Since 1975, Natick Community Organic Farm has been a nonprofit, certified-organic farm providing productive open space, farm products, and hands-on education to people of all ages, year-round. Yet our modern-day farmers are only the most-recent stewards of this acreage, and its rich, compelling history. We have managed to piece together some of its fascinating story, and actively researching its cultivation and use. If you have information or photos to share, please email us.
Native Americans were very likely the first farmers of this land. Native women, who led their villages, cleared land for planting by burning it. They were talented agriculturists. They farmed communally, growing corn, beans, and squash in combined plantings that naturally suppressed weeds. Native communities were fluid and moved seasonally between established hunting, fishing, and growing/gathering sites. Natives used land, but did not "own" it.
The arrival of Europeans in the New World inadvertently introduced diseases that wiped out 50 to 90 percent of New England's Native population. Englishmen settled on, then often retroactively bought land from local Indians according to their own English laws and set about building permanent settlements, called plantations. English males were expected to own property and grazing animals, to farm, to participate in town meeting and to financially support the church. In 1650, reverend and missionary John Eliot was granted approximately 2,000 acres of land centered around what is present-day south Natick--then part of Dedham--for the creation of the first of his 14 permanent settlements for praying, or Christianized Indians. Eliot believed that in order to Christianize the Indians, that he first had to "civilize" them by teaching them English ways, and making them adopt English lifestyles, such as living in permanent settlements.
Land in the Natick plantation was held and used communally by Indians until 1719, when individual tracts were granted to 19 Indian proprietors. The Reverend Oliver Peabody, the first English reverend to actually live in Natick, was also given land and made a proprietor in exchange for ministering. Oliver Peabody thus became the farm's first "owner" that we have record of. Records of the time show local Indians tending orchards, building English-style barns, growing corn and flax, and raising pigs, cows, and sheep. Yet in the process of adopting English ways, many Indians amassed crippling debts that eventually forced them to sell their lands to English settlers.
By the time Oliver Peabody died, he'd amassed an estate of over 210 acres. Englishman Oliver Bacon then bought the Peabody farm in stages. By 1800, he had purchased what encompasses the entire modern-day property. His son, "Pump" John Bacon, constructed the barn in 1815 from local timbers blown down in a severe storm that by modern standards measured as a Category Four hurricane.
Over the next century, the land had several owners who ran dairy, poultry, and equine operations. From 1905 to 1926, the farm was part of a group of six area farms, known as Carver Hill Farms, owned by William S. Patten and the Hunnewell family. Jane "Jenny" Patten, William's unmarried daughter, eventually inherited the farm. (Editor's note: Longtime Natick resident and NCOF friend Harriet Buckingham lived on the Farm in the 1930s, when her father worked for Ms. Patten. In the photos on the right, that's a very young Harriet posing on the Farm with a large dog, and a later photo of Harriet being pulled on a sled along our young sugar maples by Major, the horse.) Ms. Patten passed the Farm to her adopted daughter, Elizabeth Goodhue. Elizabeth married Bertram Flint. In 1970, the Flints sold their farm to a private developer.
The Town of Natick took this land by eminent domain in early 1974. It was put under the auspices of the School Committee in anticipation of its development into a school.
Birth of An Idea
The modern-day farm community concept was conceived by the Eliot Church, the Lions Club, and Natick's Youth and Human Resources Committee in 1975 as a means of supplying much-needed summer jobs to local young people at risk.
The group called itself Red Wing Farm and planted a market garden on a two-acre plot of tilled land at the Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary.
In autumn 1975, the Town of Natick's School Committee agreed to lend land to the Red Wing Farm project. Red Wing Farm moved to 117 Eliot Street as a tenant-at-will and began using the existing barn as its headquarters. By its second summer, Red Wing Farm was employing dozens of teens to raise and market vegetables to the public. (Watch the 1975 video here.)
The project became known as The Natick Community Farm, a 501 [c] 3 organization and took on its current ambitious environmental and education mission.
Lynda Simkins was hired as the Farm’s Director in 1980. In the decades since, NCOF has become an integral part of the Town of Natick’s geographic and agricultural landscape and a rich center of community life.
Mothers and fathers bring their babes in arms and toddlers to NCOF to first see farm animals. Gardeners come here in the spring to buy organic seedlings that suit our climate and growing season. Families come to purchase fresh, locally-grown, certified-organic produce, meats, eggs, and maple syrup.
School-aged children take fieldtrips to study nutrition and the life cycle of plants and animals. Middle school, high school, and college children work in the summer, or on school vacations, or to complete their community service hours. People of special or differing abilities come to do meaningful work and contribute to their community.
Thousands of students, volunteers, and community members spanning several generations have now been introduced to the importance of open productive space, organic agriculture, and supporting local farms and farmers.
NCOF has served as both a model and a source of inspiration and practical information for several educational- and community-based organic farms in Massachusetts, in Athol, Medway, Cohasset, Concord, Waltham, and Newton, as well as for farms across the country.
The Farm continues to advocate organic agriculture, humane animal care, sustainability in life style, and living in an environmentally friendly manner.
Conservation and The Future
On April 14, 2009, Passage of Article 3 at the Town Meeting ensured that 27 acres on which Natick Community Organic Farm sits was secured in perpetuity as conservation land.
The land was put under the auspices of the Town of Natick’s Conservation Commission. Natick Community Organic Farm Inc. took over paying the full salaries of its Director, Assistant Director, and Farm Administrator, well over $140,000/year.
On March 13, 2010, Natick Community Organic Farm Inc. was awarded management of the land until 2013.
In May, 2014, NCOF procured a management contract from the Town of Natick through 2044! Efforts are now underway to make the Farm financially self-sufficient. Please consider supporting this effort and helping us ensure our future for generations to come.