MARQUETTE - Allie Johnson was just 3 years old when the first story about her ran in The Mining Journal, but she does recall some details.
"I remember holding the big tomato," she said. "Afterward, everyone was bringing us copies of the paper."
That paper was the Sept. 20, 2001 edition of The Mining Journal. As part of staff writer A.M. Kelley's Holy Wah! tomato contest, that growing season a series of stories was written about area gardeners and the tomatoes they brought in to the paper's office.
Allie Johnson was only 3 when she was first recognized for her gardening skills. Now 14, Allie still enjoys gardening, often helping her maternal grandfather, Tom Allen of Ishpeming Township, in his garden. (Johnson family photo)
Tiny blonde Allie was photographed holding a gigantic tomato grown by her with assistance from her maternal grandfather, Tom Allen of Ishpeming Township. The photo went with a story that appeared on the newspaper's front page.
Now 14, Allie still enjoys gardening.
"Mostly, I help my grandpa with his big garden. That's where the tomatoes come from," she said. "And I love tomatoes. We help him weed the big garden at his house."
The "we" Allie mentions includes her sister Brooke, 11, and her brother Gunnar, 9. The Johnson kids live in Ishpeming Township with their parents Courtney and Devon and are home-schooled.
"It's fun to garden," Allie said. "Grandpa lets us eat as much as we want."
Allie's dad, Devon, defers to his father-in-law when it comes to growing nature's bounty.
"My father-in-law grows things," Devon said, adding with a chuckle. "I am just lucky enough to get to eat what he grows."
For Tom Allen, now 65, gardening has been an interest for most of his life, as an uncle introduced him to the pursuit many years ago.
"I have been gardening for many years," Allen said. "I even asked my mother to send me seeds while I was in Vietnam. I was in the Army and flew reconnaissance missions. I think I got one good ripe tomato while I was there. The ground was as hard as my head, but there was plenty of water near where I grew the tomato.
"It was something to hold my interest while I was over there."
Allen has read up on the subject, especially organic gardening.
"That's why I go with Brandywine tomatoes, from what I read about them," he said. "That's how I got hooked. They are the best eating tomatoes. I went to Meister's this year and got 32 tomato plants, mostly Brandywine, with a few Romas. Right now I have 32 quarts of tomatoes."
Allen's still working on canning his garden bounty, including planning on doing some during Thursday night's Green Bay Packers game.
"It will distract me during the game, especially if they play like they did against San Francisco," he chuckled.
Allen is pleased gardening has become an intergenerational pursuit for his family.
"I love having the grandkids come over and garden with me," he said. "My grandkids all come over at some time and 11 of my 14 grandkids live within two miles of me, so that lets them get here.
"You have to start them out young, like with hunting, and it gets in their blood," Allen said. "Then it's just something they have to do and they might not even realize why."
Allen has another garden, this one at his camp.
"That's just a little one," he said. "I have some old snowmobile tracks that I've turned on their side and filled with topsoil. We, me and the grandkids, put plants in their like parsley and cherry tomatoes."
He's put up some caging to protect the plants.
"The deer haven't bothered it out there but deers will eat tomatoes. I have them at home all the time," he said.
Like with the Holy Wah! contest a decade ago, evidence of his family's tomato fascination is still visible, Allen said.
"My 4-year-old grandson Luke will pick a tomato from the garden and eat it on his way home, just like you'd eat an apple," he said. "Luke and another grandson, Jack, are buddies and they just love the garden. I'll look outside and they will be digging in the dirt with their Matchbox cars in the garden."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.