Meet Mississippi Joe, 72-year-old Peninsula man using his garden to cultivate close-knit community

This former school custodian is proving acts of kindness can bring a community together

David Louie Image
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
East Palo Alto man cultivates kindness through his garden
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A 72-year-old East Palo Alto man known as Mississippi Joe, tends a garden in his backyard to grow vegetables he gives away to those in need.

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A backyard garden can provide food for a family. However, there's a special garden on the Peninsula tended by one man who has fed neighbors for three generations and has brought the community together.

He goes by the name Mississippi Joe. And this is where you find him every day, tending to a vegetable garden. Almost everyone in East Palo Alto knows him because of his kindness.

"Giving is something special when you give," he said. "It makes you feel good when you can hand out something to someone else."

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For 48 years, when the cucumbers and squash and corn and onions and tomatoes and other produce are ready for harvest, Mississippi Joe will share them with his neighbors and friends. It's something that stayed with him, growing up in the South.

"We always shared the food with each other 'cause some of them didn't have food sometimes, and then what we had we'd share it," he said.

Mississippi has a large fan club. A few of them gathered to share what he means to them.

"He's always had that attitude of just giving, free spirit, just constantly giving," said next door neighbor Carl Arrington, who has known Mississippi for over 40 years. "The sincerity that he has, the love that he has for the community, we've all been blessed."

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Another neighbor, Jedd Bloom, added, "Mississippi Joe's hospitality is not limited to his produce. He's brought over gumbo, all kinds of cooking he's done. Whenever he's making it, he's sharing it."

He has touched the lives of three generations.

"I remember my children were really little," said Tracey Ramirez. "He'd come bring my mother fresh vegetables. And he said, do you want to know where these come from? And he brought my children over here. I was enamored."

Mississippi even helps neighbors with their yard work. At age 72, he shows no signs of slowing down. But the garden does take work.

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"It's getting a little hard to go out there and do that. Maybe a couple more years," he said.

His family is grown up. He has one grandson, and there's a granddaughter on the way. This former school custodian is proving acts of kindness can bring a community together.

"I love East Palo Alto. It's a wonderful place to live," he said.

That's true, say others, because of Mississippi Joe.

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