NCOF Director Lynda Simkins Retires

Amy Mevorach
Issue Date: 
August, 2018
Article Body: 

On June 22, the Natick Community Organic Farm celebrated the retirement of Lynda Simkins after her nearly forty years as Director of the Farm. A live band, Steve and the Bankutis, played while a pig roasted on a spit and guests selected from what Farm Administrator Trish Umbrell, in her tribute remarks to Lynda, rightly called “the biggest potluck ever.” Farmers traversed the shortest distance ever from farm to table as they sliced meat from the roasting pig and dropped it into warming pans a few feet away. After dinner and expressions of gratitude to Lynda, adults and a few children danced in the grass and ate ice cream served from five gallon tubs.
Having long steeped in rhythms of the earth, Simkins has a keen sense of timing, knowing when to plant, when to harvest, and when to retire. “It felt like a good time to leave. The farm is financially stable and we have a good succession team. I would stay until I’m 80 but I don’t know if that’s what’s best for the farm.”
Simkins was hired in March 1980, “right in the middle of maple syrup season,” she said. A few years out of college, she had a degree in plant science and had worked at 4H and as a beach conservation officer. At the time, the farm consisted of the barn with attached greenhouse, and the land. There was no toilet, no heat, and only cold water. “The vision was to get the land productive,” Simkins said. For the first five years, she farmed with teenagers from a high school work study program.
Supported by Town of Natick, the land was open to the public. “We wanted to make it welcoming and safe,” Simkins said, “so people would know where their food comes from. The bottom line was open gates, open community, and productive land.” Simkins expressed a wish to invite realtors to escort clients to the farm. “It’s as much of an asset to the town as the school system. And it’s not just for Natick.”
Throughout the decades, many projects were initiated, structures were added, and the land has indeed become productive. The farm cares for pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits, cows and turkeys, and grows a wide range of vegetables and flowers, available at the farm stand, the Natick Farmer’s Market and in CSA. The farmhouse includes a community space, office space, and a kitchen and dining area where healthy and fragrant meals are temptingly prepared.
“There is always an open invitation to come down and explore the farm, and make a purchase. We can’t survive without the purchasing.” At the farm stand, visitors may purchase eggs, seedlings, wool, maple syrup, and whatever vegetables are in season. Today, as I follow Simkins through the rows of climbing tendrils, it is peas. Retired or not, she inspects the vines and shouts encouragement to some of the teens who are picking peas as part of the summer farming program.
Simkins has many unique strengths, such as engaging people, finding talents, teaching through work, and being consistent. “I don’t waver much in policy and direction.” The new team is also gifted and very familiar with NCOF and its operations. Casey Townsend, the farm’s Assistant Director, will step into Simkins’ role as Director, and Audrey Fergason, a teacher in the Forest Gnomes program for preschoolers, will be the new Assistant Director. Simkins will still be available if needed. “They may call me about animals or town stuff, things I have a long history with.” Otherwise she may be sitting on the beach, reading, volunteering with the Buzzards Bay Coalition on Cape Cod, or watering flowers.