Sweetwilliam Farm, Upton: An Alternate Path to Town Meeting Approval

February 2011: At a special town meeting on January 11, 2011, Upton residents voted by a slim margin to approve the purchase of a CPA project that just weeks before appeared impossible – the purchase of a 60-acre portion of Sweetwilliam Farm. The story behind the protection of Sweetwilliam Farm is a tale of dedication and perseverance leading to eventual success. Sweetwilliam Farm - Warren BrookDo you have a fabulous project that is facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles? This project is proof that great projects with long odds can eventually move forward.

Sweetwilliam Farm is a working farm – and now the first permanently protected farmland in the town of Upton. The land was once owned by the grandfather of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, and the 18th century farmhouse was built by his cousin, a Revolutionary War veteran. The farm sits directly in between the Warren Brook Watershed Conservation Area and Upton State Forest, and is now part of a complex of over 2,000 acres of protected land and a trail network used by horseback riders, hikers, birders and others. The land is part of the headwaters of Warren Brook, and sits squarely in a state designated ‘Area of Critical Environmental Concern’ (ACEC).

When the Upton Open Space Committee and the owner of Sweetwilliam Farm agreed on a proposal for the town to preserve the property, the Open Space Committee was thrilled. In October 2010, the Open Space Committee brought the project before the town’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for a vote, and the CPC voted to recommend the project to the November Special Town Meeting.

Sweetwilliam Farm - view from North StreetMuch to the chagrin of the Open Space Committee, the CPC, and other open space enthusiasts in town, the Upton Board of Selectmen declined to place the articles on the warrant. Disappointment intensified after learning that the town had been selected to receive a Massachusetts Local Acquisition and Natural Diversity (LAND) grant in the amount of $500,000 toward the purchase price of the property – and that the grant was required to be used by the end of the fiscal year. 

Having failed to convince the selectmen to put the project on the warrant, advocates for the project sprung into action. A citizen's petition was quickly prepared, calling for a special town meeting with an article on the warrant to purchase the property using CPA funds and grants. The petition was successful in obtaining enough signatures to call a Special Town Meeting on January 11th, where the project passed! It's rare enough that a special town meeting is called by a petition of the voters, but it is almost unheard of for the consideration of a CPA project.

The total purchase price for 60 acres of the farm, plus a conservation restriction on an additional 27 acres, is $1,175,000. Approximately $614,000 will come from the town’s CPA fund, and the balance will come from fundraising and grants, including the $500,000 LAND grant. Sudbury Valley Trustees, the Friends of Sweetwilliam Farm, and the Metacomet Land Trust are working on raising the remainder.

The eventual success of this project is a testament to how determination and persistence can make a great project happen – even when it feels like you’ve come up against a brick wall.

See photos of Sweetwilliam Farm and read more about this project.