PEABODY — Over the growing season, the nonprofit Newhall Fields Community Farm produced 1,500 pounds of vegetables and herbs with the help of 200 volunteers and 900 volunteer hours.

The vast majority of what they produced was donated to the Citizens Inn Haven From Hunger food pantry and community meals program on Wallis Street. 

"I can't tell you how happy the clients from Haven from Hunger are when they see a fresh load of eggplant coming in, or cherry tomatoes that were picked just moments before they arrived at the shelter," said Jeannette McGinn, director of Newhall Fields Community Farm.

The community farm grew all of this on a quarter of an acre at Tillie's Farm on Lynn Street, without the use of pesticides or herbicides.

On Monday, city and state officials, along with representatives of Citizens Inn and the Greater Boston Food Bank, toured the fields to take stock of the community farm's accomplishments over the past year. About 30 people wandered the gardens, and picked peppers, cherry tomatoes or kale. Oh Jolie Catering on Walnut Street also prepared food for the occasion using butternut squash, rosemary and zucchini from the farm. 

Newhall Fields is separate from the city-owned Tillie's Farm, which is managed by the Murphy family. But McGinn, an environmental educator, said they share a mission of providing local, healthy produce using sustainable agricultural practices and educating the public on agriculture.

The community farm started last year with a small herb garden designed and overseen by Rebecca Ingalls of Swampscott, an herbalist educator and owner of Palmer Pond Botanicals on Canal Street in Salem. McGinn had approached Ingalls about the idea the year before, after a lecture on herbs at the Peabody Institute Library. 

This year, Newhall Fields expanded and planted vegetables, with Ingalls serving as farm manager. 

"We are growing community here," Ingalls said, "I use the word 'exponential' all the time what happens here."

Most recently, Newhall Fields has focused on community engagement and finding volunteers. McGinn counted 2-year-old twins harvesting peas, Brown School second-graders who harvested 97 pounds of food, and Endicott College freshmen among the 200 who pitched in at the community farm this year. 

Among Newhall Fields' board members is Jacqui Richard, business development manager of Phil Richard Insurance.

"You know, we live in a really powerful, wealthy country yet so many people are food insecure, so we have to ask ourselves why that is, and we are starting to address that locally," she said. 

Kate Benashski, program director for Haven from Hunger, said the organization is grateful to be included in Newhall Fields' mission. The nonprofit plans to grow produce at its own plot at Newhall Fields, and encourage clients, including kids living in the shelter, to help farm and harvest.   

Officials noted that Newhall Fields was formed with support from the Murphy family and from Jennifer Davis, the city's director of recreation, parks and forestry.  

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who grew up a few streets away from Tillie's Farm, said Tillie's has been an important part of the South Peabody neighborhood and the city for decades. 

"We are lucky in the city of Peabody," he said. "We have Brooksby Farm, which has just been a tremendous community asset for our city, a true treasure, and now we have Tillie's Farm and Newhall Fields."

State Sen. Joan Lovely said the food donated to Haven from Hunger also benefits those living in Salem and Lynnfield, the other communities the food program serves.

"This is just really terrific," she said, "just to have the community come in and feed each other, frankly."

Tillie's Farm

On Monday, Bettencourt thanked the family of Lynn Street resident Edith Basora, the daughter of Marion Newhall Spurr, who was known as Tillie, and her brother Earl Newhall Spurr, who ran the farm since 1970 and who recently retired. The siblings gave the city the opportunity to purchase Tillie's Farm and keep its legacy going. 

He also thanked former Mayor Michael Bonfanti for his vision to purchase the farm property using $2.7 million from the Community Preservation Committee back in 2007.

The farm property is made up of roughly 17 acres, about 10 of which are farmed. Its operations include the farm stand on Lynn Street, which is run as a compliment to Brooksby Farm. The city assumed control of the farm in 2017.

Basora wanted to recognize her brother, who took over the family legacy and worked the farm and the business. 

"He just recently retired and it was very difficult for him to do that ... He really took up the mantle of the Newhall Farm and my mother's legacy, he really did," Basora said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 

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