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While others may spend time and money browsing the produce section of their local organic grocery store, Allen and Muriel Watts have made an art of living cheaply and creatively off of their land. Eight months of the year, Allen and Muriel eat food culled from their farm on Vashon Island, Washington, southwest of Seattle.
“Many times, everything that’s at a meal comes from our gardens,” said Allen, 85. “We try to utilize everything we raise in some way, every kind of food, and in as many ways we can do it.”
The Watts’ garden is an ideal at-home produce bin, with raspberries, loganberries, squash, kiwis, walnuts, figs, and grapes, which they use to make their own wine. Fruit is used for jam and canned, and they juice and freeze lemons to enjoy all year long. They also raise their own chickens, which Allen shows around the country through the American Bantam and Poultry Associations.
“From the time I was 6 years old, I loved plants and I loved chickens, too,” said Allen, who was raised on a farm in Minnesota. “I used to raise our family garden and we practically lived off the garden all year long in those days.”
Muriel and Allen were both children during the Great Depression, and they both have carried a thriftiness and sense of necessity throughout their entire lives. By living off the fruits of Allen’s green thumb, they’ve spared their bodies from unhealthy preservatives and fats, and have spared their wallets as well.
For Allen, his love of gardening, undoubtedly fostered by his parents, both of whom were farmers, has become a defining characteristic of his and Muriel’s lives. They often have dinners with their equally green neighbors, where they spend time feasting on crab casserole, venison meatloaf, brussels sprouts salad, fruit salad, squash, and boysenberry pie.
“I’m sure if he didn’t have his garden, he would be a different kind of person,” said Muriel, 75. “It’s the way he expresses himself and he’s so proud of everything he grows. That’s very important in our family.”
Allen worked as a dentist in West Seattle for 39 years before retiring in 1989. Then he and Muriel moved to Vashon Island. When he stopped working, Allen was just hoping to live to the new millennium.
“Each day is a new challenge; I get out of bed and I think, ‘Well, I’ve got another day,’” Allen said. “The garden keeps me very active; that’s one of the reasons that I’m still alive today and still am able to more around like I am. Every day I look forward to gardening and getting out and working. That’s one of the secrets of longevity.”