If garlic needs any champion for its healing powers, look no farther than Elmer Moje.
At age 102, he is known at the North Tonawanda Farmers Market as “The Garlic Man.”
But don’t rush over to get the healing root from Moje. The Wheatfield resident and his granddaughter, Carly Fabiny, brought more than half a ton of the vegetable, 1,200 pounds, to the market and were sold out in two weeks at the beginning of August.
But Moje still plans to come to the market, as he has been doing for the past 98 years, with the harvest of other vegetables available through Thanksgiving.
Moje was feted at the market at Robinson Street and Payne Avenue when he turned 102 on Aug. 20. He was presented with a cake, and all his friends at the market sang “Happy Birthday,” including State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, North Tonawanda Mayor Arthur G. Pappas and City Council members, who presented a proclamation naming it “Elmer Moje Day.”
Fabiny works as a school psychologist but during the summer break has also taken on the business of harvesting the vegetables and driving Moje, who still rises at 4 a.m. to go to the market several days a week. Other family members also pitch in. He now lives with his daughter, Beverly Freiert, and her husband, John, who are Fabiny’s parents, in the house his father Albert Moje built.
Moje retired in 1977 as a general supervisor at National Grinding Wheel in North Tonawanda. He said he was able to hunt until he was 95 and also worked the farm until about four years ago, when he was no longer able to get around.
“I still feel like I am still 20 from here on up,” he said pointing to his waist. “But my legs are weak. Too many miles on ’em.”
So what’s the secret to long life?
I just kept busy all the time. I didn’t spend any time sitting around doing nothing. I was careful in my diet. I never smoked, never drank coffee. I still drink milk three times a day.
Farming is hard work, isn’t it?
A farmer’s day is about 10 to 12 hours sometimes.
But farming was not your main occupation?
I did it on the side. I built one little greenhouse and raised plants for my farm and then people came around and wanted to buy some. I ended up having five greenhouses. I gave that up three years ago. I grew all kinds of vegetables and I had bees, but I specialized in garlic.
And bees, you said?
Oh, yeah. I used to have honey, too. I started that when I was 15 years old. My father used to rent bees for pollinating the fruit trees. I said why don’t you buy them and then you won’t have to rent them? He said “I won’t go near them things.” I said you buy them and I will take care of them. I ended up with a lot of bees. I was a beekeeper for 60 years. I’ve grown garlic for the past 40 years.
What do you think about all the fuss, about turning 102?
It’s alright, but they wouldn’t have to do it on my part. (“Don’t let him fool you. He loves it,” said Fabiny. And as if to prove the point. Moje asks her to run into the other room to help him display all the many honors he has received).
How did you feel about the City of North Tona wanda making the special proclamation?
It made me feel as if I was wanted. I’ve also been a member of the Shawnee Volunteer Fire Department for 63 years.
You started coming to the farmers market nearly 100 years ago. How have things changed?
When I started coming with my dad (at age 4) we came in a horse and wagon. It took us an hour and half to get there (from Townline Road in Wheatfield). Now it takes 15 minutes. There was about 12 or 13 farmers at that time. Today there’s 138 stalls. It’s really big. Back then at one end was a big water trough, for the horses ... I also remember when men wore (the) pants and women wore (the) earrings.
What was it like back then?
It was a dirt road until 1921. This house (his father’s house) was built right in the middle of an apple orchard. There were apple trees in the front and in the back and on the sides. The apple orchards are all gone now. Everything is divided up into houses.
What did you do when you got out of high school?
I graduated from North Tonawanda High School in 1931. It was right in the depths of the Depression. You couldn’t find a job anywhere. So I found a job on a dairy farm and worked 10 hours a day for $1 a day. I had to milk 40 cows twice a day, but they did have a milking machine.
Did you still work on your family’s farm?
I did some, after I got out of the Army.
How long did you serve?
Five years, then we went to Europe on a convoy. It took us two weeks to get over there. We were supposed to land in Morocco, but there were so many ships we couldn’t get in, so we had to go to Algiers. I was in North Africa for eight months. Then I went to Italy for a year and a half.
What did you do in Italy?
About 15 to 20 of us were given an order to go to the colonel’s office. We wondered what we had done wrong. They were picking men from each outfit in southern Italy to form the military government for Rome. The Germans didn’t cause any structural damage in Rome, but they took everything they could get their hands on. We went to school for two months before we got there to learn the ins and outs and then helped the Roman people. I was there for a year and a half. The war with Japan ended in August and I thought I would be going home, but I didn’t go home until December. But I was a master sergeant so I got pretty good pay. There were no banks, no restaurants were open. We built things up in Rome.
Did you ever get a chance to go back?
No, but I wish I would have. I never did. (Fabiny said years later when she spent a semester in Europe, her grandfather still was able to tell her how to navigate the city, street by street, and help her find where his office had been).
What did you do when you came back?
Came back and got married. My wife, Esther, and I got married in 1946. My father gave me two acres of land off the farm. One of my friends from Buffalo was engaged to a girl from South Buffalo, and my wife-to-be was a good friend of hers. I told this girl to give her my name and address, and she wrote to me while I was in Rome. When I got out of the Army, I came home. I wasn’t even home, I was in the Buffalo airport waiting for my folks to pick me up, and I called this girl and made a date for the next night. And that was the end of that. September of 1946 we got married. (His wife died in 1994).
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