors for 30 years, have to buy very few vegetables in the summer because Collins keeps their pantry full.

"We can't say enough things about his generosity," Donna Neuner says. "We've been neighbors for many years, and it seems to be something that he's avidly interested in - loves to garden, loves to spend time out there and loves to give his produce away. I've tried to convince him to open a vegetable stand or go to the farmers' market, but he loves giving it away and wouldn't have it any other way."

And his generosity hasn't stopped at his neighbors or friends, either. Eager to help those who may not be able to have access to much fresh produce, Collins brings baskets of vegetables by different communities for retirees in the area, most notably Babcock Place, 1700 Mass., and Vermont Towers, 1101 Vt.

"You should see the look on these old people's face when you give them something, I'm telling you," Collins says. "I went over there one day to Babcock and I was taking some stuff in and this little lady there, she must have been 90 years old, she says, 'Is this all for us, sonny?' and I said, 'Yes, ma'am, they is,' and she said, 'Thank the Lord.'"

Keeping going

Collins hopes to be hearing exclamations like that for years to come. He's been giving away buckets of produce for years now, and he couldn't imagine it any other way, even if it means almost as much work during retirement as his former life in the restaurant business - at least in the summer.

He sometimes puts in seven or eight hours a day in the garden and preparing the produce.

And folks have come to notice when he can't put in that time.

"One year, something happened, I think I had a funeral down South, some of my relatives died and I had to go and I didn't get my garden in. And I had a couple of people call later and wanted to know if I was in the hospital or had died," Collins says.

Neighbor Ardis Jones, 79, says that Collins never fails to be a good neighbor, whether his garden does well that year or not. She says she loves eating Collins' vegetables, but she loves having him and Jean around even more.

"I feel very fortunate to live across the street from them," Jones says. "They're great people. You just can't find better neighbors, I mean, they're there for anything - not just the produce."

- Staff writer Sarah Henning can be reached at 832-7187.


David Lignell 9 years, 1 month ago

Great article. I am hopeful that someday I can become more selfless, too. However, when I take a self inventory, I am nowhere near the humility of these people. Rock on!

Marty 9 years, 1 month ago

Oh what a wonderful world this would be if we had more people like this! God bless you Henry!

juscin3 9 years, 1 month ago

I'm glad that LJW has this article. My family has known Jean and Corbet for a very long time. I too remember goin to Henry's when I was little. Awesome food! I have been out to his lil farm that he has. I even remember serving him and Jean when I worked at Hardee's as a teenager. Always had a smile on their faces. Very pleasant couple. Wish we had more people like him and Jean.Congrats to you Corbet on an awesome contribution that you have given to the community!

4thgencowgirl 9 years, 1 month ago

Corbet and Jean, how I miss Henry's and those delicious egg sandwiches on Sunday morning before church. God Bless you both. I am going to have to come over and take lessons on how to grow a successful garden.

TheOriginalCA 9 years, 1 month ago

This is the real American hero. He doesn't have much money, but he has his knowledge, hard work, and generosity to do wonderful things for others. This is much more meaningful than people who thinks that the sun rises and sets in their wallet.

Christine Anderson 9 years, 1 month ago

What amazing people! These folks are a blessing without a doubt. I wish my apt. managers would give me permission to create a large garden plot on the property( yes, there is room) so I could start doing the same thing next spring.

introversion 9 years, 1 month ago

Good reporting, LJ World.What a great example of someone who knows what community is, and what a great person to learn about on a chilly, overcast morning.

Chris Ogle 9 years, 1 month ago

I remember Henrys too. Good memories. Way to go Corbet

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 9 years, 1 month ago

Wow.Just caught a glimpse of great-grandparents,a decade ( and more ) departed.Circle of life.Sphere.Orb.

InspectorJo 9 years, 1 month ago

Henry's Drive In...... The Pork T's, the O rings, Fried mushrooms, Shrimp dinners, Malts and Shakes.....I could go on and on and on. It WAS ....THE BEST place to eat.The Collins family have ALWAYS helped everybody and anybody. MJean and Corbet, you have reared wonderful children too. I am very grateful to have known YA All.LJW...wonderful article.

Silly_me 9 years, 1 month ago

What a great story and what a great, humble individual. When I finally am able to retire, something like that would be really fun to do. Gardening is a great relaxer and it is so satisfying watching a small sampling or seed grow to a beautiful healthy plant that produces abundant fruits and vegetables. We have a small plot in our backyard with tomatoes and peppers and this summer has been tremendous in terms of yield. We have been giving stuff away to our neighbors, friends..anybody who happens to come by. We won't be able to eat it all and it would be a terrible shame to have it go to waste. I highly recommend it to all, even if it is just 1 or 2 small plants.

zzgoeb 9 years, 1 month ago

jerk patrol...go find something good to do or say...jerk!

Sean Livingstone 9 years, 1 month ago

It is even nicer when someone like him can take the headline instead of the nasty election bashing going on right now!

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