More than a century and a half ago, Brook Farm served as an agrocultural and intellectual hotbed in West Roxbury.
Though the Brook Farm Institute for Agroculture and Education, inspired by Transcendentalist ideals, never totally flourished, its run certainly left a legacy in the Parkway.
The site was used in a number of ways afterwards - including as Civil War training grounds, and as an orphanage - and lends its name to several non-profits in the community. The site now stands as a National Historic Landmark.
Now, a West Roxbury-based group is hoping to rekindle the neighborhood's historic connection to the land by establishing a community farm on the grounds. The proposed project, headed by West Roxbury resident Bill Tuttle, would see organic, sustainable, local food produced and sold in farm share memberships and at local farmers' markets across the city.
It would also seek to maintain the educational element by featuring, in theory, cooking classes, music and drama activities, and youth farming activities. The farm would be run by a paid, professional farmer, and it would be staffed by a volunteer workforce.
"If you look at the history of West Roxbury, it was full of agrocultural activity," Tuttle said. "It would be great if a little, teeny sliver of it was still here."
The problem? That same historic connection that Tuttle wants to expand upon has rendered most of the Brook Farm land as state-owned. That means that any real development on the grounds will have to come with state approval, which could prove tricky to garner.
Tuttle said his group, which consists of about 20 people between West Roxbury and Roslindale have been meeting regularly since last fall, is just now preparing to talk to the Massachusetts' Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) about the idea, and figures that a discussion will occur within two months. (Tuttle, however, will not be able to take part in these discussions, because he is a state employee himself.)
While there is perhaps some reason for optimism given that the DCR is willing to discuss it, a major stumbling block could stand in their way: a complete archaeological survey of the area is yet to be completed.
Bob Murphy, the President of the West Roxbury Historical Society, does not support the project just yet for that reason.
"Now's not the appropriate time," he said.
Murphy does think the project would make for an appropriate and interesting use of the land, but does not think it should be undertaken until such a survey has been completed.
For his part, Tuttle does not expect the project to gain momentum for some time. Even in the best-case scenario for his group, he said, the project probably would not get off the ground until 2012. He added if DCR says that the project cannot be created, Tuttle intends to be completely respectful of the decision.
He said, ideally the farm can be established while following guidelines set by the state.
"We hope there's some way to respect DCR's mission with the property," he said.
The largest property on Brook Farm not owned by the state is a cemetery, the Gardens at Gesthsemane. The state-owned property literally encloses the Gardens, thereby rendering the opinions of Alan MacKinnon, president of the Gardens, very important to the project's potential development.
"I'm on-board with the project," MacKinnon said. "This would be a great use of state land."
MacKinnon did say he has some concerns as the project moves forward, but did not wish to elaborate at this time. He said he feels comfortable in presenting them to Tuttle, and expects that his concerns will be respected.
Neighborhood civic leaders such as West Roxbury Neighborhood Council President Larry Costello and Charles River/Spring Valley Neighborhood Association President Dennis Orthman, wanted to know more about the proposal before commenting.