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Concord’s purchase of McGrath farm will keep tradition going

Volunteers harvested the last crops and staffed the farm stand on Barretts Mill Road in Concord after owner Patrick McGrath (bottom left, in family photo) died  last year at age 64. The McGrath family recently sold the farm to the town.

photos by Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe/file 2012

Volunteers harvested the last crops and staffed the farm stand on Barretts Mill Road in Concord after owner Patrick McGrath (bottom left, in family photo) died last year at age 64. The McGrath family recently sold the farm to the town.

Ending a 100-year family tradition of farming, the last parcel of land owned by the McGraths on Barretts Mill Road in Concord has been sold to the town.

But while the family will no longer sell fruits and vegetables from its farm stand, the land will continue to be used for farming for generations to come, officials say.

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The town recently purchased nearly 2 acres of farmland from the McGrath family, and will renovate a house on the property to provide affordable housing for a farmer who will be working the fields as part of a community operation.

“The owner died last summer and right away there was a lot of interest in making it available to farmers,’’ said Town Manager Christopher Whelan. “The Agriculture Commission thought it would be a great opportunity.’’

The property became available when Patrick McGrath died at the age of 64 last year. Susan Davies, a cousin, said she and Patrick’s brother, Michael McGrath, decided that selling the land to the town was the best option.

“We definitely think it’s a good idea, and are hopeful farming will continue on the property,’’ Davies said. “His goal was to keep the land farmed, and I know this is what he’d want, and would love the idea that housing would be made available for farmers.’’

The farm’s importance to the community became clear after McGrath died, when neighbors and longtime customers joined together to volunteer at the farm stand so that his final crop could be sold.

Colleen Giddings, who lives on Barretts Mill Road near the McGrath property, was among the volunteers who worked at the stand nearly every day last summer. She said the neighborhood is thrilled the property will continue to be used for farming, and hopes a new stand will open next year.

“It’s been terrible to see it sit there idle all summer,’’ Giddings said. “It certainly has left a hole in the neighborhood.’’

The property is surrounded by nearly 40 acres of publicly owned farmland, much of it acquired from the McGrath family over the years to protect it from development, Whelan said. This was the last piece owned by the McGraths, and it sits across the street from the historic Colonel James Barrett House, which played a key role in the Revolutionary War. The Barrett house is part of the Minute Man National Historic Park.

Davies said the McGrath family owned the land since 1905, and farmed there until Patrick McGrath’s death.

The McGraths and town officials negotiated a purchase agreement, and residents at Concord’s annual Town Meeting this spring authorized the acquisition of the farmhouse, barn, greenhouse, farm stand, and storage building along with 1.9 acres. The sale became official earlier this month, Whelan said.

The town appropriated $925,000 for the project. It paid $851,000 for the property, and has about $74,000 left for renovations.

Whelan said affordable-housing advocates have committed an additional $200,000 to renovate the farmhouse into two units of housing that will be made available to a farmer and farm worker at an affordable monthly rent.

Work is expected to begin on the renovations next month, and a request for proposals from individuals or groups wishing to rent the farmstead will be issued in November. The goal is to have the farmhouse and about 17 of the town’s 40 acres leased to a local farmer in time for spring planting, Whelan said.

Terry Rothermel, a past president of the Concord Housing Foundation, said his group raises money for affordable-housing efforts in town, and thought this was a worthy one to take on.

“Concord as a town has done a wonderful job in preserving farmland and open space, and we’ve also done a good job on affordable housing,’’ Rothermel said. “But what we haven’t done enough of, in my mind, is preserving farmsteads and affordable housing for farmers.’’

Rothermel said there are still several farms in Concord but their numbers are diminishing.

“We pride ourselves on our farms and this is a very important site for a local farm stand,’’ he said. “The neighborhood is quite in favor of preserving that opportunity.’’

Davies said while the decision to sell made the most sense, it was still a difficult one for the McGrath family, knowing that it would close a century-long chapter of farming for the family.

Michael McGrath leases about an acre from the town so he can still do some farming, but at age 70, it was too much for him to keep the whole property, Davies said.

Davies, who said she grew up on a farm on Sandy Pond Road, said she hopes whoever the town selects to lease the land will have the experience and know-how to successfully run a farm.

“It’s challenging,’’ Davies said. “It’s the end of a long history of that land being farmed by the McGraths. It’s hard to say goodbye to everything so fast.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.
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