Until eight years ago, the only life 70-year-old James Jackson knew was that of a farmer.
The son of a Montgomery County farmer, Jackson worked on a farm in Germantown until the land "was sold and developed into apartment buildings, Jackson then went to work on another Germantown farm, but the landowner there "done sold that one, too," Jackson recalled yesterday.
Jackson and his wife eventually went to live at the Holly Hall apartment project for sentor citizens on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. Today, with some othe elderly farmers who live at Holly Hall and whose stories match his own, Jackson is back farming, this time cultivating a one-acre plot of land alongside the partments and distributing what is grown to the other residetns.
There are 130 residents at Holly Hall, many disabled, who pay a quarter of their income to live in the county-run project. - Though it's difficult for many to even leave their apartments, hope of the residents want for vegetables now, thanks to Jackson and the other farmers.
This past summer, each resident has received bags of corn, tomatoes, squash, onions, peas, beefs, cucumbers and radishes. According to Jackson, the residents can still look forward to green beans, squash, eggplant and cabbage in the weeks ahead.
THe idea to cultivate a vegetable garden for the Holly Hall residents originated with Thomas Leith, who has lived at the apartment project for eight years and says he learned how to farm to age 7 on his father's property in Fauquler County, Va.
Leith said Jackson and Holly Hall's resident manager, Sam Levin, were planning to plant a garden on a small plot of ground behind the complex about three years ago, Leith recalled that when he saw this, he offered to let the man use his own sod cutter and plow so that they could cultivate a larger piece of ground.
Levin then asked the AFL-CIO, which operates a labour studies center next to the apartments, to permit Holly Hall residents to use a portion of the AFL-CIO property for a vegetable garden. Officials at the labor studies center agreed, and have given the Holly Hall farmers a little bit more land to cultivate each year since then.
The vegetables are distributed free to the residents on carts the farmers bring to the apartment buildings. The service means a lot to someone like Lottle Glick, 72, whose entire left side is paralyzed, and who has to depend on her sons or someone else to take her grocery shopping.
The vegetables she gets from the Holly Hall farmers are more than enough, she says. She keeps four containers of sauce for Spanish onelette, made with the vegetables from the garden, on hand in her freezer and says "I even have some squash left over from last summer."
The garden means a lot to the farmers, too. Pete Burke, 47, who lives at Holly Hall with his elderly mother and is disable himself, said he used to "hang around the streets all day" before he got involved with the garden. Before he came to Holly Hall, he worked on a farm in Clarksburg, until it was sold to make way for houses.
Burke said he was allowed to keep his tiny farmhouse, but the county later condemned it, and he was forced to move into Holly Hall.
Holly Hall has so many former farmers living there, according to Helen Levin, who manages the complex with her husband, because "they are the people who need the housing nowadays."
Despite the fact that their farms were swooped up to provide housing in Montgomery County, prices of these new homes far outreach any amount they could pay.
The farmers say they don't like what's happening to the land in Montgomery County.
The development boom, says Leith, "don't make me feel good at all. It just cuts down on a lot of food . . . If they want to build the houses, okay, but leave a little spot for them to have a garden."
Jackson says he doesn't even recognize the areas he once farmed. "I'd hardly know how to get round if I had to ever go back there."
But, he says shrugging, "There's not much you can do about it."