Native Americans were the first farmers of this land. Native women, who led their villages, cleared land for planting by burning it. They were talented agriculturists and taught the newly arriving English how to grow corn, beans, and squash, as well as to gather cranberries. Tribes moved seasonally between established hunting, fishing, and growing/gathering sites.
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 14 permanent settlements for praying, or Christianized Indians. Historical records of the period refer to Natick Native American residents tending orchards, building barns, and raising animals.
In the 1720s, the Reverend Oliver Peabody became the farm’s first English owner that we have record of. Oliver Bacon bought the Peabody farm in stages, beginning in the 1750s. By 1800, he had purchased what encompasses the entire modern-day property. His children, Ira and Willard Bacon, constructed the barn in 1815 from local timbers blown down in severe storm that by modern standards measured as a Category Four hurricane.
Over the next century, the land had many 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. Barr Carnation greenhouses succeeded Carver Hill Farms in 1927. Jane “Jenny” Patten, William’s unmarried daughter, eventually inherited the farm and passed it 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. 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.
The project became known as The Natick Community Farm, a 501 [c] 3 organization and took on its current ambitious environmental and educational 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. Parents bring their young kids 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 field trips 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 productive open 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.
Lynda retired in June of 2018. Today, under the direction of Executive Director Casey Townsend, NCOF serves as a tireless advocate for organic agriculture and our environment, while championing community and personal growth.