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You never stop growing

(ran CI edition)

Gardening is Earl Carter's big passion. At 82, he is up and going by 5 a.m., working the garden he keeps in his front yard.

Tending more than a quarter of an acre, Carter plants crops for various seasons. His spring produce included about 15 varieties of vegetables, such as squash, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, beans and peas.

Though he could keep his refrigerator shelves stocked, Carter, who has had a garden for most of his life, gives a lot of vegetables to neighbors and friends.

Born in Wayne County, Ky., Carter was one of four boys and hoped he would have a sister, as well. "I always wished I had one. I have one daughter. Of course, she's a daddy's girl," Carter said. In addition to a daughter, Carter and his wife, Imogene, have two sons and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of his grandsons is Dave Anderson, 34, a former major league baseball player who was an infielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Anderson's visits to his grandfather's home are a treat for area children. "The kids out here know him. He came here and signed cards for all the kids," Carter said.

Carter said the secret to his longevity is that he doesn't smoke or drink. He believes in hard work, the love of family and old-fashioned remedies, like eating honey to help him with his arthritis. Working in the hot Florida sun still doesn't bother him, though he says he tries to get as much as possible completed in the morning.

"I always thought I'd live to be 85 . . . I could still run a mile if I wanted to. I get out there (in the garden) and I never get short of breath," he said.

Carter has worked more than fields in his day. After high school, he traded a Ford coupe for tuition to a business school in Louisville, Ky., and bused tables on the side to make extra money.

But before he could graduate, he returned to his family's farm to help out. During those early years he also had a variety of jobs, included managing a five-and-dime store for $10 a week, auctioneering and working at a rock quarry for 15 cents an hour. Years later, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Carter served as clerk of circuit court for Wayne County and owned a hotel, dabbled in real estate and continued to farm.

Carter moved to St. Petersburg in 1960 and to Inverness in 1973, working various jobs along the way. Carter moved to Citrus County after several fishing trips convinced him he'd like living here. More than 20 years later, he has endeared himself to his community. "I know a lot of people. I shake a lot of hands and pat every baby on the back," he said.