Waltham Fields Community Farm's first season was 1995. With a rototiller, and tractor and plow borrowed from Steve Parker, a local farmer, one field was planted entirely in potatoes and the other field in all the other veggies - collards, kale, carrots, beets, beans, lettuce, radishes, turnips, broccoli, etc. We donated all our produce, with most of it going to Food For Free, a Cambridge food bank that delivers to some thirty food pantries and meal programs. We harvested 13,800 pounds of produce that first year and gleaned close to the same amount from Field of Greens, Parker Farm and Drumlin Farm.p>
"We" were a volunteer crew that had operated for about five years gleaning area farms for charity. Oakes Plimpton was the coordinator of this effort, inspired to become a farm follower by the Back to the Earth movement of the 70s. When we learned about the fallow fields at the University of Massachusetts Field Station site in Waltham, we proposed a charitable and educational farm for the site. The University accepted the proposal and Waltham Fields Community Farm was born.
1996 was a year of incorporating, obtaining charitable status, insurance, workman's compensation, and opening an office. We incorporated as "Community Farm's Outreach, Inc."; so as to pursue the broader goals of local and community farm preservation and promotion, with Waltham Fields Community Farm being a project of CFO. We raised some family and foundation funds, enough to pay for a farm intern, Steve Ronan, two agricultural interns (Aaron Falbel and Mary Platt) and buy some equipment, but we soon found that was inadequate to the task! We grew more weeds than crops!
The difficulties of farming on a shoestring convinced us to try Community Supported Agriculture as a means to afford a farm manager and put the Farm on sounder financial footing. In 1997, Tim Cooke, an experienced farmer, was hired to be our first Farm Manager. This proved to be a win/win decision, because with experienced management production increased five times and donations doubled! We had difficulty selling the CSA shares at first; two weeks before our opening we had sold only 10 shares. Finally we sold 24 full shares and 52 half shares, enough to pay Tim Cooke's salary!
Two farm programs were started in 1997, but have since been dropped, principally because they stretched our resources. We operated a mini farmer's market at the Chesterbrook Housing in Waltham, selling farm veggies and seconds from the Arlington Farmer's Market for bargain prices. The other program was a farm stand on Fridays and Saturdays, started by Amy Wang, a long time volunteer. The farm stand was continued by Marina Mountraki, an enthusiastic volunteer who joined us in 1998 and continues to volunteer several days a week during the growing season. Also, a resident of Paul Sullvan Housing, Dan Roberts became our mechanic and general volunteer. After a while, we paid both Marina and Dan small stipends for thier work.
Nancy Sableski developed our Children's Learning Garden program and was its first Coordinator in 1998. Kids from Cambridge Camping Adventure Day Camp and the Patriot's Trail Girl Scout camp came to the Farm to plant a seed, transplant a seedling, pull a weed, harvest a vegetable, and learn about where their food comes from. The kids also learned about insects and soil, did rural crafts and games, drew what they found, and generally experienced life on a farm.
Tom Libby from Allandale Farm in Jamaica Plain joined us as Farm Manager for the 1998 and 1999 seasons. We lost Tom to farm economics; we couldn't provide health insurance nor year round employment. We started an annual fall farm picnic, and a harvest dinner fund raiser at local restaurants after the season.
In 1999 the University of Massachusetts announced that they were considering closing down the U Mass Extension site due to fiscal constraints and lack of a mission. A series of meetings were held and all the various users of the site attended. Friends of Cornelia Warren Farm was started as a coordinating group to advocate site preservation and rehabilitation.
We found a learning farmer, Henry Howell, to take on the job as Farm Manager in 2000. Henry was ably assisted by Linda MacMillan, flower and herb grower. We held our first spring fundraiser, replacing the harvest dinners. As our CSA base increased (we sold 80 shares in 1998, 109 in 1999) we started a pick-up site at the Farm. In those days we put out the veggies in bushel baskets with signs indicating how much to take, both at the urban sites and at the Farm. At the Farm we first placed the produce in the shade of the trees over by the Community Gardens, and then in the shade of the ash tree by the building.
Jenny Hausman, our 1998 Intern, returned to WFCF in 2001 as Farm Manager and Linda MacMillan returned as flower and herb grower. Share distribution was simplified by having just one share amount and boxed produce for the delivery sites. The boxed shares solved the problem of late comers occasionally finding the bushel baskets empty. Jenny Hausman put out the CSA produce on some wood camp tables protected from the sun by tents. She also wrote a weekly CSA newsletter, designed by Martha Creedon, then a Board member.
2002 brought a number of changes to Waltham Fields Community Farm. John Mitchell became Farm Manager. Linda MacMillan decided to become a volunteer, still cultivating the farm's flowers and herbs. Oakes Plimpton delivered produce and the CSA shares to Somerville and Cambridge. His own side yard became a CSA outlet.. We transitioned from a partly volunteer-run organization to a staffed corporation with a strong Board of Directors. Oakes Plimpton retired from his role as pro-bono Director at the end of the year to be a Board member and to help out from time to time. In 2002 WFCF was the chief supplier of fresh produce for the Waltham Salvation Army and Red Cross food pantries in Waltham, and we continued to supply produce for many other food programs including Sandra's Lodge Shelter in Waltham, Food For Free in Cambridge and the Helping Hand Food Pantry in Porter Square. Preserving urban farms has become a major project on our very site. Through the Friends of Cornelia Warren Farm we are working to take part in long range planning to keep the site a thriving urban horticultural and agricultural center.
Two more complete histories of the farm are available for the avid reader, one a compendium of the annual reports and 1997, 1998 and 1999 newsletters, the other an eight-page history.