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Community farm is a labor of love

  • Subject: [cg] Community farm is a labor of love
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 19:33:27 -0700 (PDT)

Telegram & Gazette, Brigham Hill, Massachusetts
August 14, 2006

Brigham Hill Community Farm a labor of love
By Pamela H. Sacks

As the midday sun beat down, Maddie Mulvihills nimble
fingers tied up a tomato plant. She and nine other
teenagers were weeding, tying and cutting vegetables
at Brigham Hill Community Farm in North Grafton.
Members of Young Neighbors in Action, they had
traveled from Garden City, N.Y., to spend a week
volunteering as field hands. 

I feel like were all really fortunate, and we have
to give back, said Maddie, her long ponytail pulled
through the back of her New York Yankees baseball cap.
Youre actually getting your hands dirty. It is hard
work, but its rewarding. 

Those were welcome words to Ken Crater, who oversees
the nonprofit Community Harvest Project Inc., which
grows eight different vegetables on about seven acres
at the farm. 

Brigham Hill, in operation since 2001, produces
between 25,000 and 40,000 pounds of produce a year.
All of it is donated to the Worcester County Food
Bank, which arranges to have it distributed directly
to area shelters, food pantries and other agencies
helping the hungry in 60 cities and towns in Central
Massachusetts. People who might otherwise consume only
canned vegetables get a chance to enjoy fresh picked
summer and butternut squash, cabbage, broccoli,
eggplant, peppers and zucchini, as well as tomatoes. 

They are our largest nonprofit donor of fresh
produce, Jean McMurray, the food banks executive
director, said of Brigham Hill. We work with a lot of
local farmers, and they are very generous, but Brigham
Hill is growing food just for us. We are very

Volunteers, such as Maddie, 17, and her friends, are
the backbone of the farm, said the 51-year-old Mr.
Crater. Each year, about 3,000 people of all ages 
many from schools, colleges, churches, civic groups
and corporations  plant, weed, pick, wash and pack
the vegetables. The farm has just two paid staff
members: Ken Dion, the farm manager, and Maia Wentrup,
the volunteer coordinator. Both are part time. 

For us, its a matter of piecing together all these
disparate groups to make a farm work, Mr. Crater
said. He added that the planting and picking are
sometimes part of the school curriculum or serve as
community service. Companies have used the experience
to build teamwork. Each takes away something very
personal. Its part of the reason were here. 

Mr. Crater, a lanky, laid-back man with a close-cut
beard, is the vice president and treasurer of the
Community Harvest Project. But that hardly describes
his role in the enterprise. Indeed, he is a story in

Mr. Crater, who grew up in New Jersey, dropped out of
school in the eighth grade. He was bored. The public
school system cant adapt well to individual needs,
he remarked. I followed my own interests and learned

He moved to Massachusetts at the age of 17. Three
years later, in 1975, he and his brother, Steve,
founded Control Technology Corp., a Hopkinton-based
manufacturer of electronic systems for industrial
automation. As the company hummed along, Mr. Crater
joined the board of the Worcester County Food Bank. 

He was working on organizational issues and raising
money when he was asked to assist Bill and Rose
Abbott, an elderly couple who had been using
volunteers to raise food for the hungry on their
15-acre spread in Hopkinton, Elmwood Farm. Mr. Crater
formed a volunteer board to take on the task. Mr.
Abbott died in 1997, his wife in 2000. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Crater and his wife, Peg Ferraro, who
live on Brigham Hill Road, learned that 11 acres
contiguous to their property would be up for sale. 

The great love Peg and I have for the town and the
social linkages that exist made us want to bring the
program here, Mr. Crater said. We wanted to see what
we could do, and it made the board disposed to use it
as a test case. 

The sale went through in 2000, and the couple, with
the assistance of an advisory committee, immediately
started drawing up plans for an energy efficient, low
maintenance barn and a greenhouse. Today, the
cream-colored barn serves as headquarters for the farm
and a meeting place for community events and

In the view of Mr. Crater and Ms. Ferraro, Brigham
Hill not only produces food, it reconnects people to
the land. 

As a culture, we are becoming too detached from the
sources of our food, Mr. Crater said. We have kids
come and look at a cabbage and say, Whats that? We
say, You know what cole slaw is, right? Even adults
get more of a connection to the food chain, coming to
a place like this. 

The farm is developing sustainable techniques to
conserve water, maintain soil fertility and reduce the
use of pesticides and herbicides. The idea is to
eventually replicate Brigham Hills mission and
methods by creating similar farms around the state.
Among other things, it would spread an implicit
message about the role of air, water and soil in human

With all our technology and the advancements we
benefit from, it comes down to those three elements,
Mr. Crater advised. If we lose any one of them, all
else comes crashing to a halt. 

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