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Farming in the Face of a Future Uncertain (Photos)

In what's probably his penultimate growing season on the family land, Lexington farmer Dennis Busa reflects on the past, present and future of his family’s farm.

 

It’s a grey and rainy Friday afternoon down on the farm and Dennis Busa is replacing an old tractor's worn out bolts with some shiny new ones. It's a fairly ordinary task but, in some ways, it reflects a larger change taking root here in East Lexington.

Busa Farms is in transition in ways that have nothing to do with the weather or growing season. This historic farm is readying for its journey from its old, familiar family-owned status to an uncertain future as a “community farm” owned by the town of Lexington.

In what's probably his penultimate growing season on the family land, Lexington farmer Dennis Busa spoke to Patch about the past, present and future of the farm.

A Brief History of Busa Farms

Busa Farms, an 8-acre parcel in East Lexington, was a farm long before the Busas came on the scene. In fact, its agricultural history dates back to the colonial era, while the Busa family began renting the land in 1916, and then purchased it in 1919.

It was Dennis Busa's three distant uncles and his father who made the purchase. And, as the years went on and the four men started families, ownership of the farm was passed around. By 1993, Busa's immediate family had full control of the acreage.

“We built most of the houses around here as time went by,” Busa said of the neighborhood around the farm.

Despite the fact that farming “fell out of fashion” back in the 1960s, as big supermarket chains took over as the norm for food shopping in the country, Busa said he is optimistic for the future of farming. The organic movement of the late 70's and early 80's made “local farming more in-fashion,” he said.

But now, the cycle continues as even the local farmers with long-standing success as organic farmers are facing a similar challenge from supermarket chains such as Whole Foods, which offer a wide array of organic produce.

Over the years, selling at Quincy Market and to area supermarkets were the places where the Busas most often cashed in on their crops. But they’re perhaps most appreciated today for selling market-fresh produce locally at their on-site farm stand at 52 Lowell St. – and for the special focus on fresh-cut flowers.

Here and Now on the Farm

Back in 2009, the town purchased for a little more than $4 million, using Community Preservation Act funds to help facilitate the deal. And this past spring, on March 19, the Board of Selectmen officially decided to pursue a community farm on the bulk of the almost 8-acre parcel, using a slice of the land along Lowell Street for affordable housing.

However, Dennis Busa will maintain his lease on the land for at least another year as town officials continue to flesh out its vision of a community farm and the details of a request for proposals. 

“They have to talk with other towns to see how they did theirs, there's probably a little research period going on right now,” explained Busa. “But, you know, the day will come.”

The day that’s here now has a focus on the Halloween holiday, with Busa and his staff harvesting pumpkins and offering up some of the biggest gourds in the area.

It doesn’t feel like it, but winter’s growing nearer and the farming season is winding down. As always though, spring follows winter, and with it comes flowers, fruits, vegetables and, for one more season at least, a Busa actively farming the Busa Land.

Outlook for the Future

If Dennis Busa had his druthers, the future of his family’s old farm would be in the mold of LexFarm's visions for keeping the Busa Land as a strictly community farm and a “small” endeavor.

LexFarm, also known as the Lexington Community Farm Coalition is, as the name suggests, a local coalition dedicated to educating the community about farming and sustainable land use, and establishing a community farm here in town. Since 2009, LexFarm’s efforts have been focused on establishing that farm on the Busa Land, the group’s website says.

The group has long been involved in conversations about the future uses of the Busa Land, and LexFarm is expected to be a player once an RFP is issued.

Busa cited the neighborhood as his main reason for wanting to keep the farm “small.” A highly commercial operation could lead to unpleasantness, such as traffic and noise for the abutters, he said.

“I would prefer [LexFarm’s vision], but I feel any farm would be appropriate, as long as it's not too big a farm like Mahoney's or some big commercial operation,” Busa said in a recent interview with Patch. “It's a nice, small farm, it should stay a nice, small farm.”

As it is, Busa hopes to be involved in any process that sees the farm move into its new standard, and said he’s “open to help” any organization looking for his knowledge of the farm and its equipment to aid in its transition.

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