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'Tomato Man' a real home-grown hero

Special photo
 Bob Bowers of Duluth has a passion for tomatoes, growing about 175 plants on a plot of land behind his home. 

Special photo Bob Bowers of Duluth has a passion for tomatoes, growing about 175 plants on a plot of land behind his home. 

DULUTH

A lot of people enjoy home-grown tomatoes. And plenty of them grow their own, harvesting enough to share with family and friends.

But Bob Bowers takes it to the extreme. The “Tomato Man” from Duluth has made the plants and tasty vegetables they produce his obsession, turning a plot behind his house into a promised land of sweet-tasting “maters.”

The land, which he has permission to use, holds 175 tomato plants, ensuring that everyone Bowers knows — and many he doesn’t — receive the juicy, red treats.

“Tomato is my forte,” Bowers said. “I enjoy doing this and (giving the tomatoes) to people.”

Retired from two previous jobs, the 70-year-old Bowers now works at Parc at Duluth, a senior living home. He drives the facility’s shuttle bus, taking the residents on field trips and to various places. The residents are major recipients of his tomato obsession, but they are hardly alone.

Bowers’ dentist and the dentist’s staff receive a constant supply. So does his wife’s hair dresser, the gentleman who allows him to use the plot of land, neighbors, friends and relatives, and don’t forget fellow members of the Duluth Civitan Club.

Chances are if you run into Bowers you won’t go away empty-handed. He even keeps a fresh supply stocked at home, and folks from the neighborhood are encouraged to help themselves like some sort of farmers market from heaven.

It takes a lot of work — putting in the garden took almost a week, and that was with hired help assisting — but Bowers loves it. He solicits help in picking tomatoes as well but is often left to harvest them himself. That was the case on Monday, when he picked about six bags during the afternoon. That means about 75 to 100 more pounds of presents to be distributed.

“My wife thinks I’m insane,” Bowers said. “But it’s my form of exercise. And I think it’s more productive than golf.”

Bowers prefers his slice with a little salt. He’s steadily increased his crop over the past five years, learning and trying new things along the way. He said he now plants basil around the tomato plants, which both helps keep away worms and provides a nice complement to the damaged tomatoes he makes into pesto and salsa. He also plants marigolds, which help keep away white flies and aphids, and says anything that puts calcium into the soil helps the plants.

He’s proud that a large percentage of his tomatoes come out “looking like a tomato, and tasty.” But more than anything he enjoys being able to share his passion with others, rewarding old friends while making new ones with the tasty treats.

“I just like taking care of people,” Bowers said, which shows in his job at Parc as well as with his avocation.

His only problem is where to keep all the relish, salsa and pesto he makes. Despite his magnanimity, “I’ve still got a lot of stuff left from last year,” Bowers said.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.