Waltham Wicked Local: Town Hall regarding fate of Waltham Fields Community Farm draws many

By Connor O’Keefe, MARCH 12th 2019–

Residents from Waltham and the surrounding towns gathered at the Government Center on Saturday, March 9 to discuss the future of the Waltham Fields Community Farm and Field Station located at 240 Beaver St.

The meeting gave concerned residents an avenue to voice their displeasure at the recent decision from UMass Amherst to shutter the administrative offices at the Field Station. This course of action would effectively evict the nonprofit organizations occupying those spaces including Waltham Fields Community Farm, Boston Area Gleaners, Green Rows of Waltham, Grow Native Massachusetts, Massachusetts Farmers Markets, Massachusetts 4H, and the Boston Area Climate experiment.

UMass intends to use the land to create a Center for Urban Sustainability.

“We already have a Center for Urban Sustainability in the Field Station,” said Sonja Wadman, executive director of the Waltham Land Trust at the meeting. “This is something Waltham should be proud to have in our town. Losing it would be a tragedy.”

‘Not just a local issue’

State Sen. Michael Barrett had strong words of encouragement for those invested in keeping the field station operational.

“This is not just a local issue. The preservation of the current condition of this station is important to the entirety of Eastern Massachusetts,” he said. “If we frame this as too much of a Waltham-only issue, we lose.”

Barrett encouraged his constituents to regionalize the issue, as the closure of the Field Station may jeopardize the important environmental work being done there. In addition, the produce grown on Beaver Street is sold all over the state, even making its way as far as New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

“There’s a dual life to this field station. Both for the city of Waltham and for its neighbors,” Barrett said at the meeting. “We can’t make a mistake here: this is a regional priority.”

After a building inspection uncovered several structural issues, UMass issued an 18-month notice to the tenets at 240 Beaver St. and that the building would be razed and the land developed at the end of 2019. They are, however, open to the idea of closing the building and maintaining the farm.

Historical site

Barrett and the other speakers focused on the need to have both farmland and administrative offices on-site, as without buildings to shelter people from the elements, the farm becomes inoperable during inclement weather.

Several of the attendees urged the 58-acre land trust to be recognized as a historical site, due to its importance to agriculture in the region. Botanist Walton C. Galiant utilized the site heavily during his career, during which he developed some 30 thousand different pedigrees of corn.

In 2014, tenants of the Field Station worked with Barrett and several other senators on a $20 million proposal for a new building on the site. The proposal expired before any action was possible.