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How a single patio pepper plant changed a Baxter man's life

A man stands proudly with his indoor pepper plant given to him by the Master Gardener program.
Nancy Fletcher
Doug Fahey poses with his pepper plant, given to him in 2022 by the Master Gardener program through University of Minnesota Extension. Fahey has kept the plant alive in his home for more than a year.

The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer program supports project-based volunteer activities and inspires change to promote healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet. Doug Fahey of Crow Wing County received a plant from the Master Gardener Program that he has kept alive for over a year.

BAXTER — One plant can make a difference in someone’s life.

That’s what Doug Fahey found out. The pepper plant he received from the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program has changed him.

A Crow Wing county man waters his pepper plant.
Nancy Fletcher
Doug Fahey tends to his pepper plant. The bell pepper he received through the Crow Wing County Master Gardeners Patio Garden lives inside his Baxter home year-round.

The Baxter man's caregiver Nancy Fletcher has seen it for herself. The pepper plant is measured daily and is now a bush standing about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

Fletcher visits Fahey regularly, and says that he counts the flowers, fertilizes and waters the plant and keeps it inside, right next to his easy chair. It’s become his hobby and a topic of conversation with his visitors of family, clergy and others.

“I didn’t get a lot of peppers right away, but I got a lot of flowers,” Fahey said. “Not all the blossoms turn into a pepper.”

Fletcher says Fahey keeps his eye on the plant every day.

Fahey’s family put the pepper outside for two days, but the relocation was short-lived.

“It kind of wilted,” he said. “The plant wasn’t happy.”

Fahey brought it back into his house. “It’s more comfortable in there,” he said in a phone interview recently on the KAXE Morning Show.

“I knew Nancy liked to cook it for me, and I really like stuffed peppers,” he added.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program is accepting new volunteers through Oct. 1.

She boils the pepper for three minutes, stuffs it and bakes at 350 for about an hour with the cover on. Fletcher says the peppers last for three or four meals for Fahey.

“I put hamburger, onion, bread — torn up bread — and I use tomato soup and an egg and a little garlic salt,” Fletcher explained.

She also uses Fahey’s peppers to make goulash.

“They’re delicious. They’re sweet, or they’re full of flavor,” Fletcher said. They even get peppers growing in the winter, though less than summertime. “I think the plant is just amazing that it produces like it does.”

After the first summer with the pepper plant, Fletcher said they couldn’t bear to part with it, so they brought it in and the plant continued to produce throughout the winter. Fahey lives by himself and gardened throughout his life, and having plants in his life again makes him happy.

“It’s kind of my pet,” he said. “I was watching for a long time now.”

Master gardener program

Brittany Goerges of the Master Gardener Program in Crow Wing County says part of the priority of the program is food access and the experience of getting hands in the dirt.

Doug Fahey watches his pepper plant grow.
Nancy Fletcher
Doug Fahey watches his pepper plant grow.

In a recent conversation she talked about Dan and Jennifer Lee, two Master Gardener volunteers who had a brainchild of giving patio plants and creating gardens for people who may not have access to green space, like those in assisted or senior living.

“We distributed 168 of these patio gardens countywide and Doug was one of the recipients, and his story just filled all of the volunteer’s hearts,” she said. “You start these plants from seed, and you put them in their pots, and you send them out to the world, and you hope that they brighten someone’s day.”

Goerges works as volunteer coordinator on behalf of the U of M Extension program, but she is also answerable to Crow Wing County government. At a recent meeting, Fahey’s pepper plant story was told, and a commissioner commented on Fahey’s example of still being active and growing food.

“He was really happy to hear that Doug had that opportunity to show off his craft again,” Goerges said.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Program is accepting new volunteers through Oct. 1. Training is online for 14 weeks, after which Master Gardeners volunteer 50 hours in their first year. Volunteers are asked to complete 25 hours each year moving forward.

Part of the University of Minnesota Extension’s mission is to be boots on the ground and disseminate the University’s knowledge to citizens.

“It’s really unique and impactful,” Goerges said. “They get to pursue their passion in life while also giving back to the community.”

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.