Last-ditch effort to save former farm

A dirt and gravel yard separates the red house at 386 Ashmont from the street. An unpaved, pitted driveway leads behind the building to a newly erected, pea soup green three-story condominium, still partially wrapped in Tyvek sheeting. Next to it, circled by pickup trucks and milling construction workers, the foundation of a second build is being poured. The modular building that will sit astride the concrete will arrive in only days.

That's something Lucia Colombaro is trying to prevent.

Colombaro's great grandparents, Francesco and Fillipa Blandino, bought the land the condominiums are being erected on in 1944. They farmed the small plot for decades but since the mid-1980s the plot, which had been cultivated continuously since the 1840's, has lain fallow.

The red house and the land behind it were sold in 2005 by Colombaro's great aunt who bought the property after Francesco and Fillipa passed away. Since then two separate development groups have owned it. For three years little happened but now four condominium buildings are being erected.

Despite the immediately impending construction, Colombaro still wants to see the acre plot covered with fruit trees, vegetables and a greenhouse. She wants to resurrect Dorchester's last working farm.

The property only left the family reluctantly.

"We never wanted to sell it," Karen Blandino, Colombaro's aunt, said. If she and her husband could have afforded to keep the property, she said, they never would not have sold. Blandino, who still lives across from the property, thinks it would "be a great thing for Dorchester" if the land went back into cultivation.

A little over a month ago, before construction began, the current owner of the property contacted Karen Blandino and asked if the family had any interest in owning the property again. With little time to spare, Colombaro hatched a bold plan. She drafted a proposal for a new non-profit corporation that could purchase and manage the revitalized Blandino Farm, sought financial sponsorship and began raising money to buy the property.

If she can raise the money in time, the dirt and gravel lot behind 386 Ashmont might transform into a working farm again, capable of producing 10 pounds of food per square foot every season. It would be able to grow a cornucopia of foods, she said, in more than 40 crop varieties, all produced using an agricultural model that utilizes every inch of space and creates little or no waste.

Colombaro's plan calls for the farm to be sustained by sales to local residents and restaurants, interested in eating locally produced food and buying organically grown produce. For all of this to come to fruition, the land has to be purchased quickly, before the condominium units are sold. Blandino's effort is, by her own admission, a hail-Mary pass.

Colombaro said the current owners of the property, Six-15 Adams LLC, have indicated that they are still willing to sell the land back to her, even though the condominiums have begun to arrive. But until Blandino raises enough money, development plans are moving ahead. Jeff Norton, the developer of the site, did not immediately return a phone call to confirm this.

Colombaro made an initial offer of a $350,000 down payment for the land on July 21, adding that she hoped to raise a further $2 million. The offer was rejected. In order to purchase the land she said she will have to come up with a total of $3.4 million. It's a daunting sum that she's currently soliciting donors for. Despite the long odds she's "committed to see if this could happen."

Her outreach efforts have resulted in more than 400 statements of support. She has enlisted permaculture experts to donate their time and advise her while she raises funds for the farm. Colombaro says the support is the result of interest in a property which is "steeped in local history." Also, a growing interest in local agriculture, which has become more popular as people have become better informed about how costly it is to transport food long distances. "This type of thing needs to take place," she said. "People love to feel connected to the land."