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Produce on the honor system

Dave Russell and his wife, Colleen, have been growing and selling low-cost produce in Talent and getting paid on the honor system for more than 20 years. — — — — Talent couple get the most from their three-acre garden

TALENT ' Notes left on the front-yard table offer a hint of the gratitude and good feelings customers bestow on a unique Talent Avenue couple.

God bless you for giving us food every year, says one. Thanks for trusting people, says another.

For more than 20 years, Dave and Colleen Russell have been offering a bounty of produce harvested from their three-acre garden at a nominal amount on the honor system. Imagine 50 cents for zucchini or squash almost the size of a forearm. Dave's prized corn gets accolades.

The assortment varies, including tomatoes, cucumber, beans, spinach, seasonal treats like pumpkins or winter squash ' whatever's ready on the cycled planting system they've set up ' plus gift items like herbed vinegar and potpourri.

No one sits in the nearby shade collecting money. Instead, visitors take their pick and leave payment in a cash box. The Russells never know how many visitors come by.

— There are lots of low-income people in our area, says Colleen. Here there's inexpensive, nutritious food, so we're meeting the needs of the community.

The couple also donate food to Medford's Gospel Mission. Colleen says that checks in the cashbox show their customers come from as far away as Klamath Falls. Their produce is fresh and grown without chemicals ' although the Russell garden isn't certified as organic.

It's fun to watch people enjoy it, to see people happy, Dave says. I also like the 'atta boy' compliments my garden experimenting brings.

Ironically, Dave didn't eat vegetables until after he married Colleen in 1977. She made him set a good dietary example for their children. Back then their acreage hosted cattle.

Starting out by growing tomatoes for fresh pizza sauce, Dave sold his extras. They gave up cattle completely 10 or 12 years ago to concentrate on produce ' And because you don't have to chase corn, Dave says.

Someone suggested they sell their corn, and soon Dave's passing interest in produce became his passion. The couple even had a u-pick set-up in a bean field for several years, until Colleen watched some extremely elderly women walking with canes trying to pick the beans. She told Dave they had to harvest the crops and put them out front.

Proceeds are meant to pay their property taxes, though they aren't sure it always does.

This year they've faced a surprise challenge: theft. More than &

36;50 in gift items were taken one night. Produce and cash began disappearing, too. Posting a sign notifying people of the thefts has elicited concern such as that expressed in this note: I am putting in a little extra. Have faith. There are still good people willing to help others. God bless you.

The Russells say comments like that make it worth the continued effort.

Although Talent's recent building boom is closing in around them, the Russells reassure visitors they've no plans to sell to developers.

We're a rural hold-out in an urban setting, explains Dave, adding that their land has been a farm since 1920. It's a natural habitat for pheasants, quail and other animals.

Yet, resigned to area growth, the couple is looking forward to the company of new neighbors. Doing this has been a great way to get to know people we never would have.

The Russells want to do something with the land that's beneficial, that's noble, something that's good for our neighbors, Dave says. I want to see how much I can produce out of these three acres, to discover how a person can take a small space and produce food for their family and extended family.