There is an amazingly wondrous stone wall being erected along Route 106 on the Halifax/Plympton line, a wall that defines one of the best places to find local and organic produce on the South Shore: Billingsgate Farm.
On just about any day, with one look around, you’ll locate “Farmer Pete” Reading, tending to any one of the hundred jobs for which he’s responsible at the busy farm, and his wife of 38 years, Lynn, tending to another hundred inside the farm stand. Pete has been working that field, as well as many others in that neck of the woods since he first helped his dad pick corn as a kid in 1964.
But Pete and Lynn are the managers, not the owners, of this bucolic land. It’s hard to believe, but until recently these hardworking locals never owned their own farmland. That changed in February, however, when the Readings purchased their own plot: the 74-acre C&C Reading Farm, LLC, formerly known as the Hayward Dairy Farm, located in West Bridgewater on East Center Street.
“We struggled for more than 14 years to buy a farm, but everything was too expensive. Then we got the opportunity of a lifetime. This is really a dream come true for us,” said Pete.
The Readings had been in contact with the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) for years, seeking land for farming. They received help from MDAR in this process, as well as from the nonprofit The Trust for Public Land, the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Program, the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and the previous owners, Tara Realty Associates.
The Trust for Public Land purchased the property from Tara, which had previously considered the land for several commercial development plans including a big box retail store. Following acquisition, the Commonwealth purchased an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) on the property. The APR guarantees that the land can only be used for farming, making the land less valuable to potential developers. This allowed the Readings to purchase the farm for a reasonable price.
The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than $34 billion in public funds for conservation. “In Massachusetts, we’re excited to see a strong consumer interest in locally-grown food,” said Darci Schofield, project manager at The Trust. “But many farmers can’t afford to buy land. The Trust for Public Land is committed to preserving local farmland so communities can have access to locally-grown food, farmers can achieve their dreams, and we can preserve beautiful natural spaces for future generations.”
After the closing, which was put off a couple times to get all the pieces in place, the Readings felt sweet relief. “We were thrilled and went right over to ‘our farm,’ said a short prayer, and kissed the soil! We felt like we accomplished something, a life long dream!” Lynn said.
“Projects like this one make me more committed to working on not only protecting prime agricultural soils for future farming generations but on actually connecting those farmers to particular pieces,” added Chris Chisolm of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
If you’re a fan of Billingsgate, like I am, fret not. The Readings remain the managers.
Lynn explained, “Nothing will change. There wouldn’t be C&C Reading Farm if we didn’t have our home base at Billingsgate. We have worked VERY hard this winter and will have a new product that we feel customers will be happy with. Our two operations will be treated equally.” The Readings will sell their crops at both locations.
So now, instead of a parking lot, chain pharmacy, or other eyesore, you’ll see a local farmer working his field, a field that you can trust will now be used only for farming. Toot your horn and give a wave to the new landowners!
“It is a BEAUTIFUL piece of property. The people in West Bridgewater and surrounding towns will be PROUD of what it develops into,” Lynn added.
We already are.
Billingsgate Farm www.billingsgatefarm.com
The Trust for Public Land www.tpl.org
by: Mike Gioscia is a filmmaker, writer, drummer, chicken wrangler, and Board Member at The Soule Homestead in Middleboro. He runs a Sustainable Consulting business called TheGreenDad.com.