Fertilizer, ‘faith’ help man grow massive sweet potato

Published 11:01 am Friday, November 30, 2012

Thomas Jackson Jr., 88, hasn’t been able to work in his personal vegetable garden since March, but that hasn’t stopped him from growing a massive sweet potato — possibly the biggest he’s ever harvested.

Jackson’s daughter, Margaret McBride, said that her father grew a sweet potato that weighed more than 7.5 pounds, but this one is probably “closer to 12.”

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“It’s the biggest that I’ve ever seen to come out of his garden,” she said.

Jackson has grown vegetables at his Miller Avenue home for decades, but had to give up on his hobby earlier this year. McBride said her father contracted transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, in early March and has been bedridden since.

Jackson had to retire from his job at Dollar Farm Products, where he said he had been working for more than 55 years. He also had to give up his evening pasttime of working in the garden, and giving the vegetables out to any member of the community who had a need.

“I planted my garden in the name of Jesus, and I just thank the good Lord for all the harvest,” Jackson said. “I didn’t plant for myself, or to sell them, I just wanted to share my blessings with my neighbors.”

McBride said some of Jackson’s children have been working in the garden, helping to keep it in good shape even during her father’s illness. However, she noted that he specifically told them not to touch the sweet potatoes.

“He told us not to water them, just to leave them alone and let them grow,” she said.

Jackson smiled, when he was asked the reason for why this last sweet potato had grown so large.

“I just use a little bit of Dollar Farm Products fertilizer, and the Lord does the rest,” he said.

Faith is a very important part of Jackson’s life. McBride said he has been a deacon for more than 60 years at First African Baptist Church of West Bainbridge, and Jackson said he still attends church every week.

“I know the good Lord is still smiling on me,” he said. “I’m still alive. Tomorrow is always another day, which the good Lord has made.”

Jackson said he was getting ready to visit the county jail, to minister to some inmates, when he felt a “sudden pain” on March 9.

“I got back into bed, and then the pain really hit me in the back of the head,” he said. “Both arms, both of my legs are cold and numb. But the good Lord still gave me a good mind and a good set of eyes, so I can still talk and see. Every day is still a good day.

“It’s like the Good Book says, ‘When nothing else could help, love lifted me.’”

He also appreciates the assistance of his children, for not only helping with his garden, but also assisting him with his wheelchair and other physical needs.

“My family truly gives me more than I deserve,” he said.

Jackson has been married to his wife, Gladys, for 63 years — their anniversary is Christmas Eve. They have 11 children — two deceased — and 57 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.