Local senior grows fresh vegetables to feed those in need

Oct 20 2014

Elske Smith has donated 150 pounds of fresh produce grown in her garden this season

Elske Smith is proof that you don’t need to be a farmer by profession to provide fresh produce to our neighbors in need in Western Massachusetts. Elske is a senior living at Kimball Farms Life Care in Lenox, Massachusetts. This season, she has provided Berkshire County pantries and meal sites with an amazing 150 pounds of fresh produce. This was her third year growing vegetables — and she is completely self-taught.

Elske is Dutch by birth but has spent much of her life living in the United States. She first came to America when her father, a diplomat in the Netherlands Consulate was posted to Boston. Although he was transferred some time later, she stayed on, going to high school and college here. Following a rewarding career as an astronomer- and later the Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia- Elske retired to Lenox, owning a home before moving to Kimball Farms.

“I came to Lenox because my son lives in the area, in Becket, and I liked the idea of being close to him and his family.” says Elske. “I was very familiar with New England, having gone to college in Cambridge at Radcliffe.”

Elske hadn’t been much of a gardener before moving to Kimball Farms. However, upon discovering their community garden, she was inspired. As a member of the Unitarian Universalist church in Pittsfield she had seen all the good that their community garden (started by member Eddie O’Toole) accomplished by growing vegetables to donate. She decided to give it a go herself. While most of the Kimball Farms residents grow flowers in the raised gardens, Elske began researching how to efficiently grow food for those who need it most.

“A friend told me about ‘Square Foot Gardening,’” says Elske.  “There is a book by Mel Bartholomew, as well as a website; I have referred to both.  The concept is ideally suited to raised gardens with limited space.”

Square foot gardening is a system for small but intensively planted gardens that are easily accessible and use space resourcefully. The garden is divided into a grid, as opposed to the rows of vegetables common on farms. Elske began planting a variety of vegetables in her three by fifteen foot raised garden, utilizing the square foot gardening system. It wasn’t very long before she was donating green beans, zucchini, squash, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and onions.

“It’s fun!” says Elske. “It is great to see vegetables growing till ready for harvesting and it is very satisfying to know that my vegetables may be helping to supply needy people with healthy produce.”

Once a week she harvests her vegetables and collects produce her fellow gardeners wish to contribute to take to the Berkshire Community Action Council in Pittsfield. The vegetables are then distributed by The Food Bank’s Agency Resource Coordinator Alan Dallmann and volunteer Manzelle Morton to local agencies at the Berkshire Community Action Council Depot Drop.

This year Elske’s produce went primarily to Barton’s Crossing (a shelter in Pittsfield), South Congregational Church and First United Methodist Church & Christian Center (meal sites in Pittsfield), and the Berkshire Food Project (a meal site in North Adams). It is safe to say that over 250 people have eaten her vegetables this year.

It came as a surprise to Elske to learn she had donated 150 pounds of produce this season. “I didn’t realize that our contribution would add up to so much,” said Elske. “I guess it was a good season.”

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