Tucked into a quiet pocket of land hidden among the looming shadows of urban development lies a small and beautiful farm - Waltham Fields Community Farm. Currently celebrating ten years of community agriculture, it is a working farm in a city whose history of farming has been eclipsed by industry and technology. From the early grazing pastures of the first European settlers until the past decade, this area has been home to generations of family farmers. Early farm families included the Stearns, Wellingtons, Sandersons, and Hardys, and the many generations of Smith family farms along Lake Street in Waltham. The large country estates of the Warren, Gore, and Lyman families included land that was used for dairy and vegetable production. During the 1920s and 30s Italian immigrants began farming the Castella, Rando, Farese, Torola, Tomao, and Chicco family farms here.
Around that same time, dairy farmer and philanthropist Cornelia Warren’s farmland on Beaver Street was conveyed for use by the Massachusetts College of Agriculture. In 1930 it became known as the Waltham Field Station, an agricultural research lab run by what is now the University of Massachusetts. Known as "truck market gardeners," the local farmers relied on the college services as a support for their commercial needs: identifying pests, assessing new crop varieties, conducting soil tests, and providing a central meeting place for farmer’s needs. Most famous among the new varieties of vegetables developed at the Field Station was the Waltham Butternut Squash. (The Waltham Butternut Squash is still grown at Waltham Fields Community Farm today.)
In the decade leading up to 1998, farming in the Waltham area was declining with the closing of the DeVincent, Pizzi, Ricci, Arigo, and other family farms. But in 1995, Oakes Plimpton and a group of inspired supporters rented four acres at the now closed UMass Field Station to start Waltham Fields Community Farm. It was entirely run by volunteers whose goal was to grow food and give it away to charity. Today, Waltham Fields Community Farm includes seven acres of land at the Field Station and three acres at the Lyman Estate. It is managed by Community Farms Outreach, a nonprofit organization which seeks to promote and support local farms, provide fresh and nutritious food to low-income individuals, and teach adults and children about sustainable food production. Since 1995, Waltham Fields Community Farm has donated over 150,000 pounds of produce to hunger relief agencies in the region.
Cornelia Warren would be pleased with what’s been happening on her land these days; she’d approve of the fact that her farmland has been preserved and that it is being farmed for the benefit of the community. She would be pleasantly surprised that the farmer and farmers-in-training are often women. In a few weeks, varieties of peppers with names like FatNSassy, Lipstick, and Chocolate will be seeded. Ruby Red Rhubarb, Sundance Summer Squash, and Yellow Doll Watermelon will start to sprout, alongside Green Forest Lettuce and Easter Egg Radish. With a lot of work and a little luck, over two million seeds will be started in the hopes that woodchucks, weeds, and water will be kind to the fields.
The public is invited to celebrate ten years of community farming at Waltham Fields Community Farm by attending Community Farms Outreach’s Annual Spring Fling and Silent Auction, April 2nd from 5:00-9:00 p.m. at the UMass Field Station, 240 Beaver Street in Waltham. For information visit http://www.communityfarms.org.
(Gretta Anderson is current President of Community Farms Outreach Board of Directors. Dee Kricker is a Waltham resident and past President of CFO Board of Directors.)