On Saturday, Feb. 11, the will hold its first benefit dinner to raise funds for the all-volunteer nonprofit organization, which provides educational opportunities in the community and fresh produce for the Needham Food Pantry.
The dinner will be held at First Parish Church and will be catered by Sweet Basil Restaurant, with desserts donated by Bakers' Best Catering and Dancing Deer Baking Co. There will be live music and a silent and online auction. Individuals can begin participating in the auction now at biddingforgood.com, with the final bids to be held at the dinner.
Patch talked with Needham Community Farm president Debbie Schmill this week about how the organization is doing, what proceeds from the dinner will go toward and organizers' goals for the future.
How did the Needham Community Farm get its start? Six years ago, when the Needham Community Farm idea was conceived, local climate awareness efforts were primarily focused on energy efficiency—asking people to insulate their homes, adjust their thermostats and change to CFLs. These actions are all important, but little attention was being given to the impact of the industrial food system on the climate (what we eat and where it comes from really does matter), or to the growing disconnect between people and nature. The NCF was started as a way to fill this gap in the local climate campaign.
In 2008, the and agreed to let the NCF start a small pilot garden at 1155 Central Ave., and that was the start of the farm program. Since then, the NCF has become one of the few sources of fresh produce for the Needham Community Council Food Pantry. We have run programs with that get students out into the gardens. And we have partnered in efforts by parent volunteers and teachers to establish school gardens at four of our five public elementary schools, funded through the generosity of the Needham Education Foundation.
Despite our presence in the community, it was not until April 2011, when the NCF signed a license agreement with the School Department for the Pine Street site, that the Needham Community Farm as it was originally envisioned was born. We now have a location where we can fulfill our mission to provide hands-on experiences that will build awareness about our food system, connect residents with nature and encourage environmental stewardship.
Where is the farm located and what is featured on its sites? The 1.25-acre site is located at the end of a long driveway off of Pine Street. We have 80 raised garden beds which we use for educational programs, two beehives, a meditation area and a small orchard. We also have a compost area where our garden waste can be broken down naturally into nutrient-rich soil. The site is surrounded by woods, trails and conservation land.
What has the Community Farm brought to the community so far? The farm has built awareness about the importance of how and where our food is grown though public discussions, film series and the presence of the gardens at the schools. Many of the elementary students believed food came from the grocery store until they saw tomatoes growing at their school garden.
We have donated the majority of our fresh produce to the Needham Community Council Food Pantry since we began our pilot program, and plan to continue to donate a percentage of our production. We have provided adult education classes, multigenerational gardening programs and many opportunities for community building. We have offered our classes free of charge to low-income families.
The NCF has built partnerships with and Minuteman Regional High School, which have allowed students to spend time learning and working at the farm.
What would you like to see the Community Farm become in the future for Needham? As our community involvement expands, I would like to see the farm become a regular destination for Needham residents of all ages. Whether it be for a class, to help out in the gardens, or to spend time in the meditation area or socializing with other community members, I hope people will stop by anytime and find joy in just being at the farm.
I would like our classes to provide people with the confidence and the incentive to implement practices we model at the farm, such as organic gardening and lawn care, composting and water preservation, at their homes. At a higher level, I hope that the farm program has a real impact on the way people view their role in the climate solution. It would be great to know that the NCF played a part in creating a community of environmentally thoughtful people who understand the impact of their actions, and make better choices because of this.
What will funds raised at the dinner go toward? Up until now, the farm program has been run entirely by volunteers. This has limited our ability to provide the variety of community programming we would like. This has also prevented us from maximizing the production potential at our new site. Therefore, the funds we raise at the event will support the hiring of our part-time farmer/educator.
How can someone get involved with the Needham Community Farm? There are many ways for people of all ages to get involved with the Needham Community Farm, and we always welcome volunteers! During the growing season, volunteers are welcome to come help in the fields. There are often special projects that come up like building a shed or raised beds. Aside from physical farm work, we have many committees that we need help with, no previous knowledge required, such as Marketing, Social Networking, Education, Grant Writing and Fundraising. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact us at email@example.com or go to our website, www.needhamfarm.org and click on the "Contact Us" tab.
As farm supporter, what's your favorite farm-fresh fruit or vegetable? Before the NCF, I had never tasted Swiss Chard. It has become a favorite for me because the plants are so productive, it's really healthy, and my kids will actually eat it.