Newton Conservators logo fall photo of Sawmill Brook
 
 

Angino Farm Update Fall 2005

If you’ve driven by Angino Farm at the corner of Winchester and Nahanton Streets this summer, you no doubt noticed that it hasn’t changed much from its appearance in recent summers. The grasses covering the two-acre farm have grown, been cut and grown again. The house and barn stand quietly to the side, part of a pastoral scene common in this part of the city until land values and development pressure rendered these small family farms extinct—except for this one remaining specimen.

Although lying dormant through most of the 2005 growing season, progress has been made behind the scenes this summer that will begin to bear fruit over the coming months. Several changes will be apparent this fall. First, the field will be tilled and seeded with a cover crop. This will loosen the soil, introduce organic material and prepare for planting in the spring. Second, work will begin on restoring the house and barn, making it habitable for a live-in farmer and farm programming activity.

A range of actions this summer has cleared the way for progress this fall and winter, with the timeline set to permit planting next spring. Here is a run-down of these behind-the-scenes steps and those that lie immediately ahead:

Farm Commission Appointed

The various appointing authorities outlined in the Angino Farm Commission ordinance (passed by the Board of Aldermen on May 2, 2005 , and amended on August 8, 2005 ) have been at work identifying the members of the group that will oversee operation of Angino Farm.

The ordinance calls for five separate appointing entities: the Mayor appoints five members, the Board of Aldermen appoints one, and each of three city boards elects one of their members to serve on the Farm Commission.

As of this writing, seven of the nine members have been selected. The Mayor has one more appointment to make (someone with farming or agricultural experience) and the Parks and Recreation Commission will designate a representative at its meeting later in September. (See the list of current members and their backgrounds.)

Commission Holds First Meeting

The initial members of this oversight group held their first meeting on September 8 to begin their work together. They were welcomed by Mayor Cohen, by Alderman Steve Linsky and other members of the Board, and by City Solicitor Dan Funk and Public Buildings Commissioner Nick Parnell, who will actively work with the Commission. Cheryl Lappin, Ward 8 Alderman and the aldermanic appointee to the Commission, will serve as temporary chair of the group while it is getting organized. Martha Horn, the city’s environmental planner, will staff the Commission.

The learning curve for the Commission is steep and much of this meeting was devoted to hearing presentations and asking questions. That will also be true for upcoming meetings. Two decisions were made at the first meeting. The Commission agreed to accept the generous offer of the Newton Community Farm (see next paragraph) to fund tilling and planting of a cover crop this fall. They also agreed that the group will need to meet frequently this fall to accomplish the tremendous amount of work needed to get the farm in operation by next spring. The next meeting was slated for September 13 and a future meeting schedule was expected to be determined at that meeting.

Newton Farm Group Organized

The group that came together to advocate for purchase of Angino Farm and stayed together to focus its expertise around planning for the success of the farm was legally incorporated as a non-profit organization in August. The group is now known as the Newton Community Farm. (NCF). The group has also applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That process takes about six months to complete.

NCF is organized to develop and deliver educational programming related to the farm, to advocate on its behalf, to raise funds to support the farm and to provide the expertise needed to operate the farm. In addition, the group would like to be the entity with whom the Farm Commission contracts to manage the farm on a day-to-day basis. This decision will be made by the Commission this fall and, if NCF is selected, a contract will be negotiated and NCF will employ a farmer to run the operation. (See related story.)

Zoning Changed

In August, the Board of Aldermen voted to change the zoning designation for Angino Farm from residential to public use. This redefines what the property can legally be used for and brings the zoning into line with goals for the farm. Public Use is defined by ordinance (chapter 30, section 6) as common areas intended to serve a public purpose, including streets and parking lots but also public gardens, parks, conservation areas and other similar public purposes. The law permits the land to be used for “farmer’s markets, fairs, festivals and other like uses” if temporary licenses for these purposes are granted by the Board of Aldermen.

House and Barn Improvements

The Public Buildings department has installed exterior lighting and taken other steps this summer to secure the property. This fall, Public Buildings will begin phase one of a series of improvements to the house and barn. Money for this phase (about $40,000) was approved by the Community Preservation Committee and the Board of Aldermen and will come out of CPA funds. Future improvements will be funded through donations and money from other sources.

The house and barn were surveyed extensively by Donald Lang, an architect who serves on the Newton Historic Commission, and were found to be structurally sound. Like any old buildings, however, repairs and upgrades will be needed, some more urgently than others. As a result, the work was organized into three timeframes.

Phase one improvements include upgrades to the electrical service, installation of smoke detectors, minor plumbing and electrical repairs, asbestos remediation, adding insulation, repair of plaster ceilings and walls, repair of windows and doors, replacement of appliances and other changes that are aimed at creating a safe living environment. The objective is to make the house habitable for a live-in farmer and to prepare it and the barn for use in support of farm operations.

Future improvements are scheduled over a five-year time frame and include further upgrades to utilities, a new roof, painting, some structural repairs and some restoration work. This is anticipated to cost about $85,000. Long-terms plans include remodeling of bathrooms and kitchen, completion of historic restoration work, and creation of meeting facilities and classroom space. About $182,000 is budgeted for long-term improvements.

Environmental Sustainability

At an upcoming meeting, the Farm Commission will meet with David Naparstek, Public Health Commissioner, to discuss connection of the house to the city sanitary sewer system and closure of the old cesspool. Related to this discussion will be proposals to capture gray water for irrigation and to install composting toilets. The suggestion has been made that this city project also serve as a model for environmental sustainability and this discussion will be the first step in determining the extent to which that will indeed be considered a priority.

Another topic to be discussed is the capacity of the existing dug well and whether a drilled well will be needed for irrigation of crops. Future topics might include solar power and other demonstration projects.

Dedication of the Farm

A formal dedication and naming ceremony is planned for a date in October, not finalized as of mid-September. An engraved stone bench will be unveiled in recognition of Jerry Angino and the contribution of the Angino family to the life of the community. The bench will be located at the rear of the house adjacent to a small patio and shaded by an old apple tree. This site was selected by the family for sentimental reasons.

Next Steps

The Farm Commission has several decisions to make and tasks to complete during the next several weeks. First and foremost is to research farm operations in surrounding towns to learn what has worked and what hasn’t. Out of that should come a decision about the business model the farm will follow.

The most prevalent model and the one most often discussed with respect to Angino Farm is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This model involves sale of shares that entitles shareholders to a portion of crops grown on a weekly basis. The advantages of this system are that it collects committed dollars upfront, providing for working capital; it partially insures against the risk of crop failure by engaging supporters who are willing to take the chance that shares will be reduced because of bad weather and other causes; and it provides predictable volunteer labor to the extent that shareholders commit to working a certain number of hours per week, as is often the case.

Other models include direct sale of produce at markets, like the Newton Farmer ’s Market, or at a stand on-site, or wholesaling to stores and restaurants. Some combination of these approaches may ultimately create the best and most balanced option.

The Commission will then need to select a farm operator and negotiate a contract that outlines the terms of the working arrangement over some defined time period. Most parties close to this process have recommended a longer-term contract than is typically the case for municipal governments. Five years instead of the usual three would give the farm operation a better chance to contend with start-up issues and spread the cost of start-up operations over a longer period. Details of the contract will spell out policies, performance expectations and reporting requirements. To this last point, the Commission will also need to identify and structure its own financial and other reporting obligations to the city.

The ordinance establishing the Farm Commission requires the group to hold a public hearing to spell out the initial set of policies and procedures for operation of the farm prior to their adoption. Such a hearing would probably be held in the October-November timeframe if the Commission is to stay on-track for an early spring start-up of the farm operation. (See timeline.)

This is a very busy but exciting time in our quest to create a vibrant community farm in Newton . The Angino Farm Commission will be the focus of activity over the next several months. Participation in the process by those who have helped conceive and advocate for this project is especially important at this point to provide continuity, information and impetus to this phase of the effort. It can be easy to assume that everything will flow naturally from the strong start that has been made, but this is a vulnerable point in the process. New players are coming up to speed, ideas are being culled and honed, proposals are being concretized, and decisions are being made that have the potential to set the course for years to come.

It is critical that we stay engaged in this process in order to shape it, keep it true to our vision and, with hard work and good fortune, to lay the groundwork for many years of successful community farming in Newton .

Doug Dickson

 

Farm Commission Members

The Angino Farm Commission is comprised of nine members. To date, seven of the members have been selected. To help you get acquainted with this new city board, a list of the seven members appointed to date, the role each plays on the Commission and a brief bio for each follows.

Mayoral appointees:

  • Louise Bruyn, expertise in sustainable environmental practices. Louise helped found and served as initial president of the Green Decade Coalition/Newton in 1990. She is a long-time environmental activist with extensive connections to resources in Newton and beyond. She worked hard to advocate for the purchase of Angino Farm.
  • James Harper, expertise in finance and accounting. Jim served for many years as controller of Eastern Enterprises, the owner of Boston Gas before it was acquired by Keyspan. He is currently tax manager for Iron Mountain. Jim has also served as treasurer to non-profit organizations. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School.
  • Peter Lewenberg, expertise in operating a retail or wholesale business. Peter was a food broker for many years, selling food products of all types to supermarkets, specialty shops and other venues. He earned a degree in agricultural economics from UMass, on whose board he sat as a trustee during the 90s. He spent five years working on public-private partnerships for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and currently works in development and alumni giving for MIT.
  • Theresa Walsh, at-large citizen appointee. Theresa lives near Angino Farm and worked for the school department for many years. Since retiring, she has been a tireless advocate for and leader of outdoor education projects for public school students. She runs programs for students at Nahanton Park and looks forward to creating educational opportunities at Angino Farm.
  • Appointee with expertise in farming or agriculture—not yet selected.

Aldermanic appointee:

  • Cheryl Lappin, at-large citizen appointee. Cheryl is a resident of Ward 8, where Angino Farm is located and which she serves as Ward Alderman. She brings business experience in public relations and marketing, along with real estate appraisal skills. Cheryl is serving as temporary chair of the Commission until it identifies roles and elects members to fill them. This probably won’t happen until a full panel is in place.

Commission representatives:
  • Judy Hepburn, Conservation Commission. In addition to her service as an associate member of the Conservation Commission, Judy is a long-time member of the Friends of Nahanton Park, a city-owned facility adjacent to Angino Farm. She served on the board of the Newton Conservators and is currently an Advisor. Judy is trained as a geologist and teaches at Boston College . She is an avid birder.
  • Donald Lang, Historic Commission. Donald is an architect who specializes in historic restoration and preservation of public buildings, among other things. He also serves on the Chestnut Hill Historic District Commission and was recently appointed to the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board. Early in the acquisition process, he surveyed the Angino property and drew up a plan for upgrading and restoring the buildings to make them suitable for public use.
  • Parks and Recreation Commission representative—not yet selected.

 

Newton Community Farm Gets Organized

Making the transition from a loosely formed group that came together to advocate for purchase of Angino Farm to a permanent organization with a well-defined mission has been a relatively smooth one for Newton Community Farm (NCF). This is a testament to the singularity of this group’s vision and the energy and support they have inspired in the community for their mission. As the focus shifts from advocacy to operations, NCF has formalized its structure by incorporating as a Massachusetts non-profit organization. It has filed an application for tax-exempt status with the IRS and is waiting for approval, a process that can take about six months. Meanwhile, NCF is working with the newly appointed Angino Farm Commission to provide background information, lay out a calendar and help shape the policies and procedures under which the farm will operate. Ultimately, NCF would like to be the entity with which the Commission contracts to run the farm. In its first official communication with the new Commission, NCF laid out the following information about the organization and its achievements:

  • With the Newton Conservators, developed a proposal to the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for city acquisition of Angino Farm.
  • At the request of the CPC, developed a preliminary operating plan and budget, demonstrating NCF’s preparedness to operate the farm and maintain the buildings under the direction of the Farm Commission.
  • Collected $36,965 in contributions from over 50 donors, and obtained an additional $65,400 in pledges toward farm start-up and operating costs.
  • Generated a list of approximately 80 Newton residents willing to pre-purchase produce to help insure the financial viability of the farm.
  • Incorporated and is submitting an application for 501(c)(3) status so that NCF can serve as either the non-profit operator of the farm or a fundraising and support group for the farm.
  • Established six subcommittees to explore in detail the critical aspects of operating the community farm envisioned by Newton ’s citizens and leaders: agriculture, education, buildings/sustainable environmental practices, business/legal, fundraising, and communications.
  • Prepared a working facilities plan, addressing the steps necessary for the restoration and operation of the site’s buildings.
  • Outlined a financially sound plan for the first three years of the farm’s operation.
  • Met with the Bowen Elementary Schoolyard Initiative to explore opportunities for educational programming utilizing the farm resources.

Community Farm Timeline

NCF has also put together a timeline of activities that will enable the farm to commence operations next spring. This creates a starting point for the Angino Farm Commission’s work and provides valuable guidance as they plan their next steps.

  • Sep 2005—Till field and plant cover crop
  • Sep-Nov—Investigate alternative wastewater options
  • Oct-Jan—Ready building for occupancy by farmer
  • Nov—Sign contract with city to operate for an initial three-to-five-year period
  • Nov-Dec—Interview and hire farmer
  • Nov-Feb—Pre-sell produce to assure adequate funding of farmer’s salary
  • Dec-Feb—Contract with partner farm(s) to supply supplemental produce to meet pre-purchase commitments
  • Feb 2006—Install temporary greenhouse and start seedlings
  • Nov-Mar—Work with pilot school to develop first educational programming and plan student field trips
  • Mar—File first quarterly financial report with Angino Farm Commission

 

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