Heatwave worsens drought on a community farm in Medway

MEDWAY, Mass. — These are desperate times down on the farm.

“In July, when we’re getting the weather that we usually get in August, it’s pretty scary,” said Todd Sandstrum, Manager of the Medway Community Farm. “We’re seeing record temperatures this week around the world and I think it really resonates with the crisis that is right on the horizon for us.”

Actually, the Medway Community Farm surpassed the crisis point in recent weeks when one of its main sources of irrigation water largely dried up.

The vast swampland that served to water crops at the Farm’s Adam Street fields began ebbing about two weeks ago. Now, all that’s left are a few puddles in a sea of peat, studded with Lily Pads and other water plants.

“This clogs up pumps,” Sandstrum said. “The pumps clog, the lines clog, the drip lines clog, you blow seals on pumps.”

The situation forced Sandstrum to take an unprecedented step: an emergency request to the town of Medway to tap into its municipal water supply for agricultural use. Thursday morning, the town approved the request -- but with tight parameters.

“Right now, we can continue our three-day-a-week watering,” Sandstrum said. “But those parameters may change next week if the water department superintendent says, hey, we’re in a crisis and our levels are a little lower than I’d like to see them.”

If that happens, Sandstrum could see waterings limited to just once or twice a week.

“The Community Farm is such an incredible piece of what we do here in town,” said Medway Town Manager Mike Boynton. “We obviously have a pretty substantial water ban in town, but in this situation where we have a community crop, we clearly don’t want to lose that.”

Boynton said the Farm’s role in Medway is not just in providing fresh produce to residents, but also upholding a rich tradition of agriculture in a town where farms have disappeared.

“It’s important for us to be as supportive as possible,” Boynton said.

Still, the town will be keeping an eye on its aquifers and wells to ensure there’s both plentiful drinking water and ample supply for the town’s firefighting efforts, he said.

Sandstrum said the goal is to get the farm off municipal water as quickly as possible. But that will take a substantial amount of rain. And at least for the next week, no significant rain is predicted.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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