It was 1918 when Elmer Moje first took crops to market with his father on a horse and wagon in North Tonawanda, New York. Moje, who turns 99 later this month, still takes his crops to the market once or twice a week.
“I don’t have the wagon or the horse anymore,” he says with a laugh. “Back then it was all done by hand. My father never owned a tractor, he only had horses. Now everything is done by tractor.”
Today Moje grows only the German Stiffneck variety of garlic after decades of harvesting tomatoes, squash, peppers, melon, broccoli, and cauliflower. “I raised 1,200 pounds of garlic this year, about three bushels. The stocks are real hard and you can’t braid ‘em. In cooking they use a lot of it.”
The local farmers market has served Moje and his neighbors well throughout the years. USDA is celebrating National Farmers Market Week, and highlighting the important role these markets play in bringing fresh local food to communities across the country.
As a boy, Elmer pitched in when he wasn’t attending the local one-room schoolhouse in Wheatfield, near Niagara Falls. The Moje family grew vegetables, grain, and fruit on his father’s 81 acre farm.
After graduating with the North Tonawanda High class of 1931, Moje stayed close to farming over the decades. He returned home after fighting for the U.S. Army in Italy and North Africa during World War II. In 1946 he got married and his father gave him two acres to farm. While his professional career spanned 40 years at a local steel grinding plant, he continued to farm and bring his crop to the market.
Moje credits his longevity to good living and genetics: his mother lived to be 96 years old and his aunt made it to 104. “I drink milk three times a day,” he says. “I never drink coffee or smoke. Everyone thinks I’m 70. At the farmer’s market I had to show one woman my driver’s license. She didn’t believe it.”
The Northeast region of the U.S. saw an increase of more than 14 percent its market listings in our National Farmers Market Directory. New York has over 120 new markets listed. The farmers market in North Tonawanda is held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 am to 1 p.m.