About Robbins Farm
The agricultural history of Robbins Farm is well known in Arlington, and documented in Oakes Plimpton's book Robbins Farm Park (Penobscot Press, 3rd Edition, 2007).
This book is a treasure trove of Arlington history, telling the fascinating story of the life of Nathan Robbins, gentleman farmer and true Yankee eccentric. It recounts how his beloved farm came to be preserved as an equally beloved Park, now well known for the remarkable views it affords of Boston. Oral histories, letters, newspaper articles, and over 65 illustrations and photos document the story of the Robbins' unusual marriage, his love for the land and a disappearing way of life he shared with the children who played there.
The new edition includes new stories and pictures and brings us up to date. Written by Friends of Robbins Farm Park founder and historian Oakes Plimpton. To purchase a copy, follow this link to the Friends of Robbins Farm Park web site.
Victory Gardens at Robbins Farm
During World War II, soon after the park was acquired by the Town in 1942, space was appropriated for Victory Gardens. The program continued through at least 1946. From Robbins Farm Park:
"At Robbins Farm the past year there were 66 Victory Gardens, which produced 1,100 bushels of vegetables, 600 pounds of pumpkin and winter squash, and small quantities of other unusual vegetables; from this product 9,108 pints of food were canned; the cost to the gardeners was $593.75; the value of the crop was estimated at $3,352. There were 234 members of the gardeners' families who worked on this area, all of these persons being neighbors living in the vicinity of Robbins Farm."
In this photo from the book, Ralph Sexton, Gordon Farrow and Earle Burke open their Victory Garden in the spring of 1946. The plot is near the location of Robbins Farm Garden.
The Arlington Food Co-op Garden
"Food grown with lots of love, and just enough discipline."
From the early days of the Arlington Food Co-op, rotating groups of members maintained a vegetable garden in Patricia Watson's yard on Addison Street. On Saturday mornings, member gardeners would work in the garden, finishing around noon with a harvest which would be taken to the store, where the produce was immediately scooped up by the garden's fans. Knowledgeable members knew that the freshest produce is the best produce.
After the Co-op closed, the Co-op gardeners maintained the garden by continuing to work every Saturday morning, but the harvest was then distributed equally among the gardeners instead of being sold. Late every winter, the gardeners would meet for brunch on a cold Sunday soon after the seed catalogs arrived. Crops for the following summer would be selected, and everyone was granted one "folly" - which resulted in the introduction of "exotic" crops like okra, sweet potatoes, and kohlrabi. Some of the follies - fresh soybeans, arugula, and rainbow chard - became garden favorites.
The Co-op garden had roughly 1,000 sf of growing space, arranged more or less in neatly planted rows. The garden produced more than enough produce for the five or six families typically involved, and in peak season there was always a surplus, which was given to friends and neighbors.
The Co-op garden was not only about growing vegetables, but also fostered a real atmosphere of learning, experimentation, and community. Dozens of new gardeners and their children learned the techniques of organic gardening, composting, seed-starting, proper harvesting, and the superiority of locally-grown, incredibly-fresh vegetables.
Sadly, the Co-op garden closed after Patricia's death in 2006 when her house was sold. The legacy of the Co-op garden is a model for organizing a collective garden run by a small number of people which worked efficiently and effectively for two decades.