Northampton Community Farm & Florence Recreation Fields

In the 19th century, former slave, abolitionist, and preacher Sojourner Truth farmed a 181-acre parcel in the city of Northampton containing some of the richest farm soils in the world. But by 2009, the fate of the landscape was uncertain. The land was the subject of a local tug-of-war: a strong contingent of parents wanted more playing fields for their kids, while other city residents were insisting that the land be devoted to agriculture. Thankfully, a city-appointed task force was able to come up with a plan involving help from CPA funding that had something for everyone – soccer and baseball fields, a working farm, community gardens, and conservation land.

The project, eventually realized as the Northampton Community Farm and Florence Recreation Fields, was an enourmous undertaking that took the cooperation of several organizations, as well as funding from many different sources. In December of 2010, The Trust for Public Land purchased the 44-acre Bean Farm and the adjacent 136-acre Allard Farm for $2.46 million. The parcels were then transferred to two parties – the City of Northampton and the non-profit Grow Food Northampton.

24 acres of recreation in NorthamptonWith the help of $910,000 in CPA funds, private funding, and other grants, 24 of these acres were carved out for active recreation. These fields are now officially the Florence Recreation Fields and are managed by the City’s Parks and Recreation and Public Works Department. Additionally, Northampton’s Conservation Commission owns and protects 35 acres of forest and riparian lands conserved as part of the Mill River Greenway.

When a municipality acquires open space or recreational land under CPA, Section 12 of the Act requires a separate organization to hold a Conservation Restriction (CR) on the land. Land Trusts are the traditional holders of these Conservation Restrictions, but they often will only hold restrictions on open space used for passive recreation and/or conservation. As a result, communities often struggle with finding an appropriate local nonprofit to hold a CR on active recreational land, such as the athletic fields that were constructed for this project. A group of residents in Northampton stepped up to solve this problem by forming a nonprofit, Friends of Northampton Parks and Recreation, which holds the restriction on the park and athletic field portions of this land. When forming such an organization, it’s important that the articles of incorporation contain language specifically authorizing the organization to hold real property interests, such as owning land or holding a Conservation Restriction. To learn more about Conservation Restrictions, visit our "CPA Restrictions" technical assistance page.

Community GardenThe remaining land on the property was devoted to agriculture, giving the project it's commonly known title of "Northampton Community Farm." Grow Food Northampton worked to raise $700,000 in six months to buy the 121 acres of protected farmland from The Trust for Public Land, and has developed a thriving, community-supported farmland. CPA funds were also used to help develop 17 of these acres as the Grow Food Northampton Organic Community Garden. The site also contains a "Giving Garden," where all food is grown for donation to soup kitchens and food pantries.

Click here for additional information on this fantastic mixed-use CPA project, including coverage of the city's groundbreaking celebration.