Patricia Kauffman, PRK Guest Contributor
Last month my friend Leslie and I paid a visit to Ellen Raja of Raja Farm in Lincoln where we buy lamb. The property sits on a corner of a 26-acre parcel that includes wetlands and is surrounded by another 56 protected acres belonging to Mass Audubon. This rich farmland is home to sheep — Blue Face , Border Leicesters, and Shetland — chickens, lambs, Henry and Julia, the llamas who guard the sheep from wildlife intruders, plus a couple of herding dogs. Ellen’s livestock are free to roam from her parcel to graze in the adjacent, expansive open space. You can take in the full sweep of land from the house’s back deck, sharing the space with the chickens that meander about.
Ellen moved here in 1960 with her late husband, raised a family, planted flower beds and vegetable gardens, and worked as a nurse. Ellen will tell you right out that she is a custodian, a caretaker of this agricultural land with a responsibility to those who came before her and those who will come after. She embraces this role fully, with a keen sense of intelligence and practicality, feeling enormously fortunate to be doing what she wants to do.
Illustrating the sublime economy to the whole affair, Ellen leaves nothing to waste. She has a steady customer base for free delivery of the 18-22 eggs per day her chickens produce. Lambs are slaughtered and sold to those lucky enough to get on “the list.” An old rooster becomes a delicious stew for her Brazilian friends. In her sun-drenched kitchen, Ellen spins the sheared wool to make hats and mittens to sell at an artists’ cooperative during the holiday season. What she doesn’t spin, Ellen brings to the annual Sheep and Wool Fair where it sells at $12 to $16 a pound. It’s a frugal, practical way of life where everything has a return on its investment, and life has a certain rhythm.
What worries this longtime steward of the land is that the adjacent 26 acres, known as MacDowell Field, is for sale, with an appraised value of $2.98 million and zoning for 3 house lots. If it sells, she’ll no longer be able to sustain the sheep farm, her livelihood.
Roy MacDowell’s decision to sell this portion of his property triggered the Town of Lincoln’s right to purchase the land for its appraised value. The Rural Land Foundation and Massachusetts Audubon have partnered with the town to structure a deal to protect the land permanently. But first they must raise the funds for the purchase – which with additional transactional costs hovers just above the $3 million mark (an article in last month’s Boston Globe summarized the financial situation and key players in the forthcoming sale of the MacDowell property).
I love the lamb I buy from Ellen Raja’s farm. I know she has taken good care of her livestock, fed them well, allowed them plenty of roaming room. When it’s time to bring them in for slaughter, she makes sure they don’t have to wait more than an hour so that their stress level is low. The eggs, too, are delicious – fresh, bright orange yolks and free range. Food nurtured this way nurtures me. But it would be a shame if this glorious land were lost for good to you, to me and generations to come.
To contribute to this preservation effort, please send donations right away to:
Liz Albert, Manager of Land Campaign
208 South Great Road
Lincoln, MA 01773
Geoff McGean, Executive Director
Rural Land Foundation
PO Box 63428
Lincoln, MA 01773
Time is of the essence!!