Food & Wine

Homegrown in Wellesley and Weston

Clara Silverstein writer

The first time that Phyllis Theermann rented a chicken coop from Land’s Sake in Weston, her daughter, then age four, went out to gather eggs.

“She picked one up, stuck her hand in the air and announced, ‘We never have to go to the grocery store again!’” her mom remembers.

All too soon, the girl learned that two hens temporarily roosting at her Wellesley home can’t produce enough eggs for a hungry family of four. Now age six, she and her ten-year-old sister have learned many other lessons from the hens they have cared for and the fruits and vegetables that they planted in their yard.

The Theermann children have pulled potatoes from under the ground and scraped their hands while picking raspberries from thorny canes. They also discovered that white asparagus, a delicacy in their father’s native Germany, did not grow in their yard. Last year, their mom used their knowledge to help start a garden at the Sprague elementary school in Wellesley.

“If you ask the kids where food comes from, they used to say Roche Brothers. Now they know more,” says Theermann, who is also a member of Sustainable Wellesley.

Teaching children to appreciate what it takes to produce food is just one reason why Wellesley and Weston residents tend gardens or raise chickens. Some find inspiration in Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, which advises readers to eat mostly plants; and in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a chronicle of her family’s experiences sustaining themselves on food from their own garden and local farmers. This past November, the Wellesley Reads Together program acknowledged local interest in this theme by selecting Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Good Garden, a children’s book about sustainable farming by Wellesley resident Katie Smith Milway, as its featured books (see Books in this issue). Above all, those who raise their own food appreciate the elemental connection to the earth and incomparably fresh flavor of their harvest.

Local interest in gardening reflects a national trend. According to the National Gardening Association, sales of vegetables, berries, herbs, and fruit trees increased 20 percent between 2008 and 2010. Two local community gardens, Weston Community Gardens and Brookside Community Garden in Wellesley, each report a waiting list for residents who want to rent a plot. So does the Weston Road Garden Club, which runs a community garden for Wellesley residents on land provided by Wellesley College.

Ursula King, who serves on the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission and is also a consultant for sustainable agriculture and local food sourcing, says a growing number of people ask her how they can become involved in gardening.

“People in town are interested in the flavor and variety of vegetables they can grow, and the real joy of it,” she says. “Many are retirees or close to it. They knew what good food tasted like when they were younger. They or their families probably grew a Victory Garden during World War II.”

The interest in local food sometimes extends to raising animals. Doug Cook runs the popular chicken rental program at Land’s Sake, where he is education director. The Theermanns are among the local families who have participated. The “Chicken Tractor” program delivers two chickens with a mobile coop, food, bedding, and feed trays. The chickens stay at each home (within 15 miles of Weston) for two weeks at a time.

“We’re booked solid in the spring and fall,” he says. A tour of area chicken farms called the “Coop Loop” also attracts 20 to 30 people at a time.

Cook has noticed that about 75 percent of the people who rent chickens also grow vegetables, but he thinks “100 percent of them are in an ecological mind-set.”

Weston resident Afton Cotton wanted to eat more sustainably and support local farmers when she started her Pigeon Hill Preserves business two years ago. Her jams, jellies, and fruit butters all use New England ingredients. To practice her philosophy even more, she also planted herbs and vegetables for her own kitchen.

“I’m in my late 20s, and it’s a big trend to go back to the land. Just about everyone I know is growing something, even on a windowsill,” she says. “It skipped a generation. Older folks remember growing and preserving things with their parents and grandparents. They didn’t go to the market to get everything.”

Cotton stocks preserves made from her own garden bounty such as homemade tomato-basil sauce, pickles, or zucchini relish. She enjoys turning a bumper crop into a meal that she and her husband can eat later in the year. “You remember back to July when you’re eating your sauce in February,” she says.

Those who grow their own food find that their interest often takes them way beyond their back yards. Gardeners share tips and resources and trade surplus crops with each other. They also find many links to eco-friendly lawn services and landscape designers.

“People tend to insulate themselves, but gardening takes them out of their silo. They meet friends and people with a common interest and common values. It builds community,” says Cook.

Local Gardening Resources

Brookside Community Garden
Wellesley Natural Resources Commission
781.431.1019, ext. 2294

Weston Community Gardens
Weston Conservation Office
781.786.5068 or volunteer coordinator, 781.899.4045

Weston Road Garden Club
volunteer coordinator, 781.237.4038

Land’s Sake
90 Wellesley Street, Weston


Nothing beats the taste of a sun-warmed cherry tomato or sugar snap pea straight off the vine. When you are ready to make a meal from garden-grown produce, the recipes on the following pages should inspire you.

Zucchini Bake (From Ursula King) – Serves 8 to 10

1 cup baking mix, such as Trader Joe’s or Bisquick
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or 11⁄2 tsp. dried
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1small onion, finely chopped
3 medium zucchini, thinly sliced

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (preferably Pyrex) with cooking spray or lightly grease it with butter.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the baking mix, parmesan cheese, parsley, oregano, basil,
    and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the oil and onion. Stir in the zucchini. Add the baking mix combination and stir until well mixed.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown on top. Good for dinner or breakfast.

Oven-Baked Ratatouille (From Land’s Sake) – Serves 8

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 3⁄4-inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut in half, then cut again into 1⁄4-inch thick slices
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
8 tomatoes, diced and drained (reserve 1⁄3 cup of the juice)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. salt
1⁄8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
11⁄2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1⁄4 cup toasted pine nuts
Toasted bread crumbs and/or parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)

Position the oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggplant, onion, zucchini, tomatoes, and 1/3 cup juice, garlic, oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
  • Transfer the vegetable mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Place in the oven and roast until the vegetables have softened and browned in spots, about 1 hour, stirring halfway through the baking time.
  • Remove from the oven and stir in the vinegar. Sprinkle with pine nuts and/or optional bread crumbs and cheese. Makes a good topping for
    rice or pasta.

Peach and Basil Crumble (From Land’s Sake) – Serves 6

For the filling:
4 ripe peaches, pitted, peeled, and
sliced into 8 wedges
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1⁄2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1⁄4 tsp. coarse salt, such as Kosher

For the topping:
2 oz. (approximately 1⁄3 cup) chopped almonds
1⁄3 cup light brown sugar
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1⁄4 tsp. coarse salt
3 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter.
  • For the filling: In a mixing bowl, gently toss all the filling ingredients together.
  • For the topping: In another mixing bowl, mix together the almonds, sugar, flour, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the top. Using your
    fingertips or a pastry cutter, work in the butter until the topping is crumbly.
  • Spoon the filling into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with topping.
  • Bake 25 to 27 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown. Let cool slightly and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Summer 2023