Winchester’s Wright-Locke Farm

The Wright-Locke Farm located at 78 Ridge Street in Winchester keeps expanding. The property, now owned by the town and leased by the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy, was originally established in 1638 by Philemon Wright, and was owned privately (by the Wrights from 1638-1800, the Lockes from 1800-1960s or so, and the Hamiltons from 1960s-2007) until 2007/2008 when the town purchased it.

Most of the farmland was to be sold off to pay back residents after they supported an override to purchase the available property from the Hamilton family when the last living member passed away. The town had the opportunity because the farm received tax breaks for many years.

It took some time, but the town did eventually sell 12.5 acres adjacent to the farm to the Wright-Locke Farm Land Trust who promised not to develop the land. Today, the farm continues to grow and add more educational programs.

One goal they hope to accomplish, according to Kimberly Kneeland, Community Engagement Manager & Development Manager, is the construction of an All Seasons Barn.

“The barn is designed to fit in with our existing historic buildings and to meld with the landscape so it is not imposing. It will resemble a gable-ended barn much like our 1827 Barn and Squash house,” Kneeland said via email recently.

She added the barn would be located on the site of the old dilapidated mustard-colored house at 82 Ridge St.

“We did look at the possibility of renovating this 1970’s house to suit our needs,” Kneeland continued,” but with the state of disrepair from it being vacant for so long, it was going to be costly as well as very hard to meet our programming needs. This site is actually owned by the farm as opposed to the Town of Winchester – it was part of the land that we were able to purchase a couple years ago, and now it’s time to do something with it!”

It won’t be cheap, however, as the barn is expected to cost $3.2M. The money will all come from donations; nothing from the town. The conservancy has already raised slightly more than $2M and Kneeland said they hope to finish fundraising by the beginning of the summer so they can start construction without delay come the fall.

“We’re hoping that the majority of construction will be conducted between October 2019 and July 2020 so we will minimize the impact on our seasonal programming. It’s a big project, but we’re confident in the team we’ve assembled to make our design and dreams come to life quickly and efficiently.”

Kneeland added there’s already $250,000 on the table.

“One of our donors has offered to match donations up to 250K until Jan. 31 and so right now, every contribution has twice the power to make a difference.”

Anyone who wants to donate can make a check out to “Wright-Locke Land Trust” and send it to P.O. Box 813 Winchester, MA 01890 or can log on to their website at www.WLFarm.org/all-seasons-barn. For pledges and any questions about the project, contact Executive Director Archie McIntyre at 781-760-1017 or at amcintyre@wlfarm.org.

Once constructed, the All Seasons Barn will be climate-controlled. Kneeland admitted it’s one of the main reasons they need the building.

“All of our current public spaces cannot be heated and, therefore, all of our programming is forced to shut down from November – April essentially. We’re also looking into sustainable energy solutions for the All Seasons Barn that will hopefully actually reduce the overall footprint of the Farm.”

When asked about using solar power/solar panels, Kneeland said they’re hoping to make solar part of the construction, “but there are a lot of complicated details, regulations, and hurdles that we are trying to get past right now.”

As of now, without the new barn, programming is limited at the farm during the winter months. It basically turns the farm into a spring, summer and early fall destination instead of a year-round one. They’re not totally shutdown, though, even in the winter.

“We’re still open to the public to walk on our trails and visit our animals. A handful of us work year-round (there’s actually a ton of behind the scenes work to do during the winter),” Kneeland noted.

But essentially being closed off to the public for half the year really hurts the farm’s income.

“This half-year schedule means we have to bring in all of our income in six months time, train new key staff each year, and we miss out on so many opportunities because we cannot operate in the winter.”

If they are able to raise the remaining part of the $3.2M, Kneeland said they could better work with the schools during the times school is actually in session (read: not the summer). She said even now they have school classes inquiring about making visits, but without a warm retreat they can’t safely host groups in the winter.

Of course, the barn is also a very popular destination for groups to host events or for the public to host parties or receptions. Kneeland said they get many requests, but have to turn many people away, “ because no one is excited to host a ‘parka party’ in zero degree temperatures.”

She added: “Because of the limited window, we also book up our existing space with all of our educational programs, workshops, and rental events very quickly, which isn’t a bad thing. However, having only one public indoor space (the 1827 Barn) means that, in the case of bad weather, we can’t double book the farm…we’ve had to turn away class visits and service trips because of the chance of lightning.”

She said having a “second safe gathering space means that we’ll be able to increase our programming and accessibility in the summer as well as in the winter.”

Another positive aspect of the All Season Barn would be the addition of a teaching kitchen.

“Cooking is such an important link between food, the environment, and our health and nutrition,” Kneeland acknowledged. “We’ll be able to host and teach on a whole other level by having the ability to cook and share local food.”

She also pointed out that now cooking and gathering around food is “at the heart of creating community,” so she said they’re excited for the events and supportive groups that a kitchen will catalyze.

“We could see a gardening and cooking series for people living with chronic illness or eating disorders – the farm is a real agent for healing, restoration, and discovery and the All Seasons Barn will truly help to increase our positive community impact,” Kneeland added.

Not surprisingly, adding in this new barn could increase the number of people visiting the farm on a daily basis. Fortunately, Kneeland said that part of the project is to improve their existing parking lot. She added how there were some events the farm couldn’t accommodate even if they turned their fields into parking lots, but mentioned the generosity of St. Eulalia’s Parish for making their lot accessible on the busier days (and when soccer isn’t in season, the Mullen Field parking lot is available, as well).

As it stands, the farm continues to grow even without the All Seasons Barn. Kneeland noted how “day-to-day visitation and participation at community events has been increasing each year since we opened to the public.”

She continued: “I anticipate this continuing to be the case as more people learn about the farm and what a resource it is. The new building will help us accommodate the increase, with more facilities and the ability to provide year-round opportunities.”

With as popular as the farm has become, it may be surprising to find out that, according to Kneeland, “most people had no idea the farm was here because it had been blocked from view during the time of the Hamiltons with a very tall hedgerow.”

It’s safe to say just about everyone knows now.

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