“I wish I could do a Chantix commercial,” says Ed McGlothern Jr. as he wades through 6-foot-tall greenery dripping with heirloom tomatoes. This is only one corner of a vast organic garden at his Vallecito home that fills his one-acre property with a diverse array of vegetables, melons, gourds, fruit trees, flowers and peppers. The garden looks as though it has been there forever, but it all began less than a decade ago on a fateful day that McGlothern has committed to memory.
On Jan. 20, 2010, McGlothern decided to quit smoking. Earlier that day, he had calculated his expenses and realized he was spending $300 monthly on cigarettes. With the help of a medication called Chantix, he kicked the habit and has never looked back.
In lieu of smoking, McGlothern found that there was a void to be filled, both with time and money. He saw an opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream: grow a garden. Thus, armed with a Better Homes and Gardens magazine and a lot of determination, he got to work.
For the past seven years, 50-year-old McGlothern has dedicated that $300 a month and countless hours of labor to fulfilling his dream. He named his garden “Fast Eddie’s” after his nickname earned from more than 26 years and counting as a driver for UPS.
Despite 50-hour weeks spent delivering packages throughout Vallecito, Murphys and Arnold, McGlothern always finds time for his garden.
“It’s a little bit every day,” says McGlothern. “If you do just a little bit every day, you’re fine. But if you put it off, then you have a whole day on the weekend.”
Fast Eddie’s Garden is a testament to the tremendous bounty that can be gained from a relatively small piece of land and some serious elbow grease. In his first harvest, McGlothern was able to produce 4,000 pounds of vegetables in as many square feet. As he glowingly guides visitors through the fruits of his labor, he easily recounts all the facts and figures.
“We harvested 300 beautiful green globe artichokes this year,” he says, pointing to the tall, sage-colored plants topped with purple blossoms. Beside the artichokes are planter boxes overflowing with bushy asparagus: “We got one pound per day, per box for six weeks.”
Then there are the tomatoes, 150 plants within 1,300 square feet that yield up to 200 pounds per week for roughly 10 weeks each year. McGlothern started out with 100 different heirloom varieties and has narrowed it down to his “Top 11,” based on flavors and uniqueness. Those varieties include the striped Solar Flare, the Costoluto Genovese, which is his biggest producer, and the Brandywine with its giant leaves and fruit.
To maintain his organic garden, McGlothern substitutes orange marigolds for pesticides, their scent warding off aphids and gophers. When he first moved to the property, it was “overrun” with gophers, and he had to employ his sharpshooting skills to get the situation under control.
“I used to sit out here on the back deck with a BB gun and just plug them all day long. That was fun for a while, but then I started trapping them with a sense trap,” he said.
In total, McGlothern has trapped 80 gophers. “I only have one or two left that are wily, and I’m still trying to get them.”
As for birds, there are two hardworking scarecrows on the farm, both fashioned by McGlothern’s 23-year-old daughter, Kylie, one of which she designed to resemble her dad.
To attract bees, McGlothern grows sunflowers, which have spread throughout the property and now grow wild, some reaching well over 7 feet in height.
Although McGlothern makes organic farming look easy, he has found the endeavor of making a profit in his venture a bit trickier. In 2012, he began canning and pickling, and he took his Persian cucumber pickles, both spicy and mild, to the Angels Camp Farmers Market.
“I sold the hell out of those pickles,” remembers McGlothern, who says that spicy pickles were his only real moneymaker, though he still failed to make any substantial profit.
McGlothern still sells his specialty pickles, but his focus shifted to salsa-making after he found himself with 200 pounds of surplus tomatoes one year. His recipe includes heirloom tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, onions, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, and Georgia Fire spicy garlic, all harvested from his garden.
McGlothern has won many ribbons for his pickled products at the Calaveras County Fair, and he is currently awaiting the results for his salsa entry at this year’s California State Fair. In the coming months, he hopes to take his venture to the next level and produce 500 jars of salsa, working every Saturday in his kitchen from August through October.
“It’s just enough to pay the water bill,” says McGlothern, who usually barely breaks even with his profits.
Although he has sold his goods to area restaurants and stores, he finds that the markups are too high to make any real money. Increased fees at farmers markets have also discouraged McGlothern, who spent only a year setting up shop at area venues.
Instead, the veteran UPS driver relies upon word of mouth as he interacts with the community each day. Unfortunately, he can’t do deliveries due to a conflict of interest, but he encourages customers to come visit the vegetable stand at every Saturday from now until October to purchase fresh produce, canned goods and salsa.
When McGlothern first began selling produce on his property after his first harvest in 2011, he had a “Take what you want, pay what you want” policy.
“Over the course of the summer, I made $400,” McGlothern said. “It was very interesting to see because some of the poorest people would throw the most amount of money in there and take the least amount of stuff, and some of the richest people would put the least amount of money in and take the most. I was shocked, but I guess it’s just human nature.”
McGlothern has never come close to selling all that his garden produces, but he makes sure that nothing goes to waste. All the veggies that aren’t fit for market become chicken feed, and all of the products that don’t sell at his stand are donated to the St. Patrick’s Church Helping Hands food pantry in Angels Camp.
“It feeds my friends and family,” says McGlothern. “Whatever I produce, I make good use of it, whether it goes to the food pantry or somewhere else. There have been poor people who’ve come here scratching for change in their glove box to buy something, and I say, ‘You take as much as you want, because God has blessed me with all this stuff.’ It’s just so rewarding to give it away.”
Although he doesn’t anticipate ever getting rich off of his farm, McGlothern finds that his hard work pays off with his improved lifestyle and peace of mind.
“I’ll never smoke another cigarette,” swears the sunbaked farmer, who has replaced the habit with homegrown meals and evening walks through his garden.
“This is a real therapy for me,” McGlothern said. “I’m so stressed out from work, but I come home and I walk out in the garden and it just all falls off of me. It’s such a relaxing and enjoyable venture. It’s just nature, and I love it.”
Fast Eddie’s Garden, 3615 Poag Lane, Vallecito, can be viewed on Facebook for hours and information.