The other day I was out for my usual Saturday morning ride. It’s starting to turn to fall here, so the early hours are getting chilly. This is okay, though, since I prefer it to riding in the heat, and after an hour or so it’ll be warm enough anyway. A long loop through Sherborn out to Medfield, then back through West Roxbury and Newton. On the road through Newton I went by a place I haven’t seen much lately but was familiar with as a kid, the Angino farm, now known as the Newton Community Farm.
The story goes that when my dad was a kid, Jerry Angino was the truant officer for the Newton public schools, and got to know my dad in an official capacity pretty well. Later, when Jerry took over the family farm (it had been owned by Anginos since about 1917), and my dad was my dad, we’d go over to visit him at the farm. It’s not a large lot—only about two acres altogether—but to a kid it seemed a huge space.
One of my earliest clear memories—possibly the earliest I can be reasonably sure of when it happened—was the day when I was about four years old when we went to the farm to pick out a kitten from a litter that the Anginos’ cat had had. The kittens were in the chicken coop—you can just make it out in the photo, on the left, the squat rectangular shed—and we picked a little calico kitten.
When I was, actually, I’m not sure, maybe six or seven, I got lost in the corn field. I remember that the Anginos kept a row of sunflowers growing along the edge of the cornfield. I always liked looking at them because they were so huge. At least it seemed that way to me—the corn and the flowers were much taller than I was. So I went wandering into the rows, and came upon the scarecrow in the middle of the field, which was quite surprising and actually kind of scary.
We did, of course, take home some of the produce. The Anginos had a farm stand to sell what they grew. The farm was the last commercial farm in the city of Newton. It is my memory that we got mostly corn and tomatoes, proper yellow corn-flavored corn, not the candy corn that seems to be bulk of what’s available these days. Occasionally there would be a tomato worm in the bag, as a free bonus.
The farmhouse at that time did not have central heating (I don’t know if this has been updated since), and much of the heat for the house was provided by an enormous cast-iron wood-burning stove that took up much of the kitchen area. It is said that the house was originally built in 1700 or thereabouts. This plot of land has been farmed more or less continuously for 300 years. After Jerry died his kids didn’t want the farm, but fortunately, they were able to make a deal with the city to keep it as it was. So although the Anginos are gone, the land is still producing food. One day Jerry told my dad that he’d turned down an offer of a million dollars for the land. This was in the early 1970s, and already large open lots in the city were getting scarce. But Jerry wanted to keep farming. He could take the money, he said, but what would he do with himself?
I think this place is part of why I still think it is important to support local farmers as much as possible. If farms like this disappear, then all we will have left is industrial-grade produce from huge corporate farms, trucked in from far away. We still have a choice. Around here, at least, there are an array of farmers’ markets, farm stands, and CSAs offering a pretty wide variety of food products from the region. So take advantage while you can.