Winchendon’s Noonday Farm is a farm with a mission.
The farm was inspired by the ideals of the Catholic Worker Movement, started in the 1930s by Dorothy Day. The name “Noonday Farm” is from Isaiah 58, “If you feed the hungry and satisfy the needs of the poor then your light will rise like the dawn out of darkness, and your dusk will be as the noonday.”
Noonday Farm has long provided organic eggs and fresh vegetables for the soup kitchen at Boston-based Haley House, which established the farm in 1984, and for food pantries in Winchendon and Gardner. The farm typically raises over 6,000 pounds of organic produce and more than 500 dozen eggs per year, 90% of which has been distributed either to Haley House or to Winchendon area families in need.
As Haley House has increasingly focused on its Boston programs—including gardens on reclaimed land and other ways to provide food grown within the city, farm managers Beth Ingham and Bob Jennings saw an opportunity to connect Noonday Farm more closely with Winchendon and Gardner. “We should root ourselves in our own place and offer as much as possible to the communities within reach,” says Ingham. “As a community farm, we recognize that social needs are best addressed at the local level.” Ingham and Jennings, who have run the farm since 1993, also created the sustainable living center and educational programs at the 18-acre farm.
After exploring options with Mount Grace, Ingham and Jennings plan to incorporate a nonprofit to serve residents of Winchendon by providing free organic food to those in need and offering education programs in growing healthy food and sustainable living practices. This summer, the two took the first step, raising and borrowing money to buy the farm outright.
Mount Grace, which has helped protect 1,800 acres in Winchendon—including Charlie’s Redhouse Farm and the Murdock Dairy Farm, is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the farm as they secure legal status as an independent non-profit. Noonday Farm will place a conservation easement on the property to ensure the permanent protection of the acreage as farmland—helping to secure more sustainable agriculture in Winchendon. Mount Grace’s MassLIFT AmeriCorps members will also help develop and enhance service learning and community programs at the farm. "Serving as the interim owner of Noonday Farm is a practical way for Mount Grace to support the farm's mission as Beth and Bob transition to providing fresh, organic food to the hungry in Winchendon and Gardner,” says Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood.
Noonday Farm currently works with the Winchendon Community Action Council to serve 350 Winchendon families. The farm also provides educational programs with hundreds of participants annually. Robin Saunders, Program Manager at Take Back the Kitchen, visits the farm three times each year from Boston, bringing 40 participants for workshops on harvesting, preparing, and cooking fresh organic foods. "Visiting Noonday is such a special treat for us each growing season,” she says. “It's astonishing when people first arrive and are apprehensive about getting down in the dirt, but once lunchtime rolls around and we rinse off all the onions, potatoes, salad greens, and tomatoes and cook a delicious meal, you can sense the transformation and witness the appreciation and respect people have for Beth and Bob, once they realize the importance of nourishing themselves with fresh food and knowing where it comes from.”
Noonday Farm will continue working with local public schools and the Winchendon School as a volunteer site for service learning opportunities. “We’ll still offer workshops on growing food, and other sustainable living skills,” says Jennings. “There are basic skills, such as learning how to cook, how to do simple caretaking and repair work on a home, and how to use heating sources that are renewable and local, that were once part of everyone’s upbringing and have just not been valued by the modern world. For us the most important piece is the protection and stewardship of the earth. That informs the way that we farm and the way we use all the earth’s resources to sustain human life. That’s what we teach.”