Gardening: Two former farm kids embark on new life in Clarkston after helping grow church garden

When I’m 86 years old, I hope I still have the spunk and the ability to garden like Jeanie Baker and Leon Alboucq do.

These two intrepid former farm kids have inspired – and put to shame – the rest of the gardeners at the Resurrection Episcopal Church Community Garden.

Between 2013 and 2019, they grew more than 18,000 pounds of produce and donated it to Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank. Earlier this summer they decided to hang up their hoses in Spokane and head back to Clarkston, to be closer to old friends, family and a milder climate.

The Resurrection Community Garden was started in 2013 when members of the church converted about a half-acre of the field behind the church into raised beds. There weren’t enough resources to build beds in the entire space, which left a quarter-acre empty. Jeanie and Leon saw an opportunity and asked to have the space to plant.

The two dusted off the farming skills they learned as children during the Depression era and began planting.

“We were a couple of old farm kids who knew how to grow stuff,” Jeanie said, so taking on a large garden was no big deal. “We remember the Depression and how people went hungry.”

They grew up in the Lewiston area and met as high school students at the 1951 Junior Livestock Show in Spokane.

“Leon was on the FFA judging team, and I was a cute blonde who was showing an Angus steer,” Jeanie said. Life took them on different paths for the next 60 years: Leon as a stock car racer, cattle rancher, grocer, fire chief and Snake River mailboat operator and Jeanie as a nurse in Henderson, Nevada, and Spokane.

Their paths crossed again in the early 2000s. Leon’s wife died, and Jeanie sent him a sympathy card and then two Christmas cards before he responded.

“It was like all those years just disappeared,” Jeanie said. “We’ve been together ever since.”

Leon moved to Spokane to be with Jeanie, saying what else was he going to do, “that’s where the cook went.”

Jeanie and Leon raised cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, several kinds of squash and collected produce from the other members of the garden to take to the food bank.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Jeanie said.

She also grew a long row of colorful zinnias to draw in pollinators and taught other members of the garden how to gather the seed for the next season.

Jeanie and Leon have been a priceless inspiration to all the members of the garden. Their knowledge of gardening has given confidence to many new gardeners. Their words of wisdom have made us better people. Their stories have grounded us in local history and the value of living a practical life. Lastly, their homemade wine kept us laughing. We will miss you, Jeanie and Leon.

And yes, they are already planning their new garden beds in Clarkston.

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