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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Local gardener Lloyd Kreitzer grows and distributes homegrown fig trees

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By Photo courtesy of Lloyd Kreitzer / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Lloyd Kreitzer shows off a fig plant that produces seedless fruit. Kreitzer, who has been growing and selling fig plants for 13 years, first fell in the love with the fruit when he was 4 years old.

culture@dailylobo.com

Lloyd Kreitzer was 4 years old when he first climbed a fig tree.

The tree’s limbs hung low and Kreitzer shambled his way to the top, where he took a bite from the sweet, ripe fruit and immediately fell in love.

“Everything that you’re doing now you have provided for in the past,” he said. “We take favorite things and say, ‘I’ll store it now so I can eat it later.’”

Kreitzer, now 68, is the self-dubbed “Fig Man,” a local horticulturist who specializes in growing and distributing fig plants. He grows hundreds of fig trees along with other plants — from grapevines to tropical bananas — inside the three handmade greenhouses.

Kreitzer said it began when he received a small fig tree and a few words of growing advice from a merchant at a local farmers market in 2000. He said his years of experience in the Peace Corps helped him grow his first fig tree.

“I had all this background in agriculture in the Peace Corps, all this training and propagating,” he said. “All of a sudden this bone that I had buried in my 20s suddenly came up for me. It’s like everything I had stored came into use in my life.”

Kreitzer said his hobby grew rapidly: After a head count of 120 fig trees in his backyard he called his daughter, judging that his hobby had grown out of hand.

He described their conversation: “I called my daughter and I asked, ‘What’s my relationship with figs?’ She said, ‘Oh, dad, you love figs — growing up with you the refrigerator would be filled with figs. You eat a fig like nobody eats a fig: You look at it like it was a gem stone, you smell it, you examine it carefully, you take a bite and roll your eyes. You love figs.’”

From then on, Kreitzer proceeded to sell his fig fruits, trees and packets of fig-leaf tea at local farmers markets.

He said each tree holds a piece of history. His love of figs has garnered enough attention from local gardeners that some people have donated plants, he said.

One fig tree started as a clipping of a tree planted in Columbus, N.M. in the 1910s, planted beside a makeshift airport in response to the warring Pancho Villa. Another tree is a clipping from a tree grown just outside the Albuquerque Alvarado Hotel, originally grown for the hotel’s working chefs. One of Kreitzer’s favorite fig trees was clipped from a tree smuggled in a woman’s sleeve when she immigrated from Italy 60 years ago.

“Somebody loved that fig so much as to risk their immigrating to a new country,” he said. “If they were coming to a different country, they wanted their favorite fig to come with them. This fig is filled with love.”

He’s still just as enthusiastic about figs as he was in 2000.

“Life doesn’t always unfold like that, but when it does, it’s magical,” he said. “Being the ‘Fig Man,’ people give me information that is wonderful. I think when we love something, whether it’s cars or learning or our girlfriends, we don’t see the obstacles between us and that’s the way I am with the fig.”

Cheryl Kent, who works for the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service, said she has worked with Kreitzer for the past three years. Kent helps answer questions for local gardeners with the Albuquerque Area Master Gardener Program. She said she often refers people to Kreitzer if they have questions about growing fig plants.

“He knows so much about figs and he’s really carved out a unique niche for himself and become known for it,” Kent said. “He’s the one person that is pushing the envelope and he’s done a lot of trial and error so he’s a good resource. He’s had hands-on experience because he does it.”

If you are interested in purchasing a fig plant or other produce, contact Lloyd Kreitzer at 505-266-8000 or visit LandofEnfigment.com.