November 13, 2009

Busa Farms Meeting

I attended the informational meeting regarding Busa Farms that was organized by the Lexington Farm Coalition or

The Town of Lexington recently purchased the Busa Farms land at 52 Lowell Street in Lexington. You can read about the history of Busa Farms here

The Town of Lexington will be leasing the land back to the Busa family for the next two years while plans are made for how the land will be used. A number of proposals have been made to convert the land into a parking lot, soccer fields and affordable housing. No decisions have been made yet. 

This meeting was an informational meeting to provide information on ways that the land could be used as a community farm. Representatives from local community farms gave brief presentations on how their community farms were started and how their farms operate today.

Peter Barrer,
Angino Farm, Newton
Samuel Robinson,
Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham
Jim Whitehead,
Wright-Locke Farm, Winchester
Verena Wieloch,
Gaining Ground, Concord

We also heard from :

Ben Bowell, 
American Farmland Trust an organization dedicated to preserving farmland. They handed out bumper stickers that said. No Farms, No Food. 

The message from all the speakers is that we need local farms. There is tremendous demand for locally grown food. Business is booming and growing rapidly at all the farms. What other business can make that claim in this economic environment. Here are a couple facts and figures from the presentations. 

A Cornell University study found that it takes 0.44 acres of land per person to provide a low-fat, vegetarian diet. We have only 518,000 acres of farmland in Massachusetts and 6.5 million residents. That's 0.08 acres per person. 

Everyone of the speakers offered their support and assistance in helping Lexington start a community garden. 

Waltham Fields sells 350 summer shares of their produce and sold all of their shares in January.  Angino Farms said that they sold out all of their shares in two days. In addition, Angino Farm, Waltham Fields, and Gaining Ground all said that they were swamped with volunteer labor. Each of these organizations makes education of the local community a key part of their mission. Wright-Locke Farm has just been purchased by Winchester in the last year and is still getting organized as a community farm. 

Angino Farms donates 10% of their produce to local food pantries. Waltham Fields donates 20% of their produce or about 20,000 lbs. to local charities. Gaining Ground donates all of their organic produce to local charities. This is about 30,000 lbs. of produce. 

Angino Farms is about 5 years old. They have hired a farmer (with a family) who lives on the land as well as another hired hand. The financial model is working well. They have enough money to be investing in improving the buildings and equipment. He said that a key to convincing the town of Newton to proceed with the project was that they secured pledges in advance from community members that they would buy the CSA shares if the town approved the farm. This convinced the town members that the farm would be financially viable. 

Waltham Fields leases the land and buildings. They also generate revenue from about 25 grants, most of which are in the $1K - $2K range provided from local family foundations. The average age of a farmer in the US is 55. They conduct farmer training programs in addition to operating the farm in order to train a new generation of farmer who knows how to grow organic food locally and sustainably. They are certified organic. . 

Verena from Gaining Ground said that the new face of farming is young, educated and female. She said that she is swamped with volunteers and attributes it to their commitment to inclusiveness and the idea that real work is real fun. They don't turn anyone away who wants to volunteer and all volunteers do real work that needs to be done to produce the food they grow. If you have back problems, we can have you sort seeds, if you have a child with ADHD, we have lots of shovels and plenty of earth that needs to be moved. No one gets left behind. Gaining Ground has 7 acres in Lincoln. She said that finding farmland is the hardest part of her job. Once a farm has been converted to another use, it is incredibly difficult to bring that land back as a farm. 

She concluded her talk with some advice from her 80 year old grandmother. She said that farms are a lot like teeth. Take care of them now, because you'll miss them when they are gone. 

If you are interested in helping or in following the progress made by the Lexington Farm Coalition, stop by the website where you can find links that will allow you to connect using Facebook, Twitter, Google groups, or RSS feeds. 

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