BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — For 82 years, John Nicholson has used his talent for growing fruits and vegetables to feed his family and community. “I love to grow things. My mother gave me my own row in the garden when I was 4 and I grew green beans,” John said. Since retiring from a career in agriculture education and sales, John has grown everything from broccoli and corn to tomatoes and zucchini to sell at a garden stand in front of his Waterville home. Last week, John and his wife Anna were rejoicing after the farm stand – custom made by son-in-law John Heisinger as an 80th birthday present – was returned to their Karis Street yard after a brief disappearance. “I’m just glad to have it back,” John said. The red and white wooden stand with a canopy was stored next to his garage for months, awaiting this year’s harvest, John explained. But it was in the way, so he moved it closer to the curb – its normal location during the sales season. “Part of this is my responsibility,” he said, explaining that it disappeared on June 11, just before the semi-annual bulk garbage pickup. His daughter Kathy Heisinger posted the news on Facebook, and it was shared 2,008 times, John said. “Think of the thousands of eyes that saw that,” John said. It just took one person – a construction worker – to spot it in a back yard in another town and call the police. The person who had the stand told police it was an honest mistake, believing it was getting thrown out, and returned it during the night. Now John has no worries about where to place the bushels of produce that he expects to begin harvesting in the next few weeks. When John and his first wife moved to Waterville with their five children in 1964, he chose the area based on consulting a soil map. “This is black sand – Mermill fine sandy loam. It’s the reason I moved to Waterville. It’s the best soil on God’s green earth,” said John. For a while, the field behind his house offered plenty of space for a garden that supported the family. When condos were constructed there, John began renting an acre on Disher Drive near SeaGate Plastics. Farmer Lonnie Perry doesn’t charge John rent any more for the land, and prepares and fertilizes the ground for him. John also uses a half an acre behind a historic Farnsworth Road home. As he toured the gardens last week, John said the first corn crop should be ready within the next three weeks. “Corn likes it up to 85 degrees, with cool nights, warm days and sunshine,” he said. “Last year was hot and dry, but the corn handled it.” Corn, in yellow, white and bi-color, makes up 75 percent of his farm stand sales. He also has red, white and yellow popcorn. Even though he’s 86, John still manages to plant six rows of corn at a time with a hand planter, a process that takes four hours. Each week he plants another six rows, so he’ll have a steady supply of corn, which takes between 70 to 84 days to mature. The gardens also have broccoli, potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, green beans, melons, squash and zucchini – which is a regular seller, to his surprise. “You’ve got to lock your cars up at night or people will fill them with zucchini,” he laughed about the prolific vegetable. For the past nine years, John has given away 100 percent of the proceeds from his produce stand sales to Waterville United Methodist Church’s building fund, for a total of $103,000. The church owns land on Waterville-Monclova Road near the fire station, and has the site prepared for a new building. A member since 1964, John said he hopes to see the new building while he’s still alive. It’s a move that will allow the church more visibility, energy savings and an opportunity to do more in the community, he said. John also donates produce to area food banks and to employees at SeaGate Plastics. Those who stop by 6 Karis St. for veggies might just find John and his wife Anna sitting out front in the “friendship circle” and get invited to stop and visit.