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Locals to Learn From: No grass Growing Under the Shoes of Curtis & Joan McCallum
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Locals to Learn From: No grass Growing Under the Shoes of Curtis & Joan McCallum

HAWKEYE-- Joan and Curtis McCallum offer up a lot of reasons for continuing to tend a large garden, even though they retired some years ago.

The girl from Alpha met the young man from Strawberry Point when both attended Upper Iowa University. This year, they're married 57 years. And through all of that wedded bliss, gardening has been a hobby the two have shared.

The pair taught for more than thirty years. Joan taught English and language arts starting in Garnavillo, and ending in the Benton Community Schools.  Curtis taught science starting in Sibley and retiring from College Community School District in Cedar Rapids in 1994. Then they packed up an RV and hit the road for ten years, traveling the country full-time. 

For a good part of their lives, the McCallums kept a garden at the farm Joan's sister Sue Moser, shared with her husband, Clete, near Alpha. During those years, there was a lot of canning and freezing of the fruits and vegetables produced. Joan and Sue even enjoyed a little friendly rivalry as they entered the Fayette County Fair Pie Competition.

Now that their RV travel days are behind them, the McCallums keep busy with their large garden in summer, and Joan takes produce to the Hawkeye Farmers' Market on Tuesdays. 

Last summer, produce from the McCallum garden at the far west end of Main Street in Hawkeye, allowed Joan to put up over forty pints and thirteen quarts of green beans. Also filling the shelves in the basement were eighteen pints of carrots, and fifteen quarts of dill pickles, which Joan admits is probably enough to last the McCallums for a couple of years. There are also a few pints of summer squash and beets to add to the variety of vegetables, along with over forty pints of broccoli tucked into the freezer. The broccoli is often used in broccoli-potato soup as the McCallums plant about three rows of a mixture of Yukon and Red potatoes.

"Curtis has a tomato allergy so we don't grow any tomatoes," Joan adds. "And we used to grow sweet corn but we decided it was easier to buy it from someone and not have to fight the raccoons for it," she says.

Corn, asparagus, kale, swiss chard, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables are also frozen. 

"When we were traveling we took a lot of canned goods with us," Joan explains. "We hardly had to go to the grocery store."

Traveling through the South, the couple grew fond of Anaheim peppers and pepperoncini. Curtis especially enjoys flavoring his tortilla roll-ups or omelets with a little spice.

The retired science teacher suggested growing edamame (a soy bean) and they ended up canning several pints of the beans they use in soup and side dishes in the winter months. Joan has also had success with kale chips, which like their higher fat counter parts, the potato chip – can become addictive, she says, smiling. She also dehydrates parsley, onions and even nettles to use in tea.

In their younger days, the McCallums painted homes in their summers off from school. As a thank-you from the business, the couple gifted those they worked for with maple and walnut wood cutting boards made by Curtis. With a turning lathe, he once also crafted a wood pestle and a maple rolling pin that Joan still uses in her kitchen.

Joan admits to having a passion for new recipes and jokingly says she could spend all day in a recipe book. Since moving to Hawkeye, she's joined the local Garden Club, enjoys beading and card embroidery.

Curtis enjoys making crafts of tin cans, like the model airplane in the couple's basement, and garden spinners designed to distract nuisance birds.

Both also make sure to spend time reading.

More about garden, McCallum, HAwkeye, hobbies

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  1. Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    Imagine Northeast Iowa Support
    What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing it, Janell!
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