LYNNWOOD — Rodney Neff has spent 54 years working on his garden.
“I like to watch things grow,” he said.
He nurtures fruits and vegetables throughout the year and shares them with his community.
Neff, 77, and his wife, Charlotte, 76, have been married for 56 years.
They have two sons, three grandsons and “four and a half” great-grandchildren, Charlotte said. That’s two boys, two girls and one on the way. The Neffs’ daughter died in an accident 30 years ago.
They live alone now, and can’t eat all of the fruits and vegetables they grow. They have been donating all of the extra produce to the Lynnwood Food Bank for close to 12 years.
Rodney brought 189 pounds of shino plums from a tree in his yard to the food bank across the street from his house on a recent Tuesday.
“He is wonderful. Anyone who takes the time to share their produce with us is a hero in our book,” said Judy Finn, the food bank’s director. The food bank usually gets produce from grocery stores, and it’s usually past its prime, Finn said.
“When we can get fresh produce, our clients are ecstatic,” she said.
Juliana Faulconer, 16, goes over to Rodney’s house twice a week and helps him mow the lawn, weed, water, harvest and landscape the garden.
“He can always put a smile on my face,” said Faulcorner, whose grandparents live next door to the Neffs.
The couple has lived in their home on 176th Street SW since July 22, 1958.
“We’ve watched it grow up around here,” Charlotte said.
She remembers when the busy street outside their house was a little two lane road with no sidewalks. There was a pump house attached to a lake at the bottom of the hill, and an old homestead across the street, she said.
Rodney said he remembers watching coyotes chase grasshoppers in the field near their house.
“It has changed quite a bit,” he said.
Charlotte was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983. Five months ago, another doctor told her that this diagnosis was wrong, and that he didn’t know why she couldn’t walk.
Rodney remodled the kitchen to make it easier for Charlotte to get around in her wheelchair.
She said she misses playing in the dirt most of all.
“Rodney takes care of me,” Charlotte said. “He takes me out in the garden in the back to sit with the flowers.”
Rodney started his garden as soon as the couple moved in, but it really took off when they bought the lot behind the house five years later. They bought the land to keep developers from building apartments so close to their home, Charlotte said.
Rodney was a maintenance mechanic for the Edmonds School District for 13 years before he retired two years ago.
Retirement has allowed him to focus fully on his passion, a garden where he grows 16 apple trees, a peach tree, a pear tree, an apricot tree and three plum trees as well as four kinds of blackberries, Candice grape vines, two kinds of rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, corn and asparagus.
Rodney and his wife are members of the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association. When the group hosts its annual chicken dinner, Rodney serves cherry tomatoes from his garden and makes applesauce from apples picked from the tree in his yard.
He said he rarely uses any chemicals or sprays, and when he does, he uses a natural insecticidal soap.
Rodney cleaned out his old septic tanks to collect rainwater from rooftops. He uses what he collects to water trees in his garden.
He keeps bees so that they can pollinate his fruit trees. In fact, he caught a swarm of bees last week and now they live on the property. He plans to harvest the honey next spring.