Thirty-one acres of Greenfield’s “Town Farm" property off Leyden Road near Glen Brook has been protected by an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) thanks to a grassroots effort that led to a unique partnership between the Town, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, and a group of local gardeners.
The idea of a protected community garden was first explored in 2008 when members of the Pleasant Street Gardens joined together with the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee and Mount Grace hoping to identify and protect land in Greenfield to secure local food production by and for the community.
The first planning meeting, held on February 11, 2009, was facilitated by Kate Kerivan, Mount Grace Outreach Coordinator with the Commonwealth Corps Common Ground program, the precursor to Mount Grace's statewide AmeriCorps-MassLIFT program that provides volunteers to support land conservation and stewardship. Attendees discussed town owned parcels from a list compiled by Eric Twarog, the town's director of planning, which included the old poor farm on Leyden Road. Used by the town for food production until the 1950s, the land was then rented out to local farmers. Attendee Howard Clark, a Pleasant Street gardener, pointed out that the original owner of the farm, Justin Root, had bequeathed the property to the town for agricultural use in 1849.
“I will never forget the first meeting and the first visits to potential community garden space with Eric and Howard,” said Kerivan, who, after completing her one year term as a Commonwealth Corps Volunteer with Mount Grace, now owns and operates Bug Hill Farm in Ashfield. "It was a long road to guarantee access for the community and permanent protection for the land but because everyone was passionate about its history and its potential it has come to fruition! Looking back on my year serving with Mount Grace, this project best exemplifies how land trusts, community members and town and federal government programs can work together for the good of all.”
Within weeks the ad hoc discussion group had formed “Just Roots,” a community group named in honor of the 19th-century farmer, which hoped to create a community garden on the Town Farm land. Greenfield’s new mayor, William Martin, also took an interest in the project, envisioning the land as a great site to provide educational programs on local food and sustainability as well as actual local food for students in the Greenfield public school system. Mount Grace worked simultaneously to support Just Roots, through the efforts of conservation volunteers from the Commonwealth Corps and AmeriCorps programs, and to assist the town with an APR application to permanently protect the land.
The Massachusetts APR program is a voluntary program which offers an alternative to development for farmers and owners of significant agricultural land. The program pays the difference between the "fair market value" and the "agricultural value" of farm land in exchange for a permanent restriction which precludes uses of the property that have a negative impact on agriculture.
Following a unanimous vote by the Town Council to support the APR, the town submitted an application to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources covering 31 acres of the property. Approval from the state came in June 2011, with the town receiving $198,000 in exchange for the development rights on the arable land. "It is very exciting that the closing for this APR is now complete," said Twarog. "This project began in early 2009 as a partnership to search for urban lots within Greenfield, which could be used for community farming and gardening. It has now culminated in an approved APR on the Town Farm property."
After two years of work on the project, Mayor Martin expressed satisfaction with the successful closing: "I was discussing the idea as a candidate for mayor two years ago. The results are worth the wait and we will create a unique and sustaining relationship between farming, education, and local food supply."
With the future of the property settled as agricultural land, Just Roots is working on second year of gardening. The group has responded to a public request from the town for proposals for a five year lease to operate a community farm providing food and educational opportunities. The Town Council will vote on the lease in July. Jay Lord, the current coordinator of Just Roots, sums up the group’s experience: “What a pleasure to work with Mount Grace, the Town of Greenfield and Just Roots to create conditions to incubate a community farm for the town. We are all excited. We all believe in a better future; and for anyone who has ever worked the land, one thing is for sure: growing a farm is the ultimate act of faith in a better future.”