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Gus Schumacher on Remembering JFK in Lexington

Janet, Gus and Ellen at the LFM in 2010
Gus Schumacher poses with Janet Kern and Ellen Frye at the Lexington Farmers’ Market in 2010

Jack Kennedy and the Boston Market Gardeners Association at Lexington’s Cary Hall ( 1952)

By Gus Schumacher*

Battling Henry Cabot Lodge in the 1952 election for Senate, then Congressman Jack Kennedy was accepting speaking engagements with alacrity. One engagement was his address the annual banquet of the historic Boston Market Gardeners Association, traditionally held in the post war years at Lexington’s Cary Hall—and traditionally as Lexington Farmer Don Wilson recalls, always catered by Luther Whittum with five courses, ending with a variation of Bananas Flambe for dessert.

My siblings and I recently recalled that evening some 62 years ago when my parents came home to say how impressed they were with the candidate. My father, August Schumacher, Sr. was then President of the Association. He, Waltham farmer Ray DaVincent and the Association’s Speakers Committee had extended an invite to Kennedy to speak. As my father told us, Kennedy accepted quickly the invitation with two conditions—that

(1) he knew little of agriculture and vegetable growing and thus would like to speak on foreign policy and that

(2) after his address, asked my father to have him be introduced to everyone at their tables .

My mother told us how impressed all were with his foreign policy talk and especially she said, the wives were particularly enthused , as he came dressed with an impeccable tailored suit, white shirt and silk tie and very polished shoes, dressing up for the farm banquet and not dressing down as so many speakers do from the city when visiting farm dinners.

Later, very early in his Presidency, Kennedy continued to be a friend of agriculture, with his support of the cranberry industry when impacted by a pesticide scare and, in his first Executive Order on the first morning of his too abbreviated Presidency, signed an Executive Order 10914 for the first national food stamp program, “Providing for an Expanded Distribution of Food to Needy Families”. This January 21st, 1961 Kennedy Executive Order was later enshrined by Congress and expanded in legislation in 1965 as part of the Great Society legislation.

*Gus Schumacher is a Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Food and Agriculture and the recipient of a 2013 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award.  He is currently the Executive Vice President of Policy at Wholesome Wave whose mission is to “improve access and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally grown produce to historically underserved communities.”  He grew up on a farm in Lexington off Wood Street. Gus returned to Lexington in March, 2013 at LexFarm’s invitation to speak at our Farm History panel for Lexington’s 300th anniversary Incorporation Weekend celebration. 

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clipping from 1918 inviting to field station in Lexington

For more  information about the BMGA and its Lexington connection, Gus offers the following:

“The Boston Market Gardeners’ Association was instrumental in establishing the Market Garden Field Station at Lexington,Massachusetts in 1917. It also aided in the move of this Station to more favorable land in Waltham, Massachusetts. The expansion of the Station resulted in changing the name to the Waltham Field Station — now the Eastern Massachusetts Agricultural Center.” And, in another wonderful connection to LexFarm, this is of course the site of Waltham Fields Community Farm, our partners in establishing the new Lexington Community Farm.