Moore Street Community Garden occupies a truncated L-shaped space bounded by a tennis court, a parking garage, some residential housing, and a park. A large portion of the gardeners come from many corners of the earth. The garden is unusual, not just in what is cultivated, but also in the creative structures built in and around the plots.
Moore Street is a short street in The Port that runs perpendicularly between Broadway Street to the north and Harvard Street to the south. The garden itself is situated at the corner of Moore Street and Dickinson Street close to Newtowne Court and Washington Elms— two of the oldest federal public housing projects in the nation (1938 and 1942).
On September 16th, 1911 The Cambridge Chronicle had an article about a community garden at the corner of Moore Street and Harvard Street. It was called “an interesting experiment” and “a brilliant success.” Miss Jean Cross (garden director of the Boston Social Union) had persuaded Mr. Hicks (owner of the property) to donate the land for a children’s garden. She raised the money; supervised the clearing of the land (which was done by the children themselves); and oversaw the laying of 22 plots, each 8 by 10 feet.
The present Moore Street community garden was created in 1985, after a building on the site next to where the children’s garden had been, burned down. In 2001, the City acquired land behind the garden. For several years the land was used for temporary city office space. When this was demolished, construction of the Green-Rose Heritage Park began. The community garden was temporarily shut down and heavy equipment occupied the space where the garden had been, causing the soil to become very compacted. When it reopened in 2008 the City replaced the topsoil (approximately 1½ ft.) with “poor quality backfill” according to one gardener, and “marine mud” according to another. Soil tests found no lead but there was very little organic matter. The gardeners who had been tending and adding to the soil for years were very upset. Also not helpful was a new row of oak trees planted next to the garden, which the gardeners managed to replace with two plum trees. Further post-construction adjustment was removal of some of the arborvitae at the back of the garden in order to make more garden space.
The garden is an irregular shape with unevenly sized plots. Most of them are 10’ X 10’ but several are 6’ X 13’ and two are 6’ X 20’. There are 29 plots in all including a raised bed next to the gates. On the west side—next to the clapboard house and a small section of the park—there is a chain link fence and a row of arborvitae. The other three sides have the metal fencing of the park. There are two gates close together—one on the Moore Street side (which is locked) and the other next to the tennis court. The raised bed is surrounded by pavers and has two benches overlooking it. There is no tool shed. Waste barrels are near the entrance and four hose outlets are available. The mulch paths are becoming smaller and smaller as gardeners encroach on them in order to extend their plots. In one corner the path is completely overgrown with milkweed. Rats are a problem as in most community gardens and several rabbits appear to be living in the garden.
What Is Grown
As well as the more typical vegetables to be found in the Cambridge Community Gardens, there are many vegetables grown that mirror the different cultures of the gardeners. These include mustard greens, tomatillo, amaranth, bitter melons, and salsify. Not many flowers are grown although several plots have a variety that includes lavender, Shasta daisies, and daylilies. There are also remnants of persistent self-seeding morning glories and poppies, and herbs that have spread everywhere, such as wild fennel, mint, and epazote (also known as Mexican tea).
Many of the gardeners are recent immigrants with the largest group—probably comprising a third of the total—coming from Bangladesh. Some gardeners only speak a few words of English. Most walk or bicycle and many rely on the plots for all their fresh vegetables. Extremely elaborate permanent structures have been built by many of the gardeners to establish the boundaries of their plots and to protect and support their plants. These are made from a huge and creative amount of materials which include boards, wooden lattice, metal poles, rope, twigs, wire netting, broom handles, plastic edging, bricks, and metal grids.
Pandeli Kule lives nearby and has had a plot for 4 years. He comes from Albania and has been in the USA for 10 years. His son also has a plot. They grow beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and lettuce. Sufi Begun is from Bangladesh. She speaks very little English but pointed out her plot which was mostly given over to mustard greens. She also pointed out other plots that she said belonged to her daughter, uncle, cousin, and nephew. Leon Paguandas has been in the garden for about 5 years. He came to the USA from Trinidad & Tobago but his ancestors, he says, were slaves in India. He grows cilantro, thyme, and coriander, which he dries. He never buys any herbs from the store. This year he is also growing cucumbers, peppers, and eggplant. Christine Merch has been in the garden for over 12 years. She has a thriving plot with flowers as well as vegetables, but she says that 1 foot down the ground feels like cement. She is growing salsify, peas, garlic, chives, tarragon, lemon balm, dianthus, and heliotrope. Another long-time gardener is David Lyon who has one of the two plots that is 4 X 16 ft. He is growing Defiant tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, chives, tarragon, and also flowers.
The coordinators since the garden reopened have had a difficult time with plot allocation and theft. Minka vonBeuzekom started gardening at Moore Street in 1991 and returned to the garden when it reopened in 2008. When she was coordinator, plots mostly changed hands by word of mouth. It was (and still is) hard to determine who had been assigned plots and how many had been taken over by a single household. Theft became such a problem that the City put locks on both the gates. They were soon cut however, and the City concluded that, in any case, as a policy, people must have access to public spaces.
Laetitia Henry replaced Minka as coordinator. Like Minka she had been at Moore Street for a long time and started gardening there again after the garden reopened and after the soil was tested. However, she had to wait for four years to be assigned a plot again, and then had to move once because of an aggressive neighbor. She found the position of coordinator to be more and more of a chore because of the ongoing problem of theft and the proliferation of rabbits. The current coordinator Carolyn Mathews took over in the Spring of 2021.
There is only one posting on the notice board “Moore Garden LESS Street,” put there by Minka vonBeuzekom. The lack of rules or even guidelines is apparent but at present, in spite of a few instances of intimidation and conflict in the past, two types of gardeners are able to coexist—those that are motivated to grow food in quantity and a core of long-time gardeners with more varied interests.
Story contributed by the Cambridge Plant and Garden Club. This story was originally published in "Cambridge Community Gardens Today, 2020/2021."