Welton the Farmer
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but actions and in truth.” — John 3:17-18
It’s a warm spring morning and 82-year-old Welton Gegg is quietly tending to his garden. A wet April in River Aux Vases, Missouri, has delayed planting and Welton knows his vegetables might be late this year.
He’s been a member of Western Catholic Union for 66 years. His winter is spent watching his grandsons wrestle but the rest of the year he’s digging in his dirt. Welton has a system, and nobody argues with the results of his tomatoes:
Dig a hole.
Put in a little water.
Crumble up an egg shell and throw it in (to add calcium.)
Add a tablespoon of Epsom salt (makes ‘em sweet!)
Throw in half of a banana peel (for potassium.)
Then place the tomato plant in the hole, fill with dirt, ……and wait.
“These are special tomatoes,” Welton said. “They’re Tangerine Orange Tomatoes and they’re 200 times better for people who have cancer.”
Welton knows how important his vegetables are. For 25 years he’s given his produce to the needy. From mid-March to mid-October Welton will fill his car 8 to 10 times and drive sixty miles into St. Louis to a food pantry.
“He’s our only steady person who brings fresh produce,” said Rich LaPlume, Associate Director of the Guardian Angel Settlement at Hosea House. “Except for Welton, we almost never have fresh produce. I wouldn’t even know how to place a dollar value on what he does for us.”
This food pantry in south St. Louis feeds 250 families per month. “With the costs of food and gas rising we’ve seen a huge increase in need,” LaPlume states. “It’s critical we get more food.”
During the summer Welton grows potatoes, beets, squash, red tomatoes, his new Tangerine Orange tomatoes, green and yellow peppers, onions, okra, sweet potatoes, Chinese cabbage and turnips. “When Welton comes he gives our families healthy alternatives for eating. His fresh produce allows them to feel good about that day’s meal,” LaPlume says. In fact, when Welton brings his latest carload, one mother is there waiting, hoping he’d brought his special tomatoes.
Welton spends nearly 200 hours each year growing vegetables for the food pantry. Tending to his 130- x 60-foot garden is a labor of love. It’s a passion he’s shared with two wives. He still lives in the home he built in 1952. His first wife passed away in 1967. After thirty years of marriage, his second wife passed away five years ago. Today, Welton not only continues to tend to his garden, but also surrounds his home with all the flowers his wives loved.
Beautiful flowers. Beautiful memories.
In 1973 Welton heard his priest tell the story of Saint Isidor the Farmer. Since then, through good times and bad, Welton has been determined to help feed the hungry. “I just knew I had to get out there and do it,” Welton said.
Now he knows his wives would want it.
Throughout his home, Welton sees his wife’s thirty rosaries still hanging in place. They provide comfort daily.
Many years ago Welton and his wife decided to sponsor and support children in far-away countries. In the past two decades they have helped many. Once again, he watches his “crop” grow, and today has one child who is a 27-year-old teacher, and is duplicating the generosity extended from the Welton family to her.
St. Isidor the Farmer was known for his love for the poor, but his neighbors questioned his work ethic since he was always in church. But there are accounts of St. Isidor’s miraculous deliveries of food to the poor. There were legendary tales of angels helping in the fields.
Welton has his two angels with him too, every day.
…in the garden
…on his trips to St. Louis
…and serving in far-away lands.
“A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”
— Proverbs 22:9