Waltham Blog - March 2019

March 10, 2019

Yesterday I attended a town hall meeting

Here is the agenda:

The agenda is slightly confused. The fourth bullet under 2. should read:
Manager of Member Engagement & Operations for Grow Native Massachusetts, Karen Gibson/Manager of Programs
and another bullet added after that one:
Founding member of GROW community garden, Scott Shurr

Here is the fact sheet that was distributed:

Links on the fact sheet:

After the welcome by Councillor Nabulime, the second part extended beyond 1:40. These were talks of varying length by representatives of groups with offices in the Field Station building, and users of the surrounding land.

My presentation on behalf of GROW, the community garden, was added at the last minute, so I did not have much prepared. If I had thought about it more deeply, I would have started with a little more about the origins of this group. Much credit needs to be given to the late attorney and activist Eugene Burkart, who in the summer of 1993 reached out to the University and arranged to lease a portion of the land. The plots were first plowed in the fall of that year, and the first year of gardening was 1994. GROW was the organization that started the reuse of the property, and paved the way for larger projects such as Waltham Fields Community Farm which started farming in 1995. Over the 25 years of GROW, more than 400 families, two thirds of which were Waltham residents, gardened the 15 by 15 foot plots. As of 2018, we had 140 plots, serving 60 families from Waltham, and 45 more from other communities. Several organizations, Opportunities For Inclusion, and WCI, also have plots.

In my opinion, the address by Senator Michael Barrett was the most important part of the meeting. My initial point of view, that the significance of the building was small compared to that of the land, was overturned by his explanation. The University minimizes the impact of eviction of all tenants from the building. They rationalize the eviction by saying that the organizations can move to their newly acquired campus in a different city. That may be possible for some of the tenants. However, it makes little sense for the offices of the Waltham Land Trust to be somewhere other than Waltham, and even less sense to have the staff and volunteers running a farming operation in Waltham to be located elsewhere. Complete closure of the building would quite likely spell the eventual end of use of the land by the tenant organizations. The building is old, and needs significant work, but it would make sense to invest in it to the point where it would not cause losses for the University.

The senator's second major point was that to save the field station, its continuation needs to be broadened from a purely Waltham issue, to a regional problem. Most of the current tenants, such as Boston Area Gleaners, Massachusetts Farmers Markets, and the Boston Area Climate Experiment, impact a much wider area than just Waltham. It is important to have a central office where these environmental groups can continue to thrive. We need to make everyone who would be impacted know of the consequences of the loss of this resource.

There were some interesting questions and responses in the last part of the meeting. Several individuals who did not have a slot in part 2 spoke. The importance of the Boston Area Climate Experiment was explained. Someone asked if the City of Waltham could acquire the property by emminent domain. That is not legally possible. Since the mayor and city council is meeting in secret sessions with the state and the university, nothing could be said at the meeting about how that negotiation is proceeding. It was interesting to hear how other organizations that had offices in the building have relocated, due to the uncertainty of obtaining a long term lease.

What can you do? Contact your state representative to voice your support for keeping the field station open. For my part of Waltham, they are Thomas M. Stanley Thomas.Stanley@mahouse.gov and senator, Michael J. Barrett Mike.Barrett@masenate.gov. Identify the officials for your community, and tell them how you feel. Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the $20 million that had been allocated for building a new sustainability center at the station. Comment on his website about how important this facility is to you. Write to University Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy at Office of the Chancellor, UMass Amherst, 374 Whitmore Building, Amherst, MA 01003. Contact any of the tenant groups listed above to ask what you can do to help. If you went to U Mass or are a current student, politely express to them how important it is to continue to support the tenants.

I hope this little summary is helpful. I'd be happy to add any details that others who did attend think are important.

Please send comments to Scott Shurr at sshurr@gmail.com.

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