Her office is a natural fit, tied to the outdoors
DOVER — D.A. Hayden’s sit-down office is an 8- by 14-foot, century-old, former caretaker’s sunporch adorned with a toy goat named Feta, an architectural blueprint of a heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs, and an airy pen for a goldendoodle puppy.
It’s a bright, sunny space where baseball caps — each with meaning — hang on the thin walls.
A crabapple tree that turned spectacularly pink this spring stands between her windows and a winding, woodsy road. That’s where Hayden fiddles with the computer on her desk, at least when there’s power. Her true office is outside this room, and its dimensions are quite a bit larger — 3,040 acres, in fact, spread across 17 properties in Eastern Massachusetts held by the Trustees of Reservations, the world’s oldest regional land trust.
“I love the land, so this is a sweet spot,” says Hayden, who is the Trustees’ director for the Charles River Valley.
That 8- by 14-foot rectangular room, attached to a big barn at 109-acre Powisset Farm, is ground zero for her work at protected sites such as Noanet Woodlands across the street, Rocky Woods in Medfield, and Chestnut Hill Farm in Southborough.
There are more than a dozen others, and Hayden — effusive and energized as she strides around Powisset — says she routinely works 10-hour days and a fair number of weekends to make these properties more attractive, engaging, and accessible to the public.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and it’s going too fast,” Hayden says of open space in Massachusetts and elsewhere. “I am fulfilled by this work, but I'm also frustrated by it. Because this is a not-for-profit, we can’t get everything done that we would like to.”
But in her two years on the job, Hayden says, she’s been determined to pump new life into the old idea of enjoying nature for nature’s sake. At Powisset Farm, a potpourri of programming includes cooking classes for children and adults, a summer day camp, an educational barnyard, and weekly farm dinners with live music and craft beers.
“People who come here aren’t looking for things. They’re looking for experiences,” Hayden says. “We have to have an educational element in everything we do.”
Hayden, a native of Long Island, brings a lengthy background in marketing, advertising, and public relations to the position, jobs that took her from Manhattan to a converted distillery in Kentucky, to Boston’s Back Bay.
“I was always the woman in New York City who planted flowers around the trees,” she says with a smile. “I’ve always just loved the outdoors.”
But she had never worked for a nonprofit organization. Even though Hayden had ridden a horse on Powisset Farm in the past, she did not know much about a place with 300 years of history that once had been owned by Amelia Peabody, a Boston Brahmin who raised prize Yorkshire pigs here.
“Sometimes in life you know you’re ready for a change,” Hayden says. “Every day in this job is totally different.”
Hayden seems to know her way around every blade of grass, every strategically planted flower, and every out-building on the farm. She appears at home in the still-working piggery built decades ago by Peabody, just as she is in the small, formal office that she recently had painted for the first time in about 25 years.
As Hayden walks through the piggery, where busy newborns scurried close to their nursing mothers, she explains that the farm uses the piglets to teach the many children among Powisset’s visitors.
Two greenhouses are a few dozen yards away, giving nurture to onions, tomatoes, herbs, and 11 varieties of lettuce, among other produce, that will be sold as part of the farm’s community agriculture program.
“Our objective is to get people out here, get them to understand where their food is coming from,” she says.
However, getting more people to Powisset is challenging. Many of its 60,000 annual visitors are repeats, and many city dwellers do not know this rural oasis exists, only 25 miles from downtown Boston and just a few miles from Route 128.
“About three times a week I’m told, ‘I never heard of this farm,’ ” Hayden says with a sigh. “I don’t want to hear that. We need to get this place on the map.”
She welcomes complaints as part of her job, including one from a person who simply walked in off the street, opened her old wooden door, and began grousing.
“If someone’s complaining, that means they’re engaged in what’s going on,” Hayden says, smiling at the memory.
When she’s alone, Hayden can look around the scant space in her office to remind herself about what’s important. There’s the word “Gather,” molded into flowing cursive letters, placed on a windowsill that speaks to the power of community. There’s a wildly oversize pair of sunglasses nearby. And then there’s Blithe, the goldendoodle.
“She’s our new receptionist,” Hayden says, nodding toward Blithe. “She’s been as good as gold, but she’s developed a barking problem.”
Hayden later walked a short distance from the office to the repurposed cattle barn, where Nicole Lewis, the farm engagement manager, led eight women in a cooking class. Two kinds of pesto were on the agenda, as well as some Green Goddess dressing.
The aroma was inviting, the women engaged, and the art of culinary creation coming together above the barn’s original wooden floorboards. The students looked up from their work as a woman wearing a big blue sun hat stopped to savor the scene.
“I’m D.A. Hayden,” the woman said. “Thank you for coming.”