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Monaco racks up the ribbons at State Fair

When Dr. Tom Monaco walked through the horticultural exhibit at the 2009 North Carolina State Fair, he thought to himself, “I can grow vegetables just as good as these.”

And he did.

Monaco, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ part-time commodity relations coordinator, entered produce in 34 categories in the 2010 State Fair and won ribbons in 23, including three blue ribbons for his mini pumpkin, bishops cap pepper and eggplant.

“I’ve been gardening my entire life,” Monaco said. “Everything I entered in the State Fair competition is what I grow each year anyway.”

That includes a menagerie of peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, eggplant, collards and peas. He gardens with his family on an eighth of an acre in Apex that features a greenhouse and storage shed they constructed themselves. The garden is irrigated from a small pond built for that purpose when they cleared the land for the garden.

“I spend every Wednesday and Saturday in the garden during growing season,” he says. “My labor pool on weekends includes my grandchildren, sons and a neighbor. It’s a family venture.”

Family – as well as friends and neighbors – also get to reap the benefits of Monaco’s green thumb. “We give away everything,” he says.

As for next year’s State Fair horticultural competition? Monaco is already making plans.

— Suzanne Stanard