Growing up in Beverly Farms, John Fallon developed a talent for cultivating vegetables by helping his Irish immigrant father tend the family’s backyard garden.
A half-century later, Fallon is drawing on those farming skills — refined through many years of his own gardening — to help improve the lives of people in need.
Since 2016, Fallon has been growing vegetables on a traffic island in Beverly Farms and donating them — together with vegetables from his own garden — to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and other organizations that serve low-income families.
In the first four years of his nonprofit operation, Fallon annually harvested and donated on average 3,000 pounds of produce. This year, in response to COVID-19, he expects to raise that volume to about 5,000 pounds.
“I could see the need was going to be greater,” said Fallon, who still lives in Beverly Farms.
Now retired as a test engineer in the semiconductor industry, Fallon, 61, cited the need to promote economic and social justice as a motivation for his philanthropic farming.
“People get laid off and can’t find jobs for reasons they have no control of,” he said, noting that often their jobs are being eliminated due to automation.
“Everyone should help those less fortunate than them,” said Fallon, who experienced losing a job himself when he was laid off from his longtime semiconductor job in 2007.
Fallon’s philanthropy began in 2014 when he donated surplus tomato plants from his home garden to a farming program for inner-city children. That experience inspired him the next year to grow vegetables in Beverly’s community garden and donate them to local church-run meals programs.
In 2016, Fallon came up with the idea of growing crops on the idle traffic island on Hale Street. The state Department of Transportation, which owns the island, authorized him to farm the land for free provided he donate any crops he raised to charity.
Fallon, who grows all his produce organically, said being able to support sustainable farming — with its ecological benefits — is another source of satisfaction.
“I’m a strong advocate for the environment,” he said.
His 8,000-square-foot Beverly Farms Gardens produces tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, regular and golden zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, and acorn and butternut squash.
Fallon does all the growing and harvesting himself, with occasional help from volunteers, including students from Landmark School in Beverly, and Gordon College’s women’s soccer team.
“John has made a difference for the people in need of his produce, and he has made a difference within our entire community,” Bob Broudo, Landmark’s headmaster, said by e-mail.
“He’s a very passionate person,” Robyn Burns, executive director of The Salem Pantry, said by e-mail. “He’s dedicated to growing food and distributing it to agencies who can really use it.”
Burns said the Greater Boston Food Bank is her pantry’s main supplier, but “John provides products we can’t always get there. And to have local food grown just miles away is really an asset for us.”
Although his program is self-funded, Fallon has received donations from individuals, local businesses, and churches. The Farms-Prides Community Association helped him purchase compost last year and plans a fund-raising effort to assist him with other expenses.
“I have watched John over the last five years turn a barren plot of land into a lush, productive garden supplying food to needy families,” Rick Lord, the association’s president, said by e-mail. “John is an amazingly selfless and hard-working farmer.”
Fallon hopes he can inspire others to do similar work.
“My vision would be for each town or city to set aside 4 acres, whatever it takes to feed the homeless in their area,” he said.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.