Some of us have never grown a vegetable, much less one that would be fair-worthy. Paul Jackson, who died last April, and his wife Mary entered veggies, fruits, jellies, and flowers galore over the years. They were both born and raised on the Vineyard and were married more than 50 years, and like their partnership, their Edgartown home garden was a success.
“He was a teenager when the neighbor took him to the bank to get a loan for the mortgage on the house,” the Jacksons’ daughter Beverly Bergeron says. “It was $57 a month. He told the neighbor, ‘I can’t afford this,’ and the neighbor said, ‘You can do it.’”
In the end, they had a four-acre parcel of land and the house. “My father was great at buying unbuildable plots and putting them together. And every time he bought land, she bought diamonds,” Bergeron laughed.
The whole family worked together on the garden, with the kids, Paul and Beverly, getting the weeding done before they went off to play with their friends. The family ate everything they grew, Beverly said. “We had three freezers full of scallops, fish, deer, fruits, and vegetables. If it wasn’t fresh, it was jarred.” Paul and Mary went scalloping together back when you could get 20 bushels at a time, and Mary went fishing and deer hunting with Paul as well.
It was Beverly that convinced her dad to enter his produce at the fair. Her husband, Eugene, always entered the woodsman contests back at the old fairgrounds, and after she saw the entries, she thought her dad just might blow all the others away. “I’d look at the displays and I thought my father could blow this up. And it was an explosion of ribbons and fun and excitement. He had thousands of ribbons. I have Tupperware full of them.”
Beverly said it was her dad’s humble beginnings that drove him to make sure they didn’t go hungry. He grew up with four brothers and sisters and not a lot of money, she explained.
“The reason he became such a visionary grower and harvester was that there were five children in his family and there wasn’t enough food to go around. He dropped out of school at an early age and started farming,” she explained. “His favorite expression was ‘Do you like to eat? Well, so do your plants.’ He learned how to grow them from his own experience.”
Jackson’s favorite part of the process was the harvesting, his daughter says, and filling up the freezer. He would dig up carrots and parsnips all winter. He’d garden for hours a day, hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow filled with weeds, Beverly said.
“He did circles around us, and he was a hell of a lot older than us. He loved it.”
Maybe Paul Jackson’s legacy is enough to spur on your own interest in growing and harvesting. A blue ribbon is a motivator as well.