[EDITED 9/22: Due to inclement weather, Needham Community Farm’s Open House/Open Farm has been POSTPONED to next Saturday, Sept 30 between 1PM-4PM.]
The Needham Community Farm, a collaborative effort that uses community supported agriculture (CSA) shares to offset the cost of produce distribution to food pantries and to residents at Needham Housing Authority sites, is a real-life “swords to ploughshares” story.
The farm was first established in front of the Newman School in 2008, but today resides at the former Nike missile site near the transfer station. The large, open field, once home to first- generation Cold War defensive missile silos long since removed, has been replaced by garden beds and beehives.
The dirt used in the field was transported from Needham High School in 2004 when the foundation for the addition was excavated. Spread and compacted by bulldozers, the earth took a long time to become farmable, said the farm’s vice president, Joe Leghorn.
Today the farm uses one-and-a-half acres for production and 150 raised beds, donated by the town in 2023, half of which are used to produce the CSA shares that underwrite the cost of running the farm.
Courtney Sodano, the farm’s development director, said 120 raised beds were leased during the 2023 growing season, exceeding expectations. The unrented beds were gardened communally, with the produce donated to food pantries.
“The garden beds have a range of people out there, from long-time gardeners to people who are new to gardening and ask a lot of questions and then maybe join our gardening classes,” Sodano said.
In addition to growing crops, the farm offers gardening classes and workshops for adults and children. The sold-out 2023 offerings included “Grow Your Own Microgreens” and “The Buzz About Bees.”
A 4-foot-by-12-foot bed can be rented for the growing season for $100. Fifteen beds are offered free to those who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There are also raised beds that are higher than others to accommodate those with physical challenges.
This summer Leghorn said he was surprised to see a Needham police cruiser at the farm and feared they were investigating an incident of vandalism. In fact, the police rented and cultivated two raised beds.
“People can grow almost whatever they want other than brambles and cannabis,“ said Leghorn. Brambles, like blackberries and raspberries, spread vines and thorns that overwhelm other plants.
The farm uses organic practices but has not gone through the expensive and complicated process of certification. Wildflowers are cultivated both to attract insects that are predators to pests and to attract pollinators.
A member of the volunteer board that guides the nonprofit farm, Leghorn is a retired corporate trial attorney. He acquired a passion for gardening that started when he was 5 years old and gardened with his grandfather. “The reason I treasure those times is that there wasn’t anything that I messed up that couldn’t be fixed,” he said, “My grandfather subtly taught me the important lessons of life —patience, observation, problem solving.”
Leghorn said a camaraderie has developed among the gardeners. They water and weed for one another as needed and plan social events through a listserv Sodano put together.
On Saturday, Sept. 23, the farm will host an open house from 1-4. “It’s a great time to see the farm because it’s still harvest season for us,” said Sodano.
Visitors will be able to tour the field and learn more about its history and how it runs today. Children can participate in a scavenger hunt, seed art and plant a pea shoot or sprout that they can take home. Visitors will also be able to register to win a $250 Wegmans gift card. And naturally, the farm’s harvest will be available for the public to sample.