Live Off The Land

Farmer Beckton Raises Just About Everything On His Pinellas Farm


  J. L. Beckton is sitting pretty. He's got a comfortable home, a fine grove and a neat little truck farm. And he hasn't a worry in the world.

  “It’s not so much according to some peoples standards,” he says, “but it suits me and Mrs. Beckton. We’ve been here for 35 years and we’ve made a go of farming in Pinellas county.

   “I hear a lot of talk,” he continued, “that Pinellas county land is no good for raising anything but citrus, but I think the trouble is more with the farmers than with the land.
  “This is good soil,” Beckton said, “in fact it’s the damndest soil I ever saw. It’ll grow anything I plant and usually a lot bigger and better than it seems to grow anywhere else.”
   And when Beckton says his land will grow almost anything he is not talking through his hat.
   This year he got some imported seeds, “Greek pumpkin,” he says, “for the Tarpon Springs trade, and already they are, so the Greeks tell him, bigger and better than any they ever saw before.
   He raises a lot of odd crops; among them are a number of grains. “Most of the grains is for the chickens and livestock,” he says, “I got tired of paying big feed bills so I just started experimenting. Now I grow Egyptian wheat, rye, oats, millet, maize, sorghum and corn.
   His corn, as the Iowans say, is really out of sight. He’s grown stalks 17 and a half feet tall, and the world’s record is just over 22 feet.
  “If I keep going,” he says, “it will be down, instead of out, where the tall corn grows.”
   But Beckton specializes in diversification. He says he can grow anything and his garden bears out his contention.
   Here is a list of the vegetables he grows during the year: Brussel sprouts, Irish potatoes, eight varieties of beans, squash, onions, turnips, beets carrots, cabbage cauliflower, celery, lettuce, broccoli, endive, escarole, artichokes, peppers and tomatoes.
   And those are only vegetables. His list of fruit is almost as long. Besides the regular citrus crops, he grows guavas, strawberries, youngberries, mangoes, papayas, plumbs and peaches.
   The past 35 years have been one continual contest in the Beckton household. First Beckton would grow some outlandish crop and then it would be up to Mrs. Beckton to can or preserve it.
   So far she hasn’t failed yet and  in the process has one more county fair ribbons than she can shake a jar of her famous mango chutney at.
   But the secret of the Becktons’ success---they started with two acres, a couple pounds of seeds and lots of ambitions; now they have over 100 acres here and there and all the modern equipment they need---lies in their ability to raise what they need to live on. When they need something, he says, he tries to raise it on their own land.
   And he doesn’t miss many bets. A few years ago when his children were living at home, the family practically lived off the land.
   “During that time,” he said, “about all we ever bought at the grocery store, was flour, coffee, sugar and salt. The lad produced everything else the family and livestock needed.
  “If we had to,” Beckton contends, “we could live comfortably on $100 a year. We’ve got no heating bills, practically no taxes, and we can raise all the food we want.
   “About all the Florida farmer needs,” he concluded, “is a little energy and some common sense. The right land will do the rest.”  

Source: St. Petersburg Times: 6-2-1940
Transcribed by Linda Flowers 

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