Despite pandemic, Winchester farm presses on with modern-day barn raising
At Wright-Locke Farm, a 20-acre patch of paradise 8 miles north of Boston as the crow flies, a planer screeched, halting conversation. It was the second week in a modern-day barn raising.
A tour of the nonprofit Winchester farm in late February revealed a timber-frame building in progress. Exposed beams pushed against the cobalt sky. Sawdust fell from the rafters like confetti.
But it was too soon for a party. Within weeks, the novel coronavirus arrived in Massachusetts and Governor Charlie Baker issued his stay-at-home advisory. There’s more money to raise ― about $700,000 — to meet the $3.35 million goal for the project, but the pandemic has made meeting with donors all but impossible.
“Winchester is a very densely developed suburb,” said Philip “Archie” McIntyre, executive director of the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy, which oversees farm operations. “This is our only remaining farm, so it’s really struck a chord in the community as a treasured resource that’s not only open space but it’s active open space — people can come and get involved.”
The new 4,500-square-foot barn will have eco-friendly bathrooms, a commercial teaching kitchen, event space, and heat, allowing the farm to move from a seasonal schedule to year-round operation. The farm plans to expand its educational programs and book more weddings and other revenue-generating events.
Though construction has slowed due to the pandemic, social distancing protocols have kept things moving. The roof is up, and mechanical systems and doors should be installed by the end of this month.
Nor has the farm shut down completely. True, its spring educational programs and events are canceled through June, but “casual visitors” (with masks while social distancing) stroll the grounds and Farm-to-Go Meals have families pulling up Friday afternoons to pick up their pre-paid online orders that are popped in the trunk.
In 2007, the town of Winchester purchased the entire property for $14 million and leased 7.5 acres, including the farm’s historic buildings, to the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy.
In 2015, the Wright-Locke Land Trust raised $8.6 million to buy the 12.5 acres of remaining land from the town. “We were able to preserve the land in perpetuity,” said McIntyre.
“It has a very strong link to our past and it also creates a connection to local food and the importance of stewarding the land and the environment — all of this is kind of restorative and healing, if you will,” he said. “That connection is really fundamental and beneficial to all the members of the community.”
While the original barn, built in 1827, has been a popular venue for the farm’s speaker series, weddings, and parties, it has its limitations.
“Nobody wants to be in that barn in January,” said Sally Quinn, president of the Wright-Locke Land Trust.
McIntyre and Quinn decided years ago that an all-seasons barn to host events year-round was key to bringing in new revenue. Products made in the kitchen could be sold at the farm stand and donated to food programs.
Now, everything is being discussed through the lens of “social distancing.” McIntyre has joined forces with nearby farms and New England vendors to provide the Farm-to-Go meals. Soon, the program will be revamped to Farm Stand Plus, offering more locally sourced staples like cheeses, meats, produce, and farm products.
“We’re kind of serving as a food hub,” said McIntyre. Customers place orders by Wednesday night for the Friday pickup. The farm stand will operate this way through the end of this year’s season.
“People need to eat,” said McIntyre. “And local fresh organic food, seems to me, will be very much in demand.”
Wright-Locke Farm sits along Ridge Street. The dirt driveway leads past the Federal-style farmhouse to a cluster of white clapboard buildings. Walking trails skirt a pond and head into conservation land. There are goats and chickens. Oak and maple trees dot the hillside.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn about a farm and such a special place so close to Boston,” said Winchester resident Erin Dubovick, who was out walking with her three young daughters in late February. “So few and far between ― so peaceful here.”
Situated on a flattened rise in the northeast corner, the all-seasons barn looks south to the old barn and the sprawling farmland. To the west is the cistern on the hill.
“It’s the best view of the farm,” said Quinn, looking out from where three double doors will open to grass and a patio.
Hundreds of individuals already have contributed to the barn’s capital campaign, giving anywhere from $25 to $1 million. The farm is still fund-raising and accepting in-kind donations of equipment for the teaching kitchen and event space.
“I think there’s a much wider perception now in town [that the farm] is a real asset,” said McIntyre. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have significant challenges in front of us. We’re confident this will work out.”
Naomi Kooker can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Executive Director, Archie McIntyre
When I last wrote over a month ago, the impacts of Coronavirus pandemic were just starting to hit home. With all the uncertainty, we were scrambling to craft doomsday budgets and try to figure out our path forward. All of the shutdowns and uncertainty still exist and we don’t know when things will return to normal. Probably normal doesn’t exist anymore. But, I am heartened to report that we’ve got our feet back on the ground, our hands in the soil, and the Farm is doing well during these difficult times.
First, I hope you and all of our friends and supporters are doing well and staying safe. I also want to reiterate my thanks to all the Farm staff, Board members, and volunteers. Their hard work and creativity in planning out new ways that the Farm can serve our community, and our mission, while also generating new sources of revenues for the Farm has been tremendous to see. And, of course, thanks are due to many members of the community that have come out to support us.
The shutdown necessitated by social distancing is having a direct, significant impact on the farm’s financial health. Many may not realize that we generate significant revenue to support our overall operations from our successful Farm Education and Events programs. Unfortunately, we’ve had to cancel our Spring programming and it looks like we’ll need to cancel programing as we move into Summer. Decisions are being made on a rolling basis as the situation becomes clearer and as we receive guidance from Town and State officials. This deprives us of important income and we have to look to other sources to make up lost revenue, including tapping some of our hard-earned reserves.
While the financial picture is concerning, all is not bleak. There are many successes to report:
- The Farm remains open to casual visitors out for a stroll and some fresh air. Most people are very respectful of social distancing and, I know, are appreciative that the Farm remains open. As the weather turns nice, we’ll have many more visitors so staff will be keeping an eye out to make sure everyone stays safe and we can remain open to the public. Please continue to do your part.
- We are now in to our 5th week of our Farm-to-Go Meals program where customers can order prepared meals and other goodies from local companies. Ordering is on-line and pickups are Fridays on a drive-thru basis. It’s safe to say the program has exceeded our wildest expectations. We literally have hundreds of meals ordered each week and, by all reports, the food is excellent and the customers satisfied, with many placing repeat orders. Thanks to Kim Kneeland and Amy Rindskopf for all of their planning, logistics and execution and special thanks to Susan McPhee, one of our Board members, for initially coming up with the idea.
- The Farm applied for, and received, a Payroll Protection Program loan administered by the Small Business Administration. The PPP loan covers the payroll costs of our 6 full time employees starting April 22 and running 8 weeks. We also will be able to bring on some seasonal, hourly field staff as we do every year to help Adrienne, our Farmer, in the fields. The loan is forgiven at the end of the 8-week program if employees are kept on during the period. This gives us some stability as we chart new directions for the Farm. Our thanks to the folks at Winchester Cooperative Bank for stewarding our successful application and funding the loan.
- Another success story is our Chicken Tenders program where 30 families are raising 60 chicks that will come to the farm in about 8 weeks as pullets to replenish our existing stock of laying hens. The program accomplishes three goals – provides meaningful educational engagement for some of our Farm Ed families, adds new chickens to our depleted stock and generates some new, net revenue to the Farm from participating families. There are many families on the waiting list and we hope to repeat the program later in the year.
- Adrienne, with reduced help from staff and volunteers, is busier than ever planting out the fields and tending the greenhouse. The cold, rainy spring is to be expected but has not hindered good progress. Our annual Seedling Sale has gone on-line with sales opening up two weeks ago. As of this writing, we have made over $8,000 and are nearly sold out. This is significantly more than last year and exceeds our 2020 budgeted amount. Our big issue is greenhouse space and we’re hoping to distribute some of the early items to customers to free up bench space so more seedlings can be planted.
- Planning work continues for our Farm Stand Plus! program which we expect to roll out by mid to late May. With social distancing concerns and protocols likely to be in place for the foreseeable future, we are offering an online order and drive through pick up system to make our produce, CSA shares and produce and products from other local farms and food vendors available to our customers. This program will build upon our Farm-To-Go meals program by adding fresh vegetables, meats, eggs & dairy, and other basic foods for our customers.
- Finally, you may have seen that the solar panel installation on our Squash House and 1827 Barn is complete and we are waiting on Eversource for the interconnection to the electrical grid so we can generate our own green electricity. We expect that this 54,000 kW system will supply all of the Farm’s electrical needs and more. Also, construction continues on the All Seasons Barn, albeit at a slower pace with social distancing protocols in place. While we still have the challenge to close the funding gap to complete the building construction, we hope the building will come on line in the Fall and enable year round programing to make up for the disruptions we’re currently experiencing.
The engagement by all of our community is helping the Farm weather this storm. The levels of involvement and support in some of the things we’re doing demonstrate that we’re all needing a way to connect. The never-ending Zoom meetings are productive, but unfulfilling.
The importance open natural spaces and opportunities for connection to our neighbors, ecosystems, and food we eat is now more apparent than ever. Places like Wright-Locke Farm help to keep us whole and sane. We’re all looking for ways to connect, however distanced. What better way than to visit your local community farm, purchase a delicious farm fresh meal, raise a baby chick, or plant a few vegetable seedlings.
We remain grateful that our specific circumstance allows us to continue to function, serve our community, and survive the inevitable disruption that all of us are facing in our work and lives. Please reach out with any questions, comments or ideas. We’d love to hear from you. Be well, stay safe!
A message from Executive Director, Archie McIntyre – March 23 2020
Dear Friends of Wright-Locke Farm,
On behalf of all of us at Wright-Locke Farm, we hope that you and your family are staying safe and healthy. I wanted to write to you, our supporters, to let you know what we are doing at the Farm to make it a safe place for our community and to make the Farm as resilient as possible during the inevitable disruptions to our programs, offerings and activities. During these unprecedented times, the safety of our visitors, staff, and community is our top priority.
Maybe some of you have been to the Farm over the past week and have seen the many people out to take a walk, visit with the goats and generally soak in the fresh air and beauty of the Farm. The outdoor space remains open to our visitors and we have communicated social distancing guidelines that we hope all will follow. We will keep the open space of the Farm open for as long as the authorities allow, but will continue to ask that everyone enjoy the Farm responsibly. You may have seen that the Town has closed playgrounds and playing fields. We hope to stay open as a resource for people to enjoy a bit of nature during these shut-in times.
WLF staff have been meeting daily via dial-in calls to plan out the upcoming year and the adjustments required to operate the farm over the near term and for the longer time period. Uncertainty makes long term planning difficult and we are remaining flexible and responsive to events as they unfold. We will communicate periodically as we learn more and decisions are made:
- Our Farm paths and trails will remain open. “Please observe social distancing practices when visiting the Farm. We ask that you avoid our growing fields and enjoy our animals from a respectful distance.
- Our office, buildings and pubic bathrooms will remain closed for the foreseeable future and we ask that visitors take this into account before heading out for a walk.
- We have suspended our volunteer programming for the near future as we all learn how to adopt safe social distancing practices that will keep our staff and volunteers safe.
- We have not yet cancelled any of our educational programming planned for April and May and into the summer. We expect that we will need to cancel our earlier programs and we will communicate that to our participants as the decision is made.
- We are proceeding full steam ahead with our growing season as we expect local, organic produce will be in high demand and valued by our existing and potential new customers. This a bright spot for us that we will focus on intently.
- We will continue our two major building projects that are already underway. The All Seasons Barn is up and enclosed and solar panels are being installed on the 1827 Barn and Squash House. These projects will continue with social distancing protocols in place for the construction crews unless we are instructed by authorities to stop.
- We’re anticipating a significant financial impact to our 2020 operations from likely cancellation of educational programs and revenue producing events. We are tightening our belts, carefully considering discretionary spending, and revising our financial forecasts and budgets to reflect the current situation.
- We will communicate our latest news, information and hopefully inspiring stories in our weekly email newsletter that is sent Tuesday mornings. If you are not on our list and would like to be, you can sign-up here.
We are confident that with careful planning and collaborative efforts of our entire community we will weather this tough storm. We are grateful for all of your past support and look forward to your continued support and involvement in making the Farm such a special place for us all. Stay healthy and safe and be sure to reach out with any questions, comments and ideas as we go forward together.
Written by Community Engagement Manager, Kim Kneeland
Since it’s been more icy and wintery recently, we figured it would be appropriate to shine a light on one of the key historical assets we have at the farm – the “Ice House” and the industry behind it.
The ice harvesting industry began in the early 1800s in the Boston area. Fueled by demand in Europe, time from off-season farmers, and development of specialized harvesting tools, this industry became a huge part of the New England economy throughout the 1800s, only to disappear by 1930 with the introduction of refrigeration. But we can still find traces of this industry all over.
You may have noticed the small, windowless building tucked next to the 1827 Barn during your Farm visits. Well this structure was a uniquely designed, insulated ice house where large blocks of ice were packed tightly and stored for sale during the warmer months. These blocks were harvested with horse, sleigh, saw, ice picks, a lot of careful calculations, and sheer hard work.
Photo c. 1920 of the Lockes loading ice into the ice house. Photo Courtesy of the Winchester Archival Center.
I think seeing photos of this process really catches people’s interest as it is a very dynamic task that took community, strength, finesse, and ingenuity. Simple in its concept, there is still something so mesmerizing about ice harvesting. If you are interested in learning more, Wright-Locke’s ice house currently serves as a mini-museum that highlights this craft, with tools, pictures, and explanations of the process (Thanks to our Historic Committee, volunteer, and board help). You can also see photos and read a great account of a modern day ice harvest in this great article originally published in Edible Geography by Nicola Twilley about the Thompson Ice House and Harvesting Museum.
The Ice House at WLF can be viewed by appointment, or during community events at the Farm. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about visiting Wright-Locke Farm’s Ice House.
Ice blocks (or cakes) were scored in a grid layout on the nearby ponds, sawed and cracked from the surrounding ice, then carefully guided through the open water channels to the sleigh to be brought to the nearest ice house. Ice harvesters would then have to muscle and maneuver the ice cakes into the house and pack, position, and stack the ice so as to fill the house just right. When filled correctly, an ice house might only lose 25% of the ice to melting over the course of the hot summer. How? Thermal mass, using sawdust filled walls for insulation, and a pitched roof to ventilate the heat that rose from any melting ice. Naturally frozen ice also has fewer air bubbles than most of our artificially frozen ice, which also leads the ice to last longer.
Bringing ice (early 1900s) from one of the nearby ponds back to the Locke Farm . Photo Courtesy of the Winchester Archival Center.
The photos below are all credited to Nicola Twilley and document the Thomson Ice House Museum’s ice harvest in 2014.