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FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2007
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Clay Shaw, 8, uses a small tiller to work in his garden. Clay asked to plant a garden this year and decided he wants to be a farmer.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Clay Shaw, 8, uses a small tiller to work in his garden. Clay asked to plant a garden this year and decided he wants to be a farmer.

Garden grows
from Clay

8-year-old passionate about his first garden, following in the footsteps of his farming family

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

When Clay Shaw comes home from the ballpark or visiting a friend, he heads to his garden to check on his vegetables.

The 8-year-old is tending his first garden on the same land next to Calhoun Community College where his dad, granddad and great-granddad farmed.

"Next I want to add cantaloupes," he said, along with cattle. He might also plant some watermelon, squash, cabbage, lettuce and potatoes next year, along with two different types of sweet corn. He is thinking about a roadside produce stand, too.

Clay will not turn 9 until Aug. 14, but his grandparents, Delores and Wynn Hamilton of Prospect, Tenn., found the perfect birthday gift and gave it to him early. Instead of a new baseball glove or video game requested by most boys his age, it was a small, gas-powered tiller for Clay to use in his garden.

His parents, Brent and Shantina Shaw, own and operate Shaw Farms, where they grow cotton, soybeans, wheat and corn. They are nourishing Clay's interest in farming the same way they do their older son Cody's dreams of becoming a baseball announcer. Both boys play baseball around their farming activities.

"In Wal-Mart, Clay doesn't go to the toy aisle; he goes to the seed aisle," said his mother. "He gets up every morning and goes to see how big his corn is and how his banana peppers are doing.

"And when we took him to an Atlanta Braves game, the first thing he did when we got back was run to check on his corn. Now we're eating his sweet corn, and he just lights up when we tell him it's the best corn we've ever put in our mouths."

Clay said tending a garden "sounded very interesting to me," and he wants to be a farmer.

"I like planting, fertilizing, harvesting — it's a lot of fun to do," he said.

He said he had to water his garden a lot when there was no rain, "but I don't think the drought hurt my crop too much. Some of the leaves on the bottom of the corn are burning, though. My biggest problem is trying to keep the grass out of my garden."

Clay was late planting his 20-by-100-foot garden, which also includes green beans and tomatoes. Between the late spring frost and the early summer drought, his dad had his hands full with additional plantings, irrigation and other issues.

'Serious about it'

"We put him off as long as we could, but this child had begged and begged for this garden," Brent said. "I thought it was going to be a whim, but he was serious about it."

He finally used farm equipment to plow the spot next to their house, and, with Clay helping, laid off the rows with a cotton planter. They borrowed a neighbor's tiller at first, and Clay planted Better Boy tomato plants and sweet corn and used a junior-sized hoe to get his weeds before he got his own tiller. He has gone through a lot of Miracle-Gro, too.

"Clay was so proud when his peppers started coming in that he tried to get a friend who was spending the night to eat some straight off the plant, like he does," said his mom.

The pal resisted, but Clay sent a package of corn and peppers home with him for later. He also gave green beans and produce to a former teacher who stopped by.

Clay knows what to do with his produce besides eat it plain, too. His grandparents, who have a garden at their home, recently taught him to make chow-chow, and he headed into the kitchen wanting to make some with his veggies one night last week.

Long hours

Shantina, who had to learn about farming when she married Brent, said the hours are long in the summer and at harvest time, "but the good thing about it is the boys and I can go to where Brent is in the field and ride tractors and help him. This is not a job that takes him away from us, and that makes it special.

"It's not unusual for us to go with him to a field at 11 at night to turn an irrigation pump on or off. We just make it a family thing," she said.

When she told Clay how boys used to get out of school to harvest crops, he was ready to do it, so she had to explain that times have changed.

Her sons do go with her to take supper orders to those working in the fields at harvest time.

'Shadow on the farm'

Brent said Clay has been interested in everything on the farm since he was 3 years old.

"After his older brother started school, Clay and I had two years when he was my shadow on the farm. Whatever I was on, he was on with me," said the dad, who has always emphasized safety.

Now Clay can drive small tractors, has a junior helmet and gloves for welding and has already insisted on building a fence and getting a water trough for the calves he plans to add soon.

He got his parents to take him to look at dairy cow operations, too.

"I've built cotton modules all by myself," said Clay, referring to the blocks of cotton sitting in fields after harvest. He can sit in the enclosed cab and move the levers to compact the cotton.

Clay will be in the third grade at Decatur Heritage Christian Academy this fall, and he is interested in finding a 4-H Club involving cattle and his other interests.

Family farmers

His great-grandfather, the late Walter B. Shaw Sr., once had 150 head of Herefords on the same land. His grandfather, the late Walter B. Shaw Jr., farmed the same site, and his great-great-grandfather once farmed where Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is today.

Clay's interest in gardening and farming shows that what you bring children up around can make an impact.

"It's not always biological," said Shantina, who explained that Clay and Cody were adopted after the couple lost two special-needs biological children who were born with genetic problems.

Her dad, Norman Jeffreys of Decatur, also was a gardener. Just before his death several weeks ago, Clay took over some of his first corn to show him, along with a photo of his garden.

"He couldn't eat the corn, but he smiled from ear to ear," she said.

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