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Just south of Calvary on Highway 111 South, a weathered, wooden stand sits off to the side of the road, full of vegetables straight from the field. This colorful display belongs to Mrs. Dot Dalton, a nearly 70-year resident of the community, who grows and harvests everything she sells.
The gardener is often found elsewhere on her property, however. Purchases hinge on what Dalton describes as an “honor system”: those who want fresh produce simply put their currency in a box sitting on the stand and take what they pay for.
“[Customers] put their money in the box, and I figure some of them pick up an extra tomato or two,” Dalton chuckled. She checks the cash box regularly to ensure everything is aboveboard.
In addition to tomatoes, the 86-year-old is currently selling yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, onions and eggplant. Last month, freshly cut flowers from Dalton’s lawn, which she landscaped herself over the years, could also be purchased at the stand.
The octogenarian says she sometimes sells okra, greens, lemons, satsumas and navel oranges during the fall months, but prime operations are from late-April until the first freeze, her daughter explained.
Sherry Moncrief, Dalton’s youngest daughter, says that the garden behind her mother’s house is “not that huge” but enjoys a “very productive” growing season. Whatever vegetables the family does not eat is placed out to sell, and the funds are distributed among the family who help with the garden.
The going rate at the roadside stand is currently $3 a basket and $10 per five-gallon bucket; onions are $2 a bundle and eggplant are $2 apiece. Moncrief says that the price is usually set once a season, unless otherwise dictated by supply and demand.
Travelers from Quincy and Tallahassee have pulled off of the road to buy some of Dalton’s fresh produce, which is replenished every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning while the plants last, Moncrief and Dalton say. Truck drivers and the area trash man are also known to stop by.
“They just come by when they’re down this way,” Dalton shared, “I don’t know who’s coming.”
Moncrief says that posting harvest updates to her Facebook page usually draws a local crowd, sometimes requiring the pair to set aside online orders, but word of mouth is still the main way they advertise.
Local shoppers include Cairo High School culinary arts teacher Whitney Brown, who has shared pictures of her “farm-to-table” creations with Moncrief. Ethel and Ken Hughes, whose family bought Calvary’s Thomas Mercantile Co. earlier this year, say they stop by every Monday and Friday and particularly enjoy the squash and tomatoes, which Dalton named among her best sellers.
Dalton estimates that she first began operating her booth in the mid-1980s with the help of her late husband, Raymond, and her sister, Margaret Jones Smith.
Moncrief recalls that her mother and aunt used to sit under a tent and man the stand in front of Dalton’s house, socializing with those who stopped to shop. After Smith passed away, however, Moncrief says that her mother needed a change.
“Momma’s not just going to sit under here all day… she has a need to work, a need to get things done,” Moncrief says.
To allow the stand to continue without constant attending, the current honor system was developed. One of Dalton’s grandchildren fashioned a box to hold the money, the lid fastened down with screws to keep everything secure.
“Folks are honest for the most part,” Moncrief explained. “The dishonesty isn’t enough to worry about. It’s like, God’s going to take care of them in the end.”
Dalton maintains her garden with help from her children who live nearby. Her son, Donald Dalton, plows and plants the plot each spring. Moncrief and her sister, Joyce Moore, help her harvest vegetables every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 7:30, sometimes alongside friends and fellow congregants of Calvary Baptist Church. Workers get “paid” with the first choice of the picking.
Produce is washed outside of a storage barn, and the roadside stand is restocked by 9:30 a.m. each picking day.
Dalton takes responsibility for daily maintenance of her garden, however, and calls the grubbing hoe her favorite tool.
“It’s just hard work, and it’s hot,” said Dalton.
The aunt of Jones Country Meats’ founders says that her family, “always dealt in vegetables,” during her childhood.
Growing up in Climax during the latter days of the Great Depression, the 86-year-old remembers unemployed nomads who would “stop by and ask for something to eat” at her family’s home on Highway 84.
“We always had a garden, and that’s the way we ate,” Dalton commented of herself, parents and seven siblings.
Outside of gardening, Dalton stays busy tending to her lawn, which she landscaped herself over the years, and attending activities at Calvary Baptist Church. The grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 14 says she also enjoys visits from friends and family.
Formerly a Jones, Dalton has lived on a 200-acre family farm in Calvary since marrying Raymond Dalton in the 1950s. The couple built Dalton’s current home in 1965, and there they raised their four children, Donald, Joyce, Sheila and Sherry, all now retired school teachers.
Dalton, herself, managed the Washington Middle School lunchroom for several decades and retired from 38 years of bus driving for Grady County in 2008.
She partly attributes the success of her vegetable stand to her longstanding involvement in the community. “People just know me,” she remarked. “I was just part of the fixtures.”