Sharing the bounty: Local from a long line of gardeners helps to feed others


  • The pick-your-own plot, the northwest corner plot, of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Poblano peppers growing in the pick-your-own plot of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Echinacea flowers growing in the pick-your-own plot of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tomatoes growing at the pick-your-own plot of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The free table next to the pick-your-own plot of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pollinators visiting the flowers in the pick-your-own plot of the community garden at the John Zon Community Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The free table next to the Pick Your Own plot of the community garden at John Zon Center in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

For the Recorder
Published: 8/2/2021 2:47:30 PM

Elyse Moore’s remarkable dedication to growing and sharing fresh produce echoes practices of her ancestors dating back nearly 150 years.

A glimpse into family history reveals that native Vermonter George D. Moore (Elyse’s great-great-grandfather) settled in Arlington, Massachusetts in the 1880s and developed a 15-acre parcel into what became well-known as Moore Farm, providing produce for Boston markets. The enterprise was passed down to George’s son, Ernest. Later, her grandfather, Charles (Ernest’s eldest son), continued the tradition.

A peek into more recent history demonstrates that such ingenuity and determination live on in Elyse Moore in ways that would have made her forebears proud.

A few years ago, as a member of the Pleasant Street Community Garden in Greenfield, Moore said she and other members “noticed a theft problem.”

At the time, the garden project was situated where the John Zon Community Center building currently stands. When Moore and others became aware that produce was disappearing without permission, they recognized a need and responded with creative generosity, rather than anger or resentment.

“When people take food,” Moore said, “it’s probably because they need it. That got me thinking: our community garden is right in the middle of a neighborhood. Many people live right around where we garden but don’t have space at their homes to grow food. Or maybe they don’t have the time, knowledge or confidence? I don’t know. But food is a basic need. So the community gardeners came up with a plan.”

They developed a “pick-your-own” plot, a project that continues today in the updated community garden, just north of the original site. The newer site, behind the John Zon Community Center, is open to visitors and is a model of collaboration and sharing.

Moore explained that “in the old garden, the PYO plot greeted visitors at one entrance to the site, with clear signage indicating that folks were welcome to take produce from that plot, and from that plot only.”

Moore and her cohorts knew there was some risk involved, since encouraging people to help themselves might lead to more garden-wide theft. But the gamble paid off. Theft decreased as the PYO plot filled a need.

Creating a new community garden

When the original community garden, at the corner of Pleasant and School streets since 1999, was eradicated to make way for the new building a few years ago, Moore and fellow gardener Alice Timmons (featured in a recent column) attended town meetings in hopes that the community garden might continue somewhere on the site.

The two women — along with Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener — were instrumental in resurrecting the community garden following construction. The process was not easy.

“It was hard to see that whole other garden plowed under,” Moore admitted. “But we knew we had to start over, to keep it going somehow. A big part of our commitment was recognizing the importance of a place where people can come get food, feel welcomed and share in the joy.”

They succeeded. Today, the garden is reestablished adjacent to its former site, and the PYO plot bursts with nutritious offerings.

“We learned a few things along the way,” Moore said. “For instance, rather than grow lots of different types of produce, we found it’s better to narrow the focus. We’re growing three types of vegetables people tend to like: tomatoes, peppers and cukes.”

The PYO spot in the new garden began as a full-size plot next to a second PYO site, one devoted to herbs. However, this year — due to an increased demand for full membership — the PYO sites are combined in a lush patch of greenery that looks, tastes and smells delicious.

“When we restarted the garden, the first thing I did was to start digging a PYO plot, the one destined for herbs,” Moore said. “Even before I dug my own plot, I got that project established, working with Alice.”

Moore and Timmons carved out seven raised beds using shovels and hoes.

“Wow, that was a lot of work,” Moore recalled. “We created a center bed and planted an apothecary rose.”

Moore and Timmons chose Rosa gallica, also known as the Gallic rose, French rose, or rose of Provins.

“It dates back to the 15th century,” Moore said.

One of the first species of rose to be cultivated in central Europe, Rosa gallica is a parent of several important cultivars. A deciduous shrub forming large patches, the flowers are clustered one to four together, with three to seven bluish-green leaflets. Each fragrant, deep pink flower has five or more petals, sometimes producing double corollas.

“A gorgeous centerpiece to our herb plot,” Moore said.

The most recent reset of the PYO plot seems like a win-win. “We moved all the herbs to the perimeter, and planted vegetables around the rose,” she said.

The plot includes garlic, bee balm, fennel, lemon balm and valerian (famous for addressing sleep disturbances).

The PYO procedure is simple, Moore explained.

“When you come to the community garden, face the shed from the parking lot,” she said. “Look for the PYO signage in the plot that’s right behind the shed, in the northwestern-most corner of the project, near the chickens. You can’t miss it. If something is ripe, you can pick it. Take what you need, and leave some for others. Enjoy! Food is meant to be eaten with real joy.”

Family legacy

Find yourself a cuke in the PYO plot, and reflect as you crunch down on its goodness that it grew with the help of Elyse Moore, whose great-grandfather Ernest had a hand in the meteoric success of the “White Spine” variety of cucumbers.

Ernest, who was born in 1872, left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after his third year to return to work on the family farm, which specialized in early- and late-season vegetables. The Moore Farm fields extended to the Mystic River, and the property included 14 large greenhouses.

During that era, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded top honors to Moore-grown beets, parsnips and salsify, which is a skinnier relative of the parsnip. (Though less popular today, salsify is a delicious, creamy and versatile winter vegetable, and more nutritious than many starchy alternatives.)

Her great-grandfather did not earn a college degree, opting instead to help run the family business, which thrived for many years. In contrast, after a long career as a chef, Elyse Moore returned to higher education in her 50s as a Frances Perkins scholar at Mount Holyoke College, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2015.

“I went back to school fueled by a desire to write about culinary history,” Moore said. “I focused on the Connecticut Valley, specifically women’s history.”

In 2014, Moore submitted an abstract to the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery, and was invited to travel to England to present her paper about the relationship between Connecticut River fisheries and the regional tavern industry.

Ernest Moore pursued large-scale market gardening longer than most of his peers. Post-World War II demand for housing led him to subdivide the family farm in the face of real estate pressures. The street closest to Moore’s former Arlington homestead lot is named Ernest Road.

Her great-grandfather died in 1963 when she was a young child. That little girl grew up to be an avid gardener, scholar, writer, devoted mom, musician and community activist. And what began as membership in a community garden, with the aim of growing her own food to save money, blossomed into projects that focused on the well-being of others, too.

Echoes of the past continue. Since 2015, Moore teaches hearth cooking and gives guided tours at Historic Deerfield. Her younger sister, Laurie Moore, operates a landscaping and garden design business in Newport, R.I.

“It’s in our blood,” Moore said. “That’s for sure.

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and an artist, musician, gardener and mom. Readers may contact her at to suggest topics for this column.

Greenfield Recorder

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