Friday, January 12, 2007
Utopia in Carlisle: Remaking Prospect Farm
Like the Alcotts and Emersons of the past, Katherine Endicott and Leslie Thomas are planning their own rural Utopia where organic methods, energy independence, wildlife promotion and land conservation will reign. The 14-acre Prospect Farm, which until recently boarded horses, will be transformed into an enterprise of free-range goats, chickens, ducks and bees, offering organic cheese, eggs and honey. An orchard will supply organic fruit. The energy used will be solar and geothermal, and a wildlife-friendly pond will be added. A conservation restriction will be sought on most of the land.
The pair purchased the farm in early December for $2.5 million, and already the first steps are being taken toward remaking the property. Currently the pond is being dug and the land around, graded. The decayed house and unneeded outbuildings are being torn down and a new 2600-square-foot "old-style farmhouse" and barn will be erected on new sites. Some materials will be recycled, including the brick walkway that will be turned into a greenhouse. Much equipment that was salvageable was given away to the Pony Club and others who responded to a magazine ad. Cabinets, doors and light fixtures were among the items taken, and while it might have been possible to sell them, Thomas notes, "There were a couple of families you could tell could use it."
The new buildings will be constructed of low-toxic materials, and Thomas points to Prescription for a Healthy House by LaPorte, Elliott, and Banta and Green Building Products by Wilson and Piepkorn as the guiding lights behind their materials plan. Floors will be of reclaimed wood, and low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, plywoods and sealants will be used. Thomas notes that many glues are quite toxic, including those used to make butcher blocks.
The house and barn will use geothermal and solar heating and cooling. A geothermal heat pump circulates water into the ground to tap the earth's natural heat. According to the Geothermal Education Office (http://geothermal.marin.org), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rated these pumps as among the most efficient of heating and cooling technologies. The farm's geothermal/solar system will also provide electricity, although "we'll still be hooked to the grid," says Thomas.
Drawn to farming
In many ways, Thomas and Endicott seem an unlikely duo to undertake such a project. For example, neither grew up on a farm. Thomas, a Harvard-based herpetologist (specialist in reptiles and amphibians) grew up in Maine, the daughter of a boat-builder and lobsterman. Endicott, a massage therapist, was raised in Grosse Point Michigan, a community "totally opposite" to Carlisle, with "no grass around me." The privileged granddaughter of the founder of Bohn Aluminum, Endicott's pastimes included "the Symphony, the Detroit Institute of Art, cocktail parties . . ." Asked if she had a coming-out party, Endicott blushes and admits, "I did!"
But somewhere along the way, both were bitten with the farming bug. For Thomas, it began with a great-uncle who was a chicken farmer, "I always wanted to have a farm." Endicott, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Monroe, clock maker and owner of Lexington's Monroe Tavern, had multiple ancestors from this area "and every one was a farmer." She says of her move to Massachusetts, "I feel a real connection here. I love rocks."
When they moved to Estabrook Road six years ago, the pair began dabbling in farming, acquiring chickens, ducks, and bees. But "three or four years ago we decided five and a half acres was not enough," says Thomas. Over the next three or four years, they searched for a new cleared property to farm, but found "the developers would grab them before they went on the market. They were always ahead of us."
When they heard that Herbert and Anne Gutheil might be selling Prospect Farm at the end of Prospect Street, Thomas and Endicott showed up early in the day to take a look. The Gutheils had divided their property into four housing lots, one of which had already sold. A developer would be looking at the farm in the afternoon, so Endicott and Thomas decided to move quickly. At four o'clock that afternoon, they returned with an offer. "Our realtor Michael Eliopoulos really worked hard," says Thomas, noting that negotiations started at 4 p.m. and didn't conclude until midnight or later. "We sat with him and we didn't leave until there was a deal."
Navigating the approval process
So far, the approval process for the changes to the property has gone smoothly.The Conservation Commission had to approve the pond, and "they were really great," says Endicott, noting the board concluded the net effect on wildlife would be positive. A demolition permit was required from the Building Inspector, and the Board of Health had to approve the septic system. "That was the hardest to get," says Thomas, explaining the system they are using was developed by SeptiTech, Inc. and is "an active system that is better for the environment." As no one on the BOH was familiar with it, some education was necessary. But in general, Thomas says, "Everybody's been very supportive."
So why take on a project of this size? Endicott struggles to rationalize. "To start farming like this you have to really want to do it," she says. "The feeling of being connected to the land is a deep desire. I can't explain it." Thomas agrees, "We both want this so much. I'm not sure it's still quite hit me."
Endicott adds, "I want to know where my food comes from. And I'd like this to be a haven from the chaos. Life should be easier, more serene and less complicated."
Editor's note: The Mosquito will check in with Endicott and Thomas in a few months to note their progress.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito