2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Soule Homestead Education Center located on Soule Street in Middleboro right over the Plympton line. During the pandemic, Soule Homestead has played a crucial role in the community by providing alternative, safe, outdoor space to help combat the effects of pandemic isolation. The Soule Homestead provided solace to the community but the community gave back to Soule. Although there have been many restrictions, it has been a busy time at Soule Homestead.
Every spring, the farm has put on Sheep Day with activities for adults and children, delicious food, sheep shearing and sheep dog demonstrations. However, the pandemic forced the farm to become creative with their traditional fund raising. Last year the community showed their generosity when they gave to a virtual Sheep Day fundraiser. Meg Connolly Riley (Miss Meg) Executive Director, raised $12,000 by challenging the community to give money for her to cut her hair during the event. All of the regular children’s camps were cancelled as well. Meg and Katie Roberts (Miss Katie), Education Director, came up with the idea of offering private farm tours for families. According to Meg, “We wanted to remain a presence in the community and offer any kind of programming that made sense.” She said that some of the families who took advantage of the tours said that this was the first time that their children had done any activity outside of the home since the pandemic began. A summer concert series featuring local bands with limited capacity was also a success. The popular Farm to Table fundraiser became a delivery or pick up event.
Many families who had not previously known of the farm have discovered Soule Homestead and have taken advantage of the outdoor space that offers trails, animals and natural beauty. The farm is open during the day and people are encouraged to spend time exploring, having a picnic or spending time with the animals. Meg said that they have observed an increase in people at the farm who are coming just to take a walk and get out of the house. “Being in home has reignited an interest in the outdoors and we are committed to fostering that need,” Meg said.
The farm leases land to local farmers such as Plato’s Harvest of Middleboro who provide organic vegetables and Revival Farm of Plympton who sell pasture-raised pork. Meg said that the pandemic has made people aware of the issues with food supplies and there has been an increased interest in knowing where their food is coming from. Dave Purpura owner of Plato’s Harvest had a busy year. He also runs the Plymouth Farmer’s Market and they were able to get food out to those who needed it. Revival Farm has expanded their land lease at the farm due to increased demand. Soule Homestead rents out their kitchen to local businesses such as Emily Goonan of Goonan Charcuterie Co, Tom Wolfe who owns Wolfie Soups and Ellen Wilson of FreeRangers Farm in Plympton.
This year the Soule Homestead has continued to be creative with the programming offered. According to Meg, “We have had to cancel events associated with Soule Homestead such as the Harvest Fair.” Large scale events with over 2,000 people like the Harvest Fair take months to plan. This year, instead, Soule Homestead will be offering a scaled down celebration with a two-day concert event in mid-September. Music has always been an integral part of the offerings of Soule Homestead. Last summer concerts were offered and the first one had only 30 people including musicians and volunteers. The last concert of 2020 was capped at 80 people. This year the plan right now is to limit the concerts at 150 people including the band and volunteers.
On the last Saturday of every month there will be a pre-sold ticket concert series with bands, local beer and local food. On May 22, a sold-out concert with Hey Blondie! and opening act Jay Bird rocked the farm. Local beer was provided by Harper Lane Brewery in Middleboro and food by FreeRangers Farm in Plympton. On June 26th, the Sarah Blacker Band will be headlining with Meghan Lynch opening the show. The performance is curated by WATD’s John Shea who hosts the show Almost Famous. Tiny and Son’s Glass of Pembroke has sponsored the summer concert series. The concerts are also sponsored by grants from Berkley, Bridgewater, Carver, Freetown, Halifax, Kingston, Lakeville, Middleboro and Plympton cultural councils as well as local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council. These grants support the artists and helps with other costs allowing Soule Homestead to offer safe activities for the community. The concerts are “meant to be a relaxing, enjoyable night with family and friends,” said Meg. The goal is to provide an outdoor space where people can enjoy the music, spread out and feel comfortable.
This summer, Soule Homestead has been able to offer their children’s camp. With kids under 12 not yet vaccinated, the programming is for the kids to spend as much time outside as possible and to foster connections to their peers. This spring Katie offered a Farm Buddies program where pre-school aged children spend a relaxing few hours making connections with nature and the farm animals. Katie, has been working to understand and implement all COVID regulations in partnership with the Middleboro Board of Health.
Bob Nunes, the town manager of Middleboro has made it a priority to keep outside spaces open in the town during the pandemic. For instance, the Middleboro library has been using the Soule Homestead to host outdoor programming such as story book hikes and they will be holding outdoor story hours in June and July. Local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops have been taking advantage of the outdoor pavilion which was built a few years ago as an Eagle Scout project. Although school field trips have been cancelled, some smaller private schools have been visiting the farm such as the Waldorf School of Cape Cod.
The community came together this spring to help re-vamp the Children’s Greenhouse. A grant from the Middleboro Rotary Club in conjunction with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity gave the Children’s Greenhouse much needed updates. According to Meg, “we could not have got it done without them.” The space, which they hope to be up and running this fall, provides nature nurturing activities such as a garden and a “mud kitchen.”
Due to the commitment of the staff, volunteers and donations the Soule Homestead and Education Center continues to provide an open space and programming that is fun, relaxing and essential for us at this time.