CGP Community Stories

Mary Leonard, November 15, 2015

Title

Mary Leonard, November 15, 2015

Subject

Carefree Gardens
Origins Cafe
Cooperstown, NY
Rotary Club
Immigration
Cooperstown School Board
Education
Organic Farming

Description

Mary Leonard, along with her husband, is the owner and founder of Carefree Gardens, a greenhouse and landscape services business, in Cooperstown, NY, which just completed its 30th season. The two have also helped to create the Origins Café in Cooperstown with their two daughters, which just finished its 4th season. She was born into a Dutch immigrant family, attained an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, traveled across the country, and started two successful businesses. She has also raised her own family in Cooperstown. She continues to actively serve the community as a member of the Rotary Club and as Vice President of the local school board while maintaining a global perspective of the impact of her work. Through her landscaping business and the café she started with her daughters, Mary continues to provide educational experiences to the community in regards to food choices, where food comes from, and how everyone plays a role in our global environment.

Mary is a strong woman with a dry sense of humor, an aspect of her personality that is expressed in this interview. Her thoughtful perspective on her transitioning to life in Cooperstown, her active engagement with the community, and the changes she has witnessed and helped create in Cooperstown elucidates the strong community and familial ties present in small town America.

The recording of this interview has some static-like background noise. This was caused by rain hitting the roof of Origins Café during the time of the interview.

Creator

Emily Q Welch

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2015-11-11

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5 mB
audio/mpeg
25.9 mpeg
image/jpeg
3632 × 2688 pixels

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

15-012

Coverage

Cooperstown, NY
Travel
Gardening/Landscaping
Organic Farming
Education

Interviewer

Emily Q Welch

Interviewee

Mary Leonard

Location

Origins Cafe at Carefree Gardens in Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2015

EQW = Emily Q. Welch
ML = Mary Leonard
BL = Brent Leonard



[START OF TRACK 1, 00:00]

EQW:

This is the November 11th, 2015 interview of Mary Leonard by Emily Welch for the Cooperstown Graduate Program Oral History Project in Cooperstown, New York. So, Mary, could you tell me your full name?

ML:

Mary Edwina Beekman Leonard.

EQW:
And, can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?

ML:

Yes. I grew up on Long Island. My family had just arrived from Holland when I was born. I was born in Flushing, New York. And we progressively moved further out east to on Long Island as my dad got different jobs. I started school when I was four because I didn’t speak English and they thought that I should learn English. I started kindergarten when I was four and then, like I said, I grew up on Long Island and went to Long Island Lutheran High School and then Sayville High School. I graduated from Sayville High School.

EQW:

So your family emigrated from Holland when you were very very young?

ML:

Well, I was born here as soon as they moved over.

EQW:

So do you still speak Dutch?

ML:

I don’t use it here. But I went to Holland ten times over ten years when my grandmother was alive and the best compliment I had, someone said, “Oh, how long have you been away because you’ve picked up a terrible English accent?” So I can understand it fluently but it takes a little while to get back into it because I don’t use it here. But when I go back I’ll remember it.

EQW:

I know you have two daughters. Did you teach them Dutch at all?

ML:

No, no, I did not. And it’s interesting too because my mother, who’s Dutch of course, lives here and as much as we always spoke Dutch when I was growing up at home, after her mother died, we never spoke Dutch again. It was all English. At the beginning, sentences would be half Dutch, half English. My friends would look at me like I was crazy, you know, when I was speaking with my family but it was all the same to us. But then my mother has lost her interest in speaking Dutch so there was nobody to speak Dutch to.

EQW:

So, do you still have any family connections in Holland or…

ML:

Oh yeah. I have lots of cousins and they have babies now and I have aunts and uncles still.

EQW:

Do you visit them often?

ML:

No, I haven’t been in the ten years since my grandmother died. I went all the time when she was alive but not anymore. It got busy here, the kids went to college, they started their business here.

EQW:

Do they ever come over?

ML:

Not too often. But different ones have from time to time.

EQW:

I am assuming they speak English then or do you speak…

ML:

Oh yeah-yeah they speak English. Over there, we speak Dutch but their English is good.

EQW:

So you grew up in America, and you went to school in Long Island. Can you tell me a little bit about any further education or certifications that you have?

ML:

Yeah, sure. After high school, I went to a community college for three semesters. It was alright. But I wanted to get a little work experience, so I went to work in a greenhouse for that one semester. I realized that if I wanted to do anything in the greenhouse business I needed to go to college for that. So then I went to SUNY Cobleskill and got my associates degree there. I was only there for one year. I took twenty credits one semester and twenty-one the next to get that done with. Then I wanted to transfer to Cornell, but I needed to have some more calculus and physics. So I went to SUNY Stony Brook for a semester and then the following January went to Cornell for the horticulture program.

EQW:

And was that a master’s or was that a…

ML:

I did stay and get my master’s. That was for my bachelor’s. And then I stayed on and got my master’s in teaching.

EQW:

What was it about the Cornell program that really inspired you to want to transfer there?

ML:

It was the only four year program that I knew of at the time. I had never set foot on the Cornell campus before I stayed there. I landed off the bus with my pillow under my arm and looked for a place to stay when I got there. So that was unusual, I had also just come back from Hawaii the day before, visiting a friend of mine. So that was fun. Anyway, so yeah, I don’t know, when I got into Cornell it seemed to make a lot of sense to go there. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

EQW:

It seems like working at the greenhouse after you left community college seemed to be sort of a turning point in your career direction. What was it about working there that inspired you to pursue horticulture?

ML:

That’s a good question. I think just working in those greenhouses and hearing the birds, and realizing that this really wasn’t work but yet I was getting paid for it and that I liked growing things and dealing with retail sales. So it just all kind of clicked.

EQW:

Had you considered horticulture or working in a greenhouse before?

ML:

No, I thought that I might like to be a dental hygienist. And I’m glad I wasn’t. No I hadn’t thought about it before but there must’ve been something that made me think it would be fun to work in a greenhouse. So I think it gets in your blood when you’re Dutch.

EQW:

Is plant growing a big thing…

ML:

It’s a big thing in Holland.

EQW:

…in Holland?

ML:

Yes, yes.

EQW:

So did your parents have a lot of potted plants around or a garden or…

ML:

My mom. My mom gardened a lot. Yeah. And my dad enjoyed it as well. And when I started going to Holland to meet the family, yeah sure, everybody was really into it. So, yeah, that was…I came by it honestly.

EQW:

So it was something that was very much a part of your life before…

ML:

Yeah.

EQW:

…but it just hadn’t…

ML:

Right, I didn’t realize that it could have anything to do with a future career.

EQW:

So can you tell me a little bit how you met your husband?

ML:

Yeah, it was on a Friday night at Mann Library and it was May because I was a junior. Wait a junior? Yeah. It was my first semester at Cornell so I was a junior. And I was carrying a gigantic stack of books because I found myself in a graduate level course called, “The Co-evolution Between Plants and Insects”. It was very intimidating because the professors had actually written the biology book that they were using at Cornell and all these other people, I don’t know why they let me in, but all these other people were graduate students and everybody had to take a turn teaching the class. So I was determined to come up with something so that’s why I was, on a Friday night, in the library. But then I saw this cute guy go out of the reading room to the water fountain. So I took my big pile of books and parked it at the next table. And I didn’t get any work done that night. So we talked all night and ended up going to a wedding together the next day. So…

EQW:

Definitely a turn of events there.

ML:

Yes.

EQW:

Had you known him previously or was it just…

ML:

No. no.

EQW:

So it seems like you guys just sort of hit it off right away…

ML:

Yeah.

EQW:

…after that wedding how did…

ML:

We just did more getting to know each other, running together, that kind of a thing. But he was graduating that semester so we just kind of crossed by about two weeks that we were on the campus together. But we kept in touch and the following year he took a teaching job in Oxford, New York and I was still at Cornell then. Let’s see…yeah. That’s right. Because I did a fast master’s program so I was still finishing my undergraduate that year.

EQW:

So it was a long distance relationship for a little while?

ML:

Not too long. Oxford’s only about an hour away. And then we took a break for six months then got back together again. Yeah, it went well.

EQW:

What caused the six month break? Was it just workload or something else?

ML:

Oh, a variety of things. We were still pretty young and…yeah, I can’t remember exactly. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. So yeah, I will note that my master’s degree and my wedding degree are dated the same day. Wedding certificate are the same day. Yeah…

EQW:

Oh that’s exciting.

ML:

Yeah I thought that was pretty neat. August 8th, 1981. That was the official date I finished my master’s and was also my wedding date.

EQW:

So, obviously this was a very well done relationship because it’s still going on.

ML:

Yeah, yeah it seems to have worked. Yeah.

EQW:

How did things sort of progress from there being in Oxford, Cornell area?

ML:

Oh, okay. Right. Well yeah, I finished then my master’s. Well, when I was working on my master’s I had already decided actually that I wanted to go traveling across the country. And so as we were talking about it he said it would seem that he would like to do that too and that it would only make sense if we got married first. So, it was kind of, more or less, matter of fact, you know, no big proposal on the knee or anything like that. But just kind of an understanding that, yep, that would be a good thing to do. So then we got married in August, like I said, and we had been working right along on converting a van. A big ole’ Chevy van that had beautiful clapboard ceilings that were all stained and we had a desk and a refrigerator and a sink with running water and the bed popped down from a table and benches to a bed and a stand-up closet in the back. So, then we also added a trailer because we had our interview clothes in there. We didn’t know how long we would be gone. So the trailer had on top of it two kayaks and our bicycles of course, because we were into all sorts of fitness things. So we had all sorts of stockpiles of food, I had an oven in the van so I would bake bread as we were going down the road. It was great fun. Then, we didn’t get too far before we ran out of money in Nashville, Tennessee. So we applied for jobs there. That’s when we learned, never disclose that you have a master’s degree, and that sort of a thing, if you’re looking for a job as an onion puncher or something at the Tennessee State Fair. So anyway, we didn’t get the jobs.

And so we continued on South to, long story short, to Ocala, Florida. Where I got a job my first day as a landscape designer from a guy who went to Cornell and was also a landscape designer. So we hit it off, we’d had the same professor. So I really learned a lot there, because I was working on commission. It was a growing area but it was also 1981 and things were pretty slowly growing. And so, that was interesting. But then in May, we decided it was time to pack up and we went back up north to my sister’s graduation. We just threw all of our stuff in, and at that time we had acquired a small motorcycle as well. So that got added on to the trailer. Took our rig back up north, and we had also picked up a dog by that point in time, our puppy. Our dog was Juniper. So Juniper came with us. Then, after my sister’s graduation, we set out for real to go out West because by that time we had some money behind us. So we went out West and had a great time.

And then when we got out to Telluride, Colorado we’d basically run out of money again so we worked some jobs there and then stayed that winter in Phoenix, Arizona. We worked in Farmington, New Mexico for a month, got enough money to go around to all the National Parks – Bryce, Zion Canyon, Zion, Mesa Verde – so we went all around the National Parks and then we stayed in Phoenix that first winter. I had a really good job there too managing a landscape nursery. The people kept coming to me and wanted landscape designs. So I was recognizing that this is a niche. And I had some experience with that in Florida.

[TRACK 1, 13:28]

So, long story short, we got the name Carefree Gardens there because, in my lunch hour, I’d put a tree in the little Fiat I was driving and drove it up to Carefree, Arizona and planted the tree in my lunch hour. I didn’t know that Carefree Gardens would be the name of the business then, but when it all unfolded and I looked a couple of weeks later I was like, yeah, you know, Carefree, Arizona, Carefree Gardens would be a good name.

So, long story short, I was landscape designing for people around there and then my boss brought a client who had a resort in Borrego Springs, California. He flew him over in a private little plane and he introduced me to him and we talked for a while and he said I’d be interested in having you design this resort for me and I said “Well, that’s very nice, thank you, I would like to do that but I will only do it if my husband can work as the irrigation specialist,” that he could draw up the irrigation plans. So I flew over, took a look at the job. Drew up plans that he liked. Brent drew up irrigation plans. Next thing we know, we came back and got the dog and moved to Borrego Springs, California. He gave us seven very nice Mexican fellows to do all the work and some sombreros and an air conditioned office and we were doing well.

So we did the job and that was all successful and then we decided rather than going back to Phoenix, back to work, we were still trying to get to Alaska. So we hopped back in the van and drove on up to Alaska and did a lot of kayaking on the way and always hitting the National Parks. We had a wonderful time.

By then it was August of 1983. We had just finished a week at the Alaska State Fair and were heading down to Anchorage when we called home, which we did every other Sunday because there were no cell phones and all that. We would call my mom one Sunday and Brent’s the next. We called home and his mom had just passed away that day. That was a shock. We had really just been in a little delicatessen kind of a place, talking to a fellow who was getting our story, and he said, oh you guys are just what we need around here, you should come live in Anchorage. We had a nice conversation and we left. Then after the phone call we went back in and we just didn’t know what to do, we were just kids, really. You know, what, 24-years, 25 or something like that. Brent’s dad had already passed away. So, this fellow, Bill Sandin, who we had never met other than that brief conversation, took us to his house, we had money at that point which was very nice, but it was all in the bank in Phoenix. For some reason we couldn’t have access to it in Alaska. So, he lent us the money for the flight, he drove us to the airport in the middle of the night, watched our dog for the two weeks we were away, fed her moose bones, then picked us up again at the airport in the middle of the night. Didn’t know us at all. I mean, yeah, he had all of our worldly possessions and our van there for collateral, but that wasn’t that much. It was a lot to us. But anyway, so, yeah, that was quite something. And I think of them often although I’m not a good correspondent. We exchanged Christmas cards for a few years, but haven’t gotten back to Alaska to thank them again yet. But that was a big deal.

So when we came back to Cooperstown, Brent’s grandmother, who was in her nineties, was still alive, this was her only daughter who had just passed away, so it didn’t take us but a few minutes to decide that we needed to come home and take care of her. So, we did do that. We flew back to Alaska, got the dog and the van and all that. Stopped by Phoenix to pick up our old Fiat, and followed each other cross-country. We had a timeframe there, because Brent was applying for a job at Cooperative Extension and had to get back here for an interview. So we more or less sped across the country. He did not get that job, but it got us back here in a good, timely fashion. Am I going into too much detail here?

EQW:

You cannot go into too much detail, you are fabulous.

ML:

Oh, okay. Okay. So, after we got back here, obviously we’ve raced back. And it’s now fall. September I guess. And, we don’t have jobs. So, Brent got a job at John Hamilton’s dairy farm in East Meredith and I got a job at Fraser’s Greenhouses down the hill there. So we kept busy. We also found out that on the way home I got pregnant. So I continued working in the greenhouses until I couldn’t move anymore. Then when we were living in East Meredith we gave birth to our son Paul. He was born in June of 1984. And four days later, we moved to Cooperstown. And I will advise you, don’t move when you’ve just had your first baby four days prior. Cause it’s not a good time to move. Well, we did. And my family all came up. And we moved in to this home.

The reason we were in East Meredith, by the way, is because we had made an offer on the house as soon as we moved back but the house and the land was left to Brent and his four sisters and everybody wanted to make sure that what we were offering was fair market value. So we moved away for the year, while staying close enough by to keep an eye on the house, that sort of a thing. During the course of that year, nobody offered more for the house than we did. So then we were able to buy the house. So we moved up to Cooperstown, four days after Paul was born, and it was interesting because my family came, and this had been Brent’s mother’s home, so all the family things were still here. So my family came up to help us move and they’re trying to be helpful and they’re moving all these big pieces of furniture and, you know, trying to get things organized. Not that we had any of our own furniture to bring, but just kind of, you know, put our stamp on it, so to speak.

Anyway, halfway through moving all this furniture around, they look at their watches and like, oops, we got to go. So I’m left, and Brent’s working at this point at…he’s finished at John Hamilton’s farm because we moved and he’s working at Pete Huntington’s dairy farm, down the road here, but he has to work the night shift. So everybody takes off. So I’m in a strange house, the furniture moved all over the place, with this brand new baby in my arms and I’m like, “Woah. I don’t know anybody in this town. I don’t even have a car.” That was a shock. That was a shock.

But, anyway, there was a nice lady who was the wife of someone Brent worked with at the dairy farm who would come pick me up and take me grocery shopping once in a while. The neighbor’s girl, who lived out here, Mindy Renwick, was 13 years old, she’d get off of the school bus at three o’clock and we’d sit and watch Happy Days. That was the highlight of my day.

But I had one thing going for me, which was that when we were still living in the trailer in East Meredith I went ahead and bought a greenhouse because I said, if we get that house in Cooperstown, fine, we’ll put the greenhouse up there. If we’re staying in East Meredith, I’m going to put the greenhouse here. But, I’m going to have a greenhouse. Because, in the meanwhile, I’d filled one little guest room with fluorescent lights and all these little seedling trees and everything. So they were all ready. I had all my plants. I needed a greenhouse. No matter where I was, it was going up.

So, fortunately, we got the house and we moved here. So we started building the first greenhouse. You can see the size of it right there, it was that little one it went from here to there [gesturing from one end of the building to the other] and we just took it down when we put the café house up four years ago. Anyway, probably getting into way too much detail. So we moved here, that first summer, started building the greenhouse right away. Long story short, we opened up the following May. At that time, we had the shop and the one greenhouse. And I think we put up one more greenhouse right before opening. Which is all different now of course. It went well. We had nice customers, some of which we still have. We were very small. And every year after that we added another greenhouse and every other year we added another child. It all went very well. So, that’s how it started.

EQW:

It’s very exciting. So, just to go back a little bit, your initial goal was to end up in Alaska, but the death of your husband’s mother brought you back here.

ML:

Yeah. We had been in Alaska for awhile already. We probably would have stayed there for the winter, you know, worked in the fisheries or something like that. It was time to grow up. It was a two and a half year honeymoon, that’s not bad.

EQW:

So, was her death at all related to something expected or was it very…

ML:

No, it was very unexpected. She was the director of the Office for the Aging here in Cooperstown. A very wonderful, well-respected woman. She had diabetes, whether that was a factor in her heart attack or not, we don’t know. She had had a heart attack in the morning. She was only 59. His dad had died when he was 49. So then we’re here with kind of a blank slate, there’s nothing here, of course. Well, I mean, now I’m back tracking, because he had put the greenhouses up the first year. But, yeah, it was an interesting time. But little by little I got to know some people in Cooperstown.

EQW:

Yes, how was that sort of adjusting to life in Cooperstown when you first moved here, since you…

ML:

I was from Long Island.

EQW:

Yeah.

ML:

I think the first summer was probably quite a transition, just having been travelling. You know, again, we had that winter that we spent in East Meredith to help us transition in there. I don’t remember it as being a difficult thing, but…

[TRACK 1, 23:38]

I do remember that feeling of looking at Paul and realizing, it’s you and me buddy, and we, you know, sink or swim. We swam.

EQW:

So do Paul’s sisters not live in Cooperstown? You’re the only…?

ML:

Paul’s sisters? Oh, Brent’s sisters.

EQW:

Brent’s sisters, I’m sorry.

ML:

Brent’s sisters. Brent’s sister, Deb is the Director of Tourism in Otsego County. Yeah, Deb Taylor. His sister, Candy, lives in Rochester and his sister Mindy lives here in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, we don’t see her as much as we would like. I’ll leave it at that. So, they’re around. Mindy kept her land. She kept her part. First we bought, of course, the house and our part. Then we bought Candy’s part and then when Deb sold her part, we didn’t have the opportunity to buy that, but we’ve since bought a little bit of that back. We’ve kind of wanted to put the family farm back together. But Mindy still has her portion and she doesn’t live right there but she keeps her land.

EQW:

Is there a particular reason that you’re not in as close contact with, is it Cindy? Candy?

ML:

Oh Candy? She’s coming for Thanksgiving. Yeah, she’s the one who lives in Rochester. And, nothing I want to go into as far as anything else.

EQW:

Alright. So, it’s a very compelling story, that moment of you and your son, Paul, left in the chaos of this moving. What did you do to just sort of help kind of adjust in that moment?

ML:

Oh, right then? Oh, well, you know, I had a beautiful, healthy baby boy. You know, you got your post-partum thing going on but we really didn’t have anything to complain about. I’d heard Cooperstown was a really nice town. We had a beautiful home and we had this green house to put up so we got so busy very quickly that there wasn’t really time to worry about it. Like I said, we started building the green house right away that summer. So, we were busy. And then, Mindy and Blaire quickly came to live with us here. So it was a busy place right away and it always has been ever since.

EQW:

So I know you’re very active in different social organizations and other organizations in town. How did that sort of…

ML:

Come about?

EQW:

Come about.

ML:

Well I guess right away the first year I started substitute teaching at the school. Which I had done for 25 years. And when Dana graduated I stopped subbing. Dana graduated in 2006. So I subbed until then and then I joined the school board in 2007. And I’m still on the school board. So, I’ve always been involved in the school. So that was a really good way to get to know people.

BL:

Are you guys warm enough or should I turn the heat on?

ML:

I’m fine, are you?

EQW:

Oh, I’m good.

BL:

You’re good?

EQW:

Yes.

BL:

Don’t believe a word of it.

ML:

[laughter] Yeah, so, I met a lot of people through school. And then, of course, we had kids right away so you’re meeting people when you’re raising your kids and they were all very active in sports. And then you meet a lot of people at the green house. I also worked for many years when the Hall of Fame started a program called “Baseball Grows Inning by Inning,” an education program at the Hall of Fame, I was one of the first three teachers of that program. And that would’ve been back in like… you’d have to check with the Hall of Fame, probably ’91? Or 92? I did that for 15 years. No, that would’ve maybe a little bit…maybe ’95? I don’t know. Whenever the program started. And, like I said, I did that for a good 15 years and that was a lot of fun. So between that and running this business, getting this up and going and substitute teaching, and having the kids, I was pretty busy. So then I transitioned. I’ve been a member of Cooperstown Rotary since 2002 and that’s a great organization, I enjoy that. And then we have been members of the Presbyterian Church right along. Brent’s family, they went there, and so when we came to Cooperstown we started going to church there. And we enjoy that.

EQW:

Can you tell me a little bit about what it is that you do with the Rotary Club here in Cooperstown?

ML:

Sure. The event that I was most involved in was what they called “Apple Fest,” I was the tractor coordinator and we got lots of guys with their tractors. The event was held for most of its time at the Fly Creek Cider Mill. So I got involved in helping put that together. But there’s always the pancake breakfast that we had for Election Day last week. It was a good event. And, you know, sometimes people are going down to the manor to play bingo or do different things with the older folks down there. It’s a really good organization. I’m on the Allocations Committee, which, then you help to decide where the money that’s raised goes to in the community. I like that position. I’ve been on the Board of Directors of that but I’m not interested in being the President of that nor am I… I’ve been Vice President of the School Board for the last 8 years. So, I’ve been on the board for 9 years been Vice President for 8. And, obviously, I chose not to be President. My vote counts just as much as now. But I’m proud of being on the board and where everything that the school has accomplished, the Board has accomplished on behalf of the school.

[START OF TRACK 2, 00:00]

Yeah, it’s been a good ride.

EQW:

So, what is the greatest change that you have seen in the school system here in Cooperstown since you’ve been a part of the school board?

ML:

Not just unique to Cooperstown, but all of the schools, the role of technology, I would say. Just, the great advances and how things are done, right down to the college applications and certainly, the research that’s done, rather than library books everything is computer based now. Even in the time I’ve been on the board, and certainly since the time I’ve had kids in the school system that’s been a huge change of direction. I think we’ve always had a good school system and I think we still do and I think it will continue that way.

EQW:

What brought you to decide to join the Rotary Club in 2002?

ML:

I knew some people in the Rotary Club. I actually saw the Rotary Magazine and I was intrigued that they were doing a worldwide mission to end polio and that they were also addressing community concerns, you know, raising money here. And it’s for business people so I knew, already, a lot of the people in it and I thought that would be a good way to give back a little bit to the community.

EQW:

Do you have a personal connection with Polio that drew you in?

ML:

No. No. But it’s good to see worldwide issues being addressed on a local level. And with people doing what they can, not just all of our energy here. While it’s very important to address all of the local issues that we can and help out where we can I like to keep a little more global perspective on things as well.

EQW:

Is there one change or one event you helped to bring about in Cooperstown through the Rotary Club or even through the school board that you’re most proud of?

ML:

I would say on the school board, I think we made a very good decision when we hired our current superintendent. And I am certainly proud to be a part of the name change. It was very controversial and difficult issue when the Redskins became the Hawkeyes. That was not a battle I would have chosen to have necessarily picked. But, once it became brought to the forefront by some students that here we’re trying to practice dignity for all students and we’re teaching respect yet here we’re being told that our very name is being considered insulting by some people. You can’t really turnaround from that. You can’t say, well, you know, we’ve had that so long that, we want you to be respectful but don’t worry about that. You couldn’t do that anymore. So, the difficult part was letting people in the community recognize that, yeah I understand the heritage of the Redskins, my husband, my kids were all Redskins. I, you know, had no problem with it, didn’t intend any harm by it. But if this is a slur, if anybody is being offended, we have to change. And so, it was certainly not a perfect process, by any means, but I think in the end we involved the community and did the right thing. So, yeah, I can say I am proud, maybe not of the way everything happened, but the fact that our school was a leader in that happening. And now you have probably heard on the news recently that even Nike is paying teams and helping teams to change their names, and within a certain time frame the goal is that all the teams who have names that might be a slur, like the Redskins, would be changed. So I think our school was kind of front and center in that, as one example.

EQW:

What was it about that process that wasn’t so perfect that you would’ve liked to see changed?

ML:

Well, I don’t know that there would’ve been any easy way to do it at all. But I probably would’ve liked to have had more community input earlier would be the main thing. It was just, you know, the wheels got put in motion rather quickly, before we all had, you know, but that’s the way ideas go sometimes. It’s just, like I said, I’m not going to dwell on what could’ve been better because I think in the end it worked out well. And I think that now, the community’s rallying behind the Hawkeyes and that’s a good thing.

EQW:

How long ago was that name change?

ML:

That was like, three years ago. Two or three…three years ago I would say. Yeah, you’ll want to look that one up. Time goes so fast I lose track.

So it’s been interesting for me to watch how this business has changed so much. We’re increasing growing all the time. But the last few years, since the girls decided to come back, they were away. Kristen got her master’s from Duke and Dana got her bachelor’s from Skidmore, they finished up in the same year and they moved out to Colorado and worked for a company called Global Explorers. And that led them, long story short, down the Amazon with high school groups teaching some classes and living in the middle of the jungle. And when they came back from that experience we all were in Machu Picchu because we went to Peru to meet them. And that’s kind of where the idea for Origins Café hatched, although we didn’t know the name of it at the time.

I always thought it would be interesting to have a café here. When we first started having garden furniture people said all you need now is someone to serve tea and lemonade. I said that’s a great idea but it’s not going to be me. And I didn’t really dream that the girls would have any interest in anything of that nature. But when we met them in Peru and then they said well you know we’ve seen things like this where they are educational centers and cafes and people are raising their food and selling it and we’d like to do something like that in Cooperstown. I thought I don’t know. I can see the lemonade and the tea thing but, you know, you’ve got some ideas here that I don’t know if Cooperstown is ready for yet. But they came back that winter and we immediately took down the little greenhouse and put this house that we are sitting in up. And we thought we’d put the little food truck in there and then the rest of it would have plants and there would be a little corner for a café over there.

And, long story short, they now have taken both greenhouses, probably going to take a third. But the café has really caught on and it keeps on growing. So it’s been an evolution and what we’re doing too because the girls have such an interest in the herbs and vegetables and all of that, I’ve gotten much more of an interest in it now too. I mean, I was always interested in it but my tendency was to go with the flowers and we still do a lot of combination planters and gardening for people and such. But it’s very very interesting to see how the café interacts with the greenhouse. Every year I go down – this past year it was three trips – I fly down to Florida, I get a truck, I load it up with all sorts of tropical plants, edible plants, oranges, avocados, mangos, papayas…I’m still looking for that fruiting banana every year but I haven’t found it yet… so that people can see how their food grows. And we’ve had people sitting here and taking a lemon off the tree and putting it in their tea – and that’s fine. You know, it’s just really good for people to be able to see where their food comes from. We’ve had cinnamon plants and pepper plants and things that you don’t normally see around here. So, that’s nice because it combines my interest with getting out and seeing different growing operations and getting someplace warm for a while with the edible aspect of what the café is teaching. So that’s been really kind of a nice thing that we’ve been doing for probably the last five or six years.

EQW:

So does the café have actual educational programs that go along with it or…

ML:

There will be more. We’re planting like a food forest up on the hill, with circles of pear trees and apple trees, there’ll be blueberries, raspberries that we’ve been planting this fall. We have bees already up there. So the idea will be to have an educational center over time. So all that’s just more or less in the planning phase but we have had a couple of workshops here. Always have had workshops here. The Cooperstown school buses used to pull up and I’d have field trips for kids and same with Pathfinder and Springbrook, you know, we encourage that. We’d like to do more of that. So that’s a direction we are certainly looking to head in.

EQW:

So it seems that with these things, that you’re definitely combining sort of your two degrees in horticulture and in education.

ML:

Yeah, yeah I guess I always have liked those things, yeah.

EQW:

So do your daughters also play a part in the educational aspect that you have?

ML:

Oh yeah, very much so.

EQW:

Okay

ML:

I would say so. They both have a strong interest in that. They both have degrees in environmental management. So I think with that comes an understanding of stewardship and just trying to, by one way or another, help to effect change. So, and as you’ll see, that change starts here. They’re stressing now through your food choices, you can make decisions, you can impact the world environmentally, as well as socially, as far as local farmers and such. So while we try to keep a global perspective as far as showing where all these plants are. You know, they’re going around to different parts of the world every year to learn some more stuff. Still, they’re trying to boost the local economy by dealing with the local cheeses, the local fruits, vegetables and everything organic as much as possible also, just because it all makes sense in the bigger picture.

EQW:

So how quickly have the educational programs that have stemmed from Origins Café caught on in Cooperstown?

ML:

We’ve been asked to do quite a few speaking engagements. We’ve always had garden clubs coming here and I’d say there are more probably of those than ever. I go out and do talks, people come in here and have talks. You know, you have to have the balance. You can’t just stop making your paninis and run and do a class. So you know, there’s a balance. So right now the focus is still on getting as good as we can possibly be with what we’re doing already. So I would like to think if I had a crystal ball into the future that the education programs would be a lot more important part of our time spent in the future. But right now, we’re still getting our feet underneath us in a way because we just finished season four for the café and every year we’re growing and learning and we have a lot of landscaping that we do and landscape clients and last year Brent was down. He has cancer so he was having chemo. So, you know, we don’t want to get spread too thin in too many directions so we can’t do a good job of what we’re committed to doing.

So as we can, we’ll continue to expand the education programs. We were just talking with the Health Department about the idea of having a kitchen classroom so that kids can, kind of, you know, go to the garden, grab some food, learn how to cut it and process it. We’ve tried to do programs like that in conjunction with the food pantry also. And they’ve gone to the school to have the idea of a disco soup where, the kid garden is already implementing this kind of a thing, which is a great program by the way that my daughters are a little bit involved in. But the Growing Community members have really done a great job as far as education and food. So they want to get involved in more and more stuff like that. That’s really their dream and their mission. Right now they’re doing it through food and that’ll continue. But we’ll look for more workshops and educational opportunities in the future.

EQW:

So do you hire on any sort of part-time staff during that season to help you with it?

ML:

Yep, oh yeah. Yeah. And also interns. That’s a direction that we would like to go in. As we’ve become more of an educational center because then we could have help with signage and things that we would like to do now and just aren’t getting to. So I’d like to contact the colleges and the high school. The girls are happy with working with the high school students because they’re local already. That seems to be of some interest. And they’re also involved in something called the Wwoofing Network – World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. And that’s how they travel. When they go places, they work in exchange for room and board. And so we have people that come here and work in exchange for room and board. So that works nicely because again it gives us some extra man power to help get things done. And that should really be an educationally based thing for them. They like to help transplant and do things like that. So, you know, there’s so many different aspects here I don’t think anybody ever gets bored. But we’re doing now in the front yard here a mandala garden so that we’ll have a section for pollinator plants and another section, you know, everything’s for sale out there but if we can present it in a way that’s also educational, I think that’s where we’re trying to focus.

EQW:

And, what is a mandala garden?

ML:

Oh, well we just call it that. I don’t know if there is such an official thing. But the whole thing is round, like a mandala that has paths going into the middle and there’ll be a fountain in the center. So it’ll be a nice quite place to sit but also a practical place to walk around and see the plants. Again, we really need to work on our signage just to get information because we can’t talk to everybody necessarily here at the same time. But if you’ve got good descriptions of what is going on; I’d like to make it an interesting place to be.

EQW:

How much of these sorts of things, like the signage and working on the educational programs and that sort of planning, happens during the off season or is it more, sort of, focused in the on season?

ML:

More of it could probably happen in the off season if the girls were here. But they’re not. They’re out learning stuff and doing things and exploring and I fully encourage that because now’s the time. I mean, as I sit here with my broken kneecap, I can’t go off exploring this winter so, yeah, I’ll probably be making some signs. But I would rather be going to Chile to see what Dana’s doing or to Vietnam to see what Kristen’s doing. So, yep, there’s a balance there. And I also have a grandson so I will be spending time this winter visiting with my son and his wife and my grandson in Virginia. So the winter seems like it’s so long and that you should be able to get everything done. But the season is so fast in the summertime and it really extends right up until the ground freezes. Then there’s the Christmas season. January is a month off. Which is fantastic. Halfway through February we’re starting the greenhouses again. So, winter boils down to about a month and a half. And there are always house projects and other things to catch up with too. And some visiting and my mom lives here on the premises so I’d like to spend some time with her. So the winter, you’d think that this would be a very long winter for us but it isn’t. It really goes very quickly.

EQW:

So that intern program that you were talking about, do you think that’s something you would want to implement in that sort of month and a half of winter off?

ML:

Having people here then? Hadn’t really thought about that because that’s a difficult time for…I guess you could have college students off at that time. But, I see the internship thing much more valuable to the person who’s being an intern if it’s happening during the main season when there’s so much growth. There’s so many different things going on that you could plug into. Because to sit in the house with me and make signs, that wouldn’t be an interesting internship necessarily to me. So that’s something I would have to give some thought to. There might be a way to do that. On the other hand, like I said that month and a half is my one little window of freedom during the course of the winter so I would like to keep my options open and sometime when I’m not laid up with a broken bone I will go chasing after the girls again and finding interesting places. Or visiting the family in Holland or something like that. So I like to save January as sort of a break time.

EQW:

So you said that your daughters have kind of taken over a couple of the greenhouses…

ML:

Oh yes.

EQW:

…with the food plants for Origins Café, are there any plans to build more greenhouses to make up for that space?

ML:

We have a lot of greenhouses. I think it will be a matter of more shifting what’s grown. I don’t want to get any bigger as far as growing plants. It’s a lot of work. I love it. And I’ve been very fortunate to have excellent help. But I also recognize that less can be more too. Right now we have enough space for everything that we want to do and it’s hard enough to keep this managed. Not only that, but we’re living on a hillside here, so we’ve pretty well utilized all of our good open space. The girls may have other ideas, but for me, I’m happy with the size we’re at and I just want to continue doing a good job with what we’ve got as opposed to continuing to add more space, which is changing the use of the space. Like I said, that house, is where we start our plants and then later in the season the tables go out, the plants go out, the tropicals go in, and the café and the herbs are all part of the café. It’s just a matter of reallocating the space.

EQW:

So you definitely seem to have a lot going on. You’re not short of things to do. How do you see what you’re doing now being impactful in the community?

ML:

More with the girls, their mission, which I’ve somewhat adopted, than my own. I think they’re really on a good track with trying to encourage people to maybe grow some of their own food or at least support those who are. Which only makes sense to keep money in the community. I think the outreach programs as they are, to, you know, kind of encourage kids to think about what they’re doing and the implications of what they’re doing as far as food and various things, I think that effects positive change. I think actually the simplest change is that the café is just a happy space to be in. I mean, when it’s in full bloom and people often tell us they just want to come and they just relax. They feel better when they leave than when they came. To me that’s a good enough mission really. If you can help people’s lives on a small basis like that just, you know, giving them a nice place to visit with somebody that they might not go out to visit or something, you know, there’s just so many different levels you can look at it on. But even on a personal level I think that it’s just worked out that way. That people seem to really enjoy coming here and the girls make good food that’s a bonus. They just enjoy the peaceful setting that the plants offer. So if you can teach some things and make a living at the same time that’s all good.

EQW:

Does the work that the girls do with Origins Café and the growing of the food, does that ever cross paths with the farmer’s market?

ML:

Oh all the time.

EQW:

All the time?

ML:

All the time. They go to the farmer’s market every Saturday and Tuesday and they base their menu based on what’s being offered at the farmer’s market. You know, whatever is in season. So that’s a huge part of just keeping in touch with the farmers. Every year too we have a farmer dinner. So all the farmers that we have been buying from during the year. It’s kind of funny, sometimes they’ll have a steady parade of farmers coming and dropping off piles of food here and there. So they have a special dinner where they have time to talk about what they’re doing and that sort of thing. So just to give the focus and some credit to the people who are growing the food I think is a nice thing. I’m not sure if I wandered from your question on that. It’s been an interesting merging of interests and we couldn’t be happier with the direction things are going. It really has been nice. We’ll be making this into a LLC so that the girls are actually going to be partners of the business and I think that’s good for planning for the future. So, I’d like to see it keep going.

EQW:

Does that farmer’s dinner at all…is it just the farmer’s that they’ve been working with? Or does that include other community members?

ML:

Oh anybody from the community too is welcome. They definitely encourage people to come over.

EQW:

So, kind of in the broader sense, because you’re obviously very involved in the community and your daughters are very involved in the community, what is the greatest change you’ve witnessed or been a part of in Cooperstown as a whole since you’ve moved here?

ML:

That’s a good question. Well, I would have to say since I moved here, the nature of Main Street moving away from a lot of the little stores. Several hardware stores on Main Street that I remember when I came here. We’re fortunate to still have the General Store. But there used to be Farm and Home, there used to be a lot of different places in town that you could get what you need other than baseball cards and memorabilia. So that’s a big thing right there. Other than that, I don’t know that I find that it’s changed that much. Which I say is a good thing. I think that it’s still a close-knit community. I think people are still really involved in the school and what their kids are doing. It would be awesome if more kids had opportunities for jobs to stay in the neighborhood. I mean, my son’s an engineer. I’d love it if there was something he could do around here. It would be very nice to not lose a lot of our bright kids to other areas where they can make a living. But I guess the other changes are just, more things that I’ve become more aware of. All the many opportunities that there are to do around here. You know, every time you turn around there’s something else interesting to do here. I think that’s always been the case and I just wasn’t paying attention. Other than that, more tourists than ever. I think that changes Main Street. Most of the changes that I see are related to the business world downtown.

EQW:

Does the increased tourism affect your business here at Carefree Gardens and Origins?

ML:

I would think pretty indirectly because the Dreams Park business, that’s not a huge part of our business by any means. I mean, we do get families that are looking for a respite from Main Street so they find us and that’s nice. Landscaping wise, most of our people are taking care of their own homes. They’re not just fixing it up for Dreams Park or something like that. I don’t think that the Dreams Park phenomenon in town makes much of a difference to us. But on the other hand it’s bringing tourists to town in general so if the people in town are doing better they’re going to spend more money on leisurely things like landscaping and flowers. And in general terms, all the tourists coming to town are certainly good for a café off the trail like Origins Café is. So, yeah I’d have to say the tourists indirectly help us quite a bit by helping our neighbors.

EQW:

Do you think that the change in the nature of Main Street has been beneficial to Cooperstown or do you have any other thoughts on that change you’ve witnessed?

ML:

Well, I think the infrastructure that has changed with the grant that we got to fix everything up, that’s been great. That’s very nice. It’s so hard for a business to start and succeed. Ellsworth and Sill, they’re doing it but I honestly don’t go down there enough to support them. Well, here I am saying yeah we should have all these little stores, realistically I don’t go shopping a lot. I do a lot of my shopping on the internet. So it’s, you know, it’s wrong to say yeah we should have more little shops and then not support them. I go downtown as much as I can to Tins and Bins [Tin Bin Alley] and the various different stores and do what I can. But I would think it would be nice if we would have a little more diversity in the shops. Saratoga, for example, is a much bigger scale but there’s a lot of different varieties of things you’ll find there. I can think of many examples of shops we have in town but a lot of the feedback that I hear is that there’s nothing but baseball stores there. So there’s some truth to that. But I think part of it is just the nature of it. It’s hard to keep small businesses going in a small town and you have your parking restrictions downtown and everything else. So no great suggestions on how we can fix Main Street, no. I think it’s pretty good. And I think the mayor has been doing a great job.

EQW:

Well, this has been a wonderful conversation.

ML:

Oh thanks, hope I didn’t talk too much.

EQW:

Oh no it was great. And I loved getting to hear your stories…

ML:

Thank you, thanks.

EQW:

And I think that everyone is going to benefit from this.

ML:

Well, thank you so much.

EQW:

Thank you.

Duration

Track 1 - 30:00 minutes
Track 2 - 28:16 minutes

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 Kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, (13:28) - Naming of Carefree Gardens
Track 1, (23:38) - Recent move with newborn

Files

Citation

Emily Q Welch, “Mary Leonard, November 15, 2015,” CGP Community Stories, accessed July 19, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/231.