fox farm stand

A shelf with some offerings at the Community Farmstand.

Monday’s seasonal opening of the Foxboro Community Farmstand, nestled against a garden plot at the corner of Commercial and Walnut streets, is a welcome reminder of a decades-old tradition of grass-roots philanthropy at its best.

Still staffed exclusively by volunteers, the non-profit farm stand – which sells both produce grown on site and purchased from area vendors, as well as an attractive array of specialty items — has been a perennial fixture next to Walnut Pond each and every summer since the late 1980s.

Sprouting from the fertile imagination of the late Whitey VandenBoom, the endeavor was launched as a Knights of Columbus service project for the specific purpose of donating all proceeds to the Foxboro Discretionary Fund — a cumulative total approaching $350,000 over the years.

It’s hard to overstate what VandenBoom’s vision has meant to local families in need. Before the farm stand first opened, the discretionary fund literally operated on a shoestring. Both income and community outreach were limited — with the former consisting largely of memorial gifts to honor citizens upon their deaths (a custom that continues today), and the latter a function of a small-scale food pantry and the still-familiar holiday giving program.

But by providing a reliable revenue stream the farm stand proved a game-changer, enabling more deliberate and effective year-round assistance to meet a variety of needs based on projected receivables. That, and the subsequent expansion of the food pantry, expanded the discretionary fund’s scope and helped reshape its wider mission in Foxboro to include a summer lunch program for schoolchildren, back-to-school supplies and clothing, Thanksgiving and winter holiday food baskets and fuel assistance — to the everlasting gratitude of recipients.

Like anything with a lengthy shelf life, the farm stand has seen its share of changes over the years. Challenged by declining membership, the Foxboro K of C merged with the Sharon chapter and reluctantly yielded oversight of its signature project. More recently, another local seasonal produce venue — a Thursday-night farmer’s market — opened on the Town Common. But necessity is the mother of invention and new leadership emerged, bringing fresh perspectives and approaches.

Some things never change, however. In addition to offering customers a variety of seasonal produce, much of it fresh off the stalk, the farm stand remains a focal point for community activism, with scores of volunteers pitching in each season to cultivate the half-acre plot and run the retail stand — this year under the direction of operational manager Connie Gonsalves. Just as important, the farm stand provides new generations of local youngsters and teens with their first taste of community volunteerism.

There are other constants as well — like octogenarian Earle Ferguson faithfully tilling the good earth each morning. A fixture at the farm stand since 1996, the South Foxboro-bred Ferguson regularly cultivates, pulls weeds and harvests vegetables at the garden. For years, he partnered with his late wife, Thalia, in major oversight roles, and continues that legacy today.

According to Gonsalves, new volunteers to help out are always welcome. The stand is open seven days a week; Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. More information is available and volunteers can sign up online by visiting the stand’s Facebook page, facebook.com/foxboroughfarmstand.