This 18th century farm in Mattapan has a new owner

Local News

The centuries-old farm was turned into an education space for the Institute to educate the community about urban agriculture.

Lane Turner

The Urban Farm Institute of Boston (UFI) announced Friday that it had purchased the historic Fowler Clark Epstein Farm in Mattapan for over $1 million, according to a press release from Historic Boston Incorporated (HBI). 

The farm has been used as the headquarters for the UFI since renovations were completed on the property in 2018, according to the HBI. It will continue to be the headquarters of the Mattapan-based organization, which aims to transform unattended land, create jobs for local residents, and build a “healthier, more locally-based food system leading to a more resilient community” by educating people about urban farming, according to its website.

Renovations to the historic property, which has endured “years of abandonment and distress,” according to a press release, include a “full restoration” of the house and carriage barn into an education space, farm stand, and “teaching kitchen.” The surrounding landscape will feature farm beds, a greenhouse, and irrigation systems, HBI said in the release.

Fowler Clark Epstein Farm, which stands at 487 Norfolk Ave., was built between 1786 and 1806 and is among the most intact functional agriculture properties in the Commonwealth, according to HBI. The original farmhouse stands on land that was once part of a large Dorchester estate that spanned more than 330 acres. 

Over its history, the farm was owned by several families, starting with Samuel Fowler in the late 18th century. It was vacated in 2013 when the widow of the most recent owner, Jorge Epstein, passed away. After it had “fallen into disrepair and faced an uncertain future,” HBI purchased the property in 2015 to renovate it to suit UFI’s operations, the press release said. 

HBI managed and financed the redevelopment of the property with help from its partners, along with donations from local businesses, contractors and individuals. The effort raised $3.8 million to renovate the building, and construction started in late 2016 and was completed in July 2018, according to the press release. 

The farmhouse was transformed from “a private residence into a sprawling urban farming center with classrooms, offices, a produce processing center and demonstration farm beds under the direction of UFI,” the press release read.

“By working together, this unique historic place is preserved and an important resource for UFI and the Mattapan neighborhood,” said Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of HBI. “And it’s now in the hands of a skilled non-profit operator at about a third of the cost of what it would have taken them to transform the property themselves.”

Fowler Clark Epstein Farm is part of the Trust for Public Land’s Boston Urban Agriculture Partnership, which develops farms around Boston that work to provide healthy food, create jobs, and make neighborhoods “more livable,” according to HBI’s website. 

The UFI occupied and managed the property as a tenant for the last five years. The organization paid $1.4 million for the farm and the transaction closed in January, according to the release. 

“The farm is home to us, and has become a special center for our farmers and our neighbors,” said UFI’s Executive Director Patricia Spence. “Fresh food is vital to a healthy community and from this place we share our bounty and teach the principles of cultivation and growth.”

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