It was a little over 25 years ago that Edward Adams got a bit of advice that eventually led to the development of a hobby that quickly grew into a second career. And local vegetable lovers, especially the health-conscious ones, are as happy as he is that he heeded that advice.
In 1990, three years before he retired from his career as a delivery driver for Monsanto Company, Adams expressed to some of the customers on his route a desire to grow quality vegetables, especially collards. He asked them what steps he needed to take in order to do so.
The simple suggestion they offered pretty much turned his life around, as he quickly discovered that he was blessed with a “greens” thumb.
“I used to drive a truck and hauled collards, turnips and some other things,” said the Freemanville resident who is known as “The Collard Man” around Atmore and the surrounding area. “I wondered what they did to grow such good ones, so I asked them. They told me, ‘You’ve got the best ground up there; you can grow them as good as we can.’ I took them at their word. I started growing a few collards in 1990 and started doing it full time in 1993, after I retired.”
Adams raises collards, turnips, cabbage, kale and rutabagas in his garden. He quickly discovered that not only was the local soil almost perfect for the row crops he planted, especially collards, but also that a little hard work and a lot of TLC would work in conjunction with that soil to produce some impressive results.
Now he is basically a full-time gardener, tending a small farm along Jefferson Lane that includes about an acre of the green, leafy vegetables that are regarded as one of nature’s healthiest foods. Collards have proven to lower cholesterol and to lower a person’s risk of cancer by supporting the detoxification and anti-inflammatory systems.
“I sure got them,” he said as he swept an arm toward the roughly 2,500 Georgia Top Bunch plants standing tall and full of leaves. “I love collards, and I love growing them. I turned 80 around the first of October, but I’m not scared of work. My daddy taught me that a long time ago.”
Although the 2,000-plus plants represent only about a third of the seeds he put in the ground in late summer, The Collard Man said he was mildly surprised that this year’s crop has proven so successful.
“I buy my plants from a little place outside Tifton, Ga. (Ty Ty Nursery) and have them shipped here,” he explained. “You ain’t never going to get them all to come up, so I planted 6,000 hoping for 3,000. I’ll probably get about 2,000 or 2,500. I’m surprised to see them grow like they did, it’s been so dry this year. And when it gets dry out here, it’s dry.”
Still, his collards are well developed, lush with color and full of taste, grown with the barest touch of chemicals. If they weren’t, he said, he wouldn’t be offering them for sale at Atmore Farmers Market or from his field.
“I’m not going to sell any bad stuff,” he promised. “I spray them as less as I can, and the rain makes them shoot right out of the ground. I’m trying to get them all sold out right now, so anybody that wants some can call me, then come out to the field and get them fresh. If they call me the night before (at 368-2660), I’ll have them ready when they get here the next morning.”
His wife Betty, with whom he has shared 55 years, handles most of the paperwork and clerical duties for him, and one of his four children, Edward Jr., helps out when he can. But Adams is quick to point out that his wife and son aren’t the only sources of help he has gotten with his agricultural endeavor.
“God has blessed me,” he said, smiling as he snapped a large rubber band around a bunch he had just harvested. “He sends rain when I need rain; he helps me get out here in the field every day. With His help, I’ve been doing real good.”