The Helping Hands behind Wright-Locke Farm

August 2017

Written by Community Engagement Manager, Kim Kneeland

I came to this farm in 2014, and now that I’m in my fourth season, it is interesting to look back at my first impressions of Wright-Locke Farm. Hired as a field assistant, and having no familiarity with the area (I’m from Central Mass originally), I came in knowing very little about its recent acquisition by the town and its transformation into a community farm. To the farm’s credit, you could have told me that the farm was in its 20th or 30th year of operation as a non-profit, working and educational farm, and I would have believed you readily. When I came in, the education programs were already thriving, the fields abundant and markets plentiful, the organization had so many strong and passionate leaders, and everyone seemed to plug in with their own unique role.  The truth is that, at that point, our farmer had only been there for three years, and she was the first staff member to be hired. Before Adrienne came on board, the entire operation was run by Wright-Locke Conservancy’s board and many other dedicated volunteers. Of course, the day-to-day was very different than it is now, but they still grew some organic veggies, hosted events for the community, and managed the U-Pick Raspberry crop.

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WL Farm Spring Fling 2010 (142 of 299)

By the time I was hired, Adrienne had cultivated a fully-functional, small organic farm. Rebekah, our Education Director, had a complete line up of adult workshops and youth programs that always seemed to be full of excited participants and Archie, our Executive Director seemed to be effectively pushing the farm envelope. It took me a while to realize how new this was to everyone, and it was astounding to think of how far everything had come in such short amount of time. As I see it, much of the success of the farm came from the early and loving support of many volunteers who were dedicated to preserving Wright-Locke Farm.

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Now in its 10th year of operation, the farm has a strong and passionate staff base manning the helm. And while we still have a lot of volunteer interest and assistance from our board members, the nature of the farm’s volunteer needs have changed. Instead of needing volunteers to plow our fields, plan crop rotation, and fill managerial roles, we need people who can readily plug in under the skilled guidance of our staff and to assist with specific seasonal farm needs. Every year, with more and more interest from the public in our programs, free events, raspberry picking, and farm tours, it is vital that we do have a professional staff to coordinate and manage all of the logistics of welcoming larger crowds to the farm safely and so visitors get the most out of their experience. Each year we continue to explore the balance between staff and volunteers because it is really important to us that we keep a strong volunteer presence on the farm. However, dedicating the time and labor to train  and manage so many new volunteers can be very tricky (and sometimes even counterproductive) . So far, even with our small staff, we’ve been able to meet our volunteer interest, and it is so rewarding, especially when we get people who come back every week (even every day!) all season. We’ve had volunteers who have consistently come to help out each week for four years, and besides creating lasting relationships with those volunteers, they end up functioning like trained staff members and are invaluable to our efforts. It’s a great partnership, really. We are dedicated to the education of our community and, while workshops, classes, and youth programs are a great way to learn, volunteering is another avenue for experiential learning at the farm.

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Two great examples of where volunteers plug-in well to the farm are our U-pick Raspberry Operations and our Chicken Chore Volunteer program. While they are no longer being coordinated by volunteers (many thanks to Donna Wainwright, Susan Ampe, and Berit Ahmad for all of your hard work over the years), all of the day-to-day work is done by volunteers – and that’s no small feat. Once raspberries are ripe and ready to be picked, we open our fields to the public for 5 – 6 days a week. This means we need a constant presence on the farm to greet pickers, tell them where and how to pick the best berries (and what to avoid), help weigh and pack their berries, wash and dry all of the red-stained buckets,  as well as setting up, and breaking down the raspberry station. That’s a lot of volunteer hours over two months! It ends up being a fun time – it’s a great way to enjoy some time outside, interact with other community members, and participate at the farm during the excitement of harvest time. Volunteering with U-Pick Raspberries is a great starter opportunity, with its flexibility and easier time commitments.

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Our Chicken Chore program, while requiring more responsibility and time overall, has been very successful over the years and is such a great way to immerse oneself in “farm-life.” Chicken chores at the farm started about six years back when a local middle schooler suggested keeping chickens. Much like parents say to their children after they’ve asked to get a puppy, we asked “who’s going to take care of them?” She said “We will” – and that they did. The program started with school children caring for baby chicks and then, after they brought them up to the farm once they were old enough, volunteers (some of the same families who raised them) continued to care for the hens daily. The system continues to this day. Of course, it’s not perfect – there are a lot of moving pieces and it’s hard to coordinate between so many people and sometimes we don’t have enough people to cover all slots, then staff members have to cover on top of their already full-plates. But overall, this is a program that thrives because of our volunteers and their dedication to taking care of these farm animals. Many of our chicken chore volunteers are families who do chores together – it’s a great way for children (and adults!) to learn about farming, interacting with animals, working hard, and managing responsibilities. Unless you grew up on a farm or have a couple of your own backyard birds, it’s not an experience that many people get.

We are so lucky to have such an involved community and we are excited to keep harnessing the ideas and efforts of our wonderful volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering at the Farm, check out our Volunteer Opportunities page or contact me at kkneeland@WLFarm.org. We’d love to have you up at the farm!

Wright-Locke’s “Night-time Farmers”

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Written by Amy Rindskopf, Event Manager

The month of May means many things in the Farm’s calendar – seedlings start to leave the greenhouse for the fields, after-school education programs return, and the farm stand moves from once-a-week eggs-only towards a full week with veggies, eggs, and delicious snacks. For the Farm event team, it means something even more: parties return to the 1827 Barn!

Regular visitors to the farm know that we do many public events throughout the warmer months: Family Farm Nights in June & July are our most popular event but we also do Spring Fling in May (this weekend!), Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox parties, Farm-to-table Suppers in the late summer, and our annual Harvest Dinner in September.

The most attentive visitors know that we also host private events, everything from children’s birthdays to graduations to family milestones to weddings. People who come to the farm to celebrate the important moments in their lives aren’t just looking for a place to have a party – they are connecting themselves and their guests with history and nature in a way rarely seen in event spaces.  It’s why so many people come back to our events year after year. And why more than one party guest has become a volunteer in our fields.

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Our event team definitely has the most unusual job description at Wright-Locke Farm: they must love helping organize beautiful events, but they also enjoy working outside in all weather, moving heavy wooden barn chairs, climbing ladders, having dirty hands, and chasing runaway paper lanterns (and the occasional lost sheep). These night-time farmers of Wright-Locke Farm are some of the best problem solvers I know – they can hang anything from the Norway maple on the hill used as our wedding ceremony site. Need to hang a poster in the barn without using any nails? But of course! Sudden hailstorm changing your outside summer fete to a cozy fall barn party? Not a problem!

Here’s looking forward to a season full of starry nights, happy families, vibrant music, and delicious food!

Cultivating our Future

Locke Farm from Ridge Street~January 2017~

Written by: Rebekah Carter, Education Director at Wright-Locke Farm

I can’t begin to imagine what the past Wright and Locke families would think if they knew we now use their farmstead to not only grow food, but to also educate the public about food and agriculture. When these two families started their operations in Winchester hundreds of years ago, everyday life in America was markedly different from the world we know today. Ordinary people didn’t get to enjoy the incredible conveniences, whether in the form of products, services, or infrastructure, we often thoughtlessly consume in the twenty-first century. For many, everyday life was still a struggle to ensure one’s family had access to the most basic necessities: healthy food, clean water, and adequate shelter. And despite advances in science and technology, and a continuing movement towards more industrial jobs, an overwhelming portion of the population still relied on agriculture for their livelihoods at the turn of the twentieth century; farmers and farm workers, many of whom were family members of the farmers, made up just under 40% of the entire American workforce at that time. Even those not directly involved in local agriculture typically had some direct connection to it- they lived amongst farms once common in both rural and suburban neighborhoods, got fresh milk deliveries to their front door, purchased meats from their local butcher, raised a small flock of chickens for eggs, or grew their own fruits and vegetables to cook, preserve, and eat throughout the year.

Farmers handpick summer produce from the fieldsToday, less than 2% of our country’s workforce manage over 900 million acres of farmland on which we rely upon to grow and raise a significant portion of the world’s food supply and the raw materials needed for plant and animal-derived non-food products. Most hired farm workers (i.e. those not managing a farm operation or an unpaid family member) were born abroad and are concentrated in the more labor-intensive fruit, vegetable, and horticultural operations throughout the nation. It’s believed that most of these foreign-born workers are unauthorized, which results in a slew of issues that greatly affect both the workers themselves as well as the industry at large, since illegal workers are more often willing to accept lower wages for the physically-demanding and typically seasonal positions available. As farming in America continues to become less of a family affair and more of a global industry, there is a growing emphasis on the bottom line, which too often leads to increased production of foods that do not necessarily promote human or environmental health, but rather encourage increases in revenue above all else.

June vegetable harvest at Wright-Locke FarmWhile it’s understandable for farmers to seek out ways to strengthen their business models in order to survive in an industry laden with rising costs and a high risk for failure, there are a number of unsavory results born out of these changes in American agriculture. Many of these negative consequences trickle down from the farms to the consumers, who ultimately buy their products, and the landscapes from which we derive these items. Modern agriculture too often encourages crops and practices that are literally making our people, animals, land, and water sick. These trends can be disheartening to say the least, but our worries and fears will not change our reality: modern existence on planet Earth depends on agriculture. The necessary discoveries and change needed to make the industry more ecologically sustainable and increase the promotion of healthy foods will require the combined efforts of consumers, producers, and external forces such as government regulation and financial supports. But if consumers do not understand even the most fundamental aspects of agriculture, how can they begin to make the best choices for themselves and the planet?

Kids do chicken chores during summer programEnter: farm education. It’s certainly not a cure-all potion to instantly alleviate the many symptoms of a chronically-ill food system. But farm-based education is a means by which producers of food and other plant and animal-derived materials can teach people about the realities of agriculture when they otherwise might not get to experience such a direct connection to or understanding of food production. Thanks to the incredible support from the local community, Wright-Locke Farm is able to provide a diverse array of educational programs and volunteer opportunities for children and adults that connect participants to local agriculture through observational and hands-on activities at the farm or in the kitchen at Saint Eulalia’s Parish. Whether it’s learning how plants absorb nutrients from soil, why goats and sheep can eat plants like grass and poison ivy without issue, how to safely preserve homemade foods you make from your garden’s harvest, or why a hen doesn’t need a rooster to lay her eggs, our farm education programs teach both kids and adults about subjects directly connected to our unique farm landscape and the seasons while incorporating practical knowledge and skills that can be used for a lifetime.

Plasmabots gear up for opening a hiveAs more and more residents and students in the area discover Wright-Locke and all it has to offer, they often want to utilize the farm as a learning resource. In addition to our normal youth programs and adult workshops, we try to take on as many requests for small group subject-specific learning “in the field” as we can accommodate. A wonderful example of such learning is the story of the Plasmabots, a group of five middle school students from Lexington, MA competing in a local First Lego League “Animal Allies” Challenge. The FLL Challenge invites students in grades 4 – 8 across the United States to “research a real-world problem… and develop a solution” using technology they design themselves. After some initial consideration about which animal population they wanted to help, the students decided to focus on honey bees and set out to design a hive that would help reduce common issues affecting them. Their research included a trip to Wright-Locke this past fall to learn about the importance of bees and other native pollinators on our certified-organic farm, as well as issues we’ve experienced in our own honey beekeeping over the past five years. During their visit, team members also got a chance to gear up and “go in the hives” to get a closer look at the bees and harvest some raw honey to taste, straight from a frame. Based on their research, farm experience, and design feedback from executive director Archie McIntyre, the team was able to modify and improve their hive prototype before their first local competition. The group has since won first place in both their local and state competitions, got to meet state representative Katherine Clark to advocate for increased education and awareness about bee issues, and will be moving onto the world competition in St. Louis later this year!

Plasmabots win at the state competitionWe are extremely impressed by the Plasmabots’ success, and are very thankful they’ve taken the initiative to try to help honey bees through research-based engineering and technology. We hope to continue to support their work by using their modified prototype hive this year along with our typical Langstroth hives. And much like the Plasmabots, and the countless other volunteers, students, visitors, and friends we have at the farm, we invite you to become a part of Wright-Locke’s growing community. To find a way to directly connect yourself to local agriculture in a time when so few do, while taking in some of the same gorgeous views of the land that the Wright and Locke farmers once enjoyed, long ago.

You can reach Rebekah at rcarter@wlfarm.org.