If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the McLean County Farmer’s Market, chances are you’ve seen, and possibly met, Alden McElwain.
Since 2003, McElwain, 83, has been selling his products to the local community.
Raised on a farm in the Rumsey area, McElwain – the second youngest of five boys – started helping the family when he was “old enough to do something”.
“We had to feed the horses, feed the cows and milk the cows,” he said. “Back then, you were raising your own food and everything.”
For McElwain, the experience offers fond memories.
“(I enjoyed) everything,” he said. “When I was a kid, when we got old enough to lift a bale of hay, we worked for other farmers and (helped out).”
And he knew it was something he was passionate about early on.
“I always wanted to do it,” he said.
He continued to farm before finding a job with Kent Plastics Corporation in Evansville—after graduating from Sacramento High School—where he held a production supervisory position.
After retiring in 1975, McElwain refocused on farming in Guffie, where he raised corn, tobacco and cattle on land that eventually grew to 170 acres.
“I needed something to do,” he laughed.
McElwain decided to sell the farm and retired again in 1999, when his wife Betty wanted to move to their current residence in Calhoun, where he has three greenhouses, four gardens and around two acres of land – 1.5 acres are his backyard, while the rest of the land is scattered all over Calhoun.
Although McElwain didn’t plan to live in the city, he now says it’s “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“When I got to town, I didn’t think I would have anything to do,” McElwain said. “I’ve been here (and) for 18 years, and I haven’t been bored yet. So it looks good. »
McElwain’s main products include beans, cabbage, tomatoes, squash and okra.
McElwain sells the rest of his strawberries, which he keeps in wooden crates he built himself, before releasing the rest of his produce in the coming weeks.
He said squaring berries for market is “a job” in itself.
“(It) takes about two to three hours a day,” he said. “I worked about three hours this morning and harvested about 28 pints.”
While his land in Calhoun is much smaller compared to his farming days, McElwain prefers to have everything close by. He said it was more manageable, and he considers what he does now “light work.”
Typically, McElwain spends about seven hours a day away from his properties, six days a week.
“It hurts, but I can handle it,” he said. “I try not to work too much.”
The process of preparing everything begins on March 1 when McElwain begins planting tomatoes and potatoes before focusing on the rest of the produce plantings on April 1.
The plants are starting to flower and are ready by May 1 for sale to the public.
But the growing process is only part of the work that goes on behind the scenes.
“We have to bring them in and sort everything out and wash them,” McElwain said. “The potatoes, we have to wash them very well and let them dry.”
The weather can be a hindrance in getting everything ready for the season, with McElwain pointing out that this spring has been a challenge, due to heavier rains, despite lifting everything on plastic.
“For plants, I don’t put seeds in the ground,” McElwain said. “I start them in the greenhouse, then I take them out and put them in the garden. That gives me about two weeks head start.
McElwain began by going to farmers markets to help his late son, Jeff, who became involved in raising produce before McElwain decided to venture out on his own.
Although McElwain participated in the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, he remains centrally located in the county to serve the residents and people who supported his efforts and recognized the importance of farmers and the field of agriculture. in the Commonwealth. .
“We feed a lot of people here in Kentucky,” he said. “The support has been really good.”
Even when he’s not set up at the farmers’ market, McElwain said a few people see his house and the greenhouses and stop by, which he welcomes.
However, McElwain takes off between December and February and takes on odd jobs like woodworking – a hobby he’s had for years.
“My dad was a carpenter, and I sort of inherited that, I guess,” he said.
But when he’s in season, the community’s support for McElwain and his efforts keep him going, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I just like doing it, and it helps the income pay the bills, you know?” he said. “I like to raise things and produce products.
“It feels good (to have the support). With any type of business, you need to grow your customer base, and I built that pretty well. Everyone comes every year.