WALTHAM—Ten years ago, when Waltham Fields Community Farms began farming on four acres behind the University of Massachusetts Field Station, its core mission was to feed the hungry.
Ten years later, Waltham Fields Community Farms has donated more than 150,000 pounds of food to local hunger relief organizations, one of many accomplishments that will be celebrated at the farm’s Spring Fling/Silent Auction event Saturday.
"This is the community’s farm, it’s family friendly, and we welcome people to come and see," said Amanda Cather, the current farm manager, who, weather permitting, will guide a tour of the new greenhouse and the farmland off Beaver Street at 5 p.m.
"Waltham Fields Community Farm is an incredible community resource," said Gretta Anderson, current president of Community Farms Outreach, which manages the farm. "In a time when people believe farming is in decline, we are thriving here."
Anderson is one of about 250 shareholders who pay an annual fee of $500 to get five months of high-quality vegetables and herbs from the land Cather farms. Shares will be available for purchase at the Spring Fling-Silent Auction.
Saturday’s 10th anniversary celebration will be a reunion for volunteers, interns and former employees—growers who planted seeds and seedlings, field hands who pulled weeds, harvesters who picked and packed produce for shareholders and for delivery to local hunger organizations.
One Waltham Fields Community Farm alum who will attend Saturday’s event is Oakes Plimpton, who many people identify as Waltham Field’s Founding Farmer.
"At first, we had no professional help or experience in running a farm—we borrowed a tractor from Steve Parker, who farmed the Lyman Estate back then," said Plimpton, who received permission from UMass to farm four acres of land behind the Field Station starting in spring 1995.
"We got a lot of community volunteer help. One season, people who were receiving food from us at the food pantry decided to come down and help us harvest."
Waltham philanthropist Cornelia Warren gave UMass a managing interest in the portion of her family’s property in the valley of Cedar Hill in the 1920s. Across the street, the Warrens ran a dairy farm for years, and, Warren hoped UMass scientists would help support her and other local family farmers with agricultural research.
In 1970, that collaboration bore fruit—actually, a new vegetable, the Waltham butternut squash, a popular winter squash that is vigorous, dependable and is growing now, with Cather’s help, at Waltham Fields Community Farm.
Since 1995, Waltham Fields Community Farm has enjoyed rapid growth, going from four to nine acres of farmland.
Last year, Cather managed six acres behind the Field Station, as well as the three acres on the Lyman Estate that Parker previously farmed for its owner, Historic New England.
Over the same time span, farm yields have also grown exponentially. As Plimpton recalls, in the first year he and the volunteer farmers harvested 370 bushels, all donated to local organizations including the Waltham Salvation Army and Bristol Lodge. Last year, the Community Farm gave away tons of crops, valued at $21,285.
"At the beginning of the year, (Cather) will ask the people at Bristol Lodge, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Sandra’s Lodge (a family homeless shelter on the Fernald Development Center campus), for the number of people using the kitchen on a regular basis and what kinds of produce would be good for the people who eat there," said Dee Kricker of Waltham, a former president of Community Farms Outreach. "Then, every other day, one of our volunteers will either deliver the food, or have it ready for pick up."
The hunger relief component of the work at the Waltham Fields Community Farm has generated many positive results, such as Plimpton’s collaboration with representatives from Prospect Hill and Chesterbrook Public Housing to make additional bags of food available at a low price.
"For three or four years, until about 2002 or 2003, Oakes asked me to help him run a weekly sale at the Chesterbrook Apartments. He never charged more than a dollar or two dollars for a whole bag of vegetables," Susan Doucette said. "Even though I’m working four jobs now, I’d still do it."
Anderson said that volunteers from AmeriCorps will likely return to work on the Waltham Fields Community Farm as part of their public service commitment.
"We want to promote local agriculture, we want to preserve farmland, we want to train new farmers and we want to provide people with food," added Anderson, while Limor Hochberg, a senior at Waltham’s Gann Academy, placed a flat of tomato seedlings on the floor of a new 30-foot-by-72-foot heated greenhouse Cather designed and helped construct last November.
"We want the community to come to the farm—it’s always great when parents and kids come to the farm, and see how things grow, and learn about where the food they eat comes from," said Kricker, who said a free volunteer orientation session will be held April 17 at 3 p.m. at the farm, and the monthly community gatherings will continue, starting on the third Sunday in May at 4 p.m.
Community Farms Outreach encourages those interested in more information about buying tickets for the Spring Fling-Silent Auction, tomorrow from 5 to 9 p.m., go to http://www.communityfarms.org. Photo Gallery Americorps volunteers pick cucumbers at Waltham Fields Community Farm last summer. (Ed Hoffman photo) Herald Interactive Tools View Text Version Email to a Friend Sign Up for Home Delivery SEARCH: Enter keyword(s)