- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - When the firefighters at Tupelo’s Station 3 want fresh tomatoes or peppers, they are only a few steps away.

“We pickled six jars of peppers last shift and canned 12 jars of tomatoes a couple of shifts ago,” said Capt. Bradley Bridges. “We love tomatoes.”

While “A shift” did the planning and the planting, all 11 fire fighters stationed there enjoy the benefits of the 6-foot by 18-foot veggie patch just behind the station. And tending the small garden patch helps break up the routine and possible monotony of a 24-hour shift.

“We put it where we did because of the sun,” Bridges said. “It gets full sun in the mornings, but it is in the shade in the afternoon. That makes it easier to get out there and work it.”

Traditionally, gardens are planted after the last frost in March. This plot took a little longer.

“When you only work every third day, the logistics are a little tougher,” said Sgt. Chad Blankenship. “It took a while to line up the tiller on a day we worked. Then we had a hard time finding good tomato plants. It was mid-June before we got everything in the ground.

“Since we planted late, things are just now really starting to come in.”

The pepper plants are filled with brightly colored pods, and the tomatoes plants are currently loaded down with green fruit.

In addition to pickled peppers and canned tomatoes, they have made homemade salsa and were preparing to pickle green tomatoes Wednesday afternoon. And there is always a chance for fried green tomatoes.

“Anything fried is good, and those green tomatoes are calling my name,” Bridges said with a smile.

For Bridges and Blankenship, the old school food preservation is not only a good form of camaraderie with fellow firemen but also something instilled in them decades ago.

“My mother loved to can. This is something I have always done,” Bridges said.

“I can remember my grandmother would bring over tomato plants when I was a kid and plant them in our yard,” Blankenship said. “She would try to get me to take care of them, but I was interested in other things. Now I wish I would have listened a little better.”

Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker said Fire Station 3 is the only one of the city’s seven stations to currently have a garden patch.

When Station 4 was still located on Rial Drive, the firemen used a vacant lot next door for a large garden. When the station moved to its current location on North Gloster Street near the I-22 overpass in 2010, the practice was discontinued.

“I tried to grow one at the new location, but the soil wasn’t the best and things didn’t grow,” Blankenship said.

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