Floyd Christofferson easily falls into memories of life on his 120 acre family farm, rapidly telling stories like he’s flipping through pages of an old photo album.
“It has brought back so many memories when we moved back out here,” he said. “I can sit here and think about birthday parties when I was five years old, and that the original chicken house was set just in front of this one.”
Christofferson, who turns 84 this month, has lived in Ames for almost his entire life. for a majority of those years, he’s lived at 2212 Oakwood Road.
The farm is smaller now, just 25 acres, but that hardly keeps Christofferson from remembering when his family had to sell its cattle during the Great Depression, where the row of hard maple trees sat before they were cleared decades ago or the exact place his family kept the kindling, corn and coal after they put in a new basement in the 1920s.
His father was born there in 1895, before the L-shaped porch was built or the second story was added. they both grew up there, albeit over 30 years and many renovations apart.
Now, more than 80 years later, Christofferson finds comfort even in the warm summer heat sitting amongst the wind chimes and rows of white wicker chairs on the porch that wraps around his home.
Surrounded by glass trinkets, sea shells and family photos, the windowed porch is his place to think about the past.
“We just spend all our time out here,” he said.
A lifetime of gardening
Christofferson said his parents were called “a little kooky” for their day.
When he was growing up, the south half of the farm was the family garden and a separate section was dedicated to the orchard, where they grew apple and plum trees.
“I grew up eating gardened vegetables, and we didn’t have much meat other than our own chickens,” he said. “My folks were very health conscious for their day. they thought we should eat whole wheat, and they thought we should eat vegetables.”
And so they did.
Christofferson remembers going to the grain elevator to hand grind wheat into cereal and flour. he remembers picking tomatoes off the vine as a young boy and teasing the chickens before collecting their eggs for breakfast.
“I just feel like I was fortunate learning to eat that stuff because we couldn’t afford to buy meat,” he said. “The only animal protein was our milk from our milk cows, our chickens and eggs, and all kinds of vegetable protein.”
As he grew up, he helped his father and uncle farm their side-by-side 100-plus acre farms. after a brief time away in the Navy and a few years in Texas where he met his wife, Anna, Christofferson was back in Ames to continue farming.
Soon after, his parents began renting out their home and the land.
And when some elderly neighbors from the Timberland Heights community began leasing an acre near the road to grow vegetables, Christofferson never guessed what their small plot would become.
When his young family outgrew their own house on 20th street and moved in 1971 back to his childhood home on Oakwood Road, they decided to keep the garden.
“We liked it so much we just kept it up,” he said. “All the people were older folks … and it was just like a big party. We called them unofficially the Oakwood Road Garden Club.”
Over the years, the gardeners changed, but many of the crops stayed the same. for a fee of $10 for a half plot, Christofferson offered to till the land for anyone who wanted to garden.
“We enjoyed having the gardens there, and it seems like it just enhances the place,” he said. “Everybody talks to us about where we live and says, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the place with the big garden,’ and they wonder how we do all the work.”
Keeping up tradition
Well they don’t do all the work, at least anymore.
Christofferson and his wife, Anna, both inching up in their years, still rent full and half garden plots to local residents with green thumbs.
Some are old — one of Christofferson’s most loyal gardeners only recently called it quits after reaching his mid-90s — and many are young.
Elliana Vermeer, 2, already has her own hoe and a taste for grape tomatoes.
“We hardly get them back to our house, they all end up in their tummies,” said Marissa Vermeer, Elliana’s mother.
This year marks the third summer the Vermeers have planted in Christofferson’s garden. Sweet corn, green beans, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and potatoes are just a few of the crops they harvest each year.
And both Elliana and her brother, Cael, 4, already know a thing or two about gardening basics.
Cael is quick to answer when his mother asks why they have to pull weeds when they tend their plot.
“So they don’t steal the water from the plants and the plants will not grow,” he said proudly.
“I think that’s something we’ve been delighted about, that we’ve just been able to teach them about hard work and dedication and where plants come from — not just from Fareway, they come from hard work in our garden,” Marissa Vermeer said. “So that’s been so rewarding, and the life lessons are awesome.”
Watching the kids who garden there grow up right along the plants each year is also a joy for Christofferson.
“When they first started coming, their oldest son had a miniature hoe and he would be out there,” he said. “And now the daughter, who was in the basket, now the baby is up and walking.”
Hannah Furfaro can be reached at (515) 663-6918 or .