94-year-old man makes a different kind of Starbucks run
GEORGETOWN — Every day, 94-year-old Jolly Harkins arrives in his safari hat at the two Starbucks coffee locations in Georgetown to gather their leftover coffee grounds.
The World War II veteran then toodles along in a small white pickup to one of his sons’ farms 33 miles away in Bertram. There, he mixes the grounds with horse manure, table scraps, water and leaves to make a compost that he spreads on his son’s pomegranate trees and vegetable garden.
The coffee grounds help add acidity to the soil, he said. He also feeds the grounds to the worms he raises separately in a box for the fertilizer they produce. “They love Starbucks,” Harkins said. Harkins is the only person who comes by the Starbucks locations in Georgetown to gather coffee grounds on a daily basis, said Ryan Reynolds, manager of the Starbucks on University Boulevard. Three or four other people gather the grounds on a weekly basis, Reynolds said. The Starbucks staff gives Harkins about 20 pounds of grounds daily that they put in plastic bags.
“He even comes in the rain,” said Tiffany Terwillegar, an assistant manager at the Starbucks on Austin Avenue. “Everyone worries if he’s not here and wonders if he’s sick.”
One morning last week, Harkins stepped out of his pickup at his son’s farm and walked to the 40-foot-long, 4-foot-high compost heap he has built. He threw the bags of coffee grounds down beside it and then picked up a 3-foot-long thermometer and stuck it into the heap.
The temperature was 120 degrees, he said; it needed to be 140 degrees to help bacteria break down the compost so it could be used as fertilizer. To get there, the compost needed to be reworked.
He then ambled over to the large rectangular raised wooden box where he raises his coffee-ground-eating worms and pried open the lid to see whether the worms needed more food.
“This is tedious, so you have to be patient. I’m gonna get it done, but it’s kind of like the president. … He’s getting it done but not fast enough,” Harkins said, laughing.
Harkins started picking up the coffee grounds about four years ago when he found out they were free, he said. It gives him a reason to make the daily journey to his son’s farm.
Harkins said his son Barton, a Union Pacific railroad conductor, always has had different projects for him, such as planting pecan and apple trees, cutting hay and putting in a pipeline for irrigation.
“He gets out and keeps moving, and that’s the key to staying healthy,” Barton Harkins said. “He’s able to help me out with some things, like watering and making compost.”
Jolly Harkins said he was born in Ber- tram, so the visits bring back memories for him. “I like farming,” he said.
Harkins said he was named after a Civil War hero who helped his grandfather, a Confederate soldier, recover from a hospital stay by giving him the easier job of gathering food from local farms instead of digging trenches.
Raised in Austin, his first job at age 10 was selling newspapers for 5 cents apiece from his father’s used-car business downtown, he said. He joined the National Guard in 1933 — a year before graduating from Austin High School. Harkins said he wanted to go to the University of Texas but couldn’t afford the $25 registration fee.
After high school, he built sound stages for Warner Bros. in Santa Monica, Calif., and later became a postal clerk and a wholesale gasoline seller in the West Texas town of Sanderson.
He went into active service in the Army in 1941 and served in Europe as the commander of a postal unit during World War II, he said.
In 1942, Harkins married Dell Barton, whom he met through a cousin. He later served in the Korean War and then returned to selling gasoline and butane and working at the post office in Sanderson until he retired in 1977, he said.
After that, he sold auto parts in Houston, when Barton Harkins had a business there, and also got a real estate license, Jolly Harkins said. But mostly he’s worked on the farm, he said.
When he returned to his Georgetown home last week after his daily trip to the farm, his wife said she worried a little about his visits.
“He’s getting a little old to be going out there,” she said.
But Jolly Harkins said he knows how to take care of himself.
“I drive 40 miles an hour,” he said, smiling. “Because when you’re 94 and you get stopped by a cop, it’s always your fault.”
Jolly Harkins, 9 , picks up leftover coffee grounds every day at two Starbucks locations in Georgetown and uses them in a compost at his son’s farm in Bertram, miles away.
Tiffany Terwillegar, left, an assistant manager at Starbucks, says workers worry if Jolly Harkins doesn’t show up. See more photos with this story at statesman. com.