by Dan Adams from The Boston Globe

From its founding in 1954, Roland Del Pico’s poultry farm seemed an indelible patch of rural life in an encroaching sea of suburbia. Surrounded on three sides by residences, the Braintree institution famous for its pot pies and fresh eggs soldiered on until Del Pico’s death in 2010 at 89.

“He got offers all the time,” said Del Pico’s son Don. “But he didn’t want to sell. He wanted to die there.”

Now, with Roland Del Pico’s final wish fulfilled, Braintree’s last commercial farm is poised to succumb at last. The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved a plan by his children to turn the 6.23-acre property into an eight-lot subdivision centered around a cul-de-sac, removing a major regulatory obstacle to developing the land.

“My father worked on this plan before he passed away,” Don Del Pico said at a March 25 hearing before the zoning board. “He wanted something to conform to the neighborhood. He told us, ‘Don’t go and make a bigmess.’ ”

Don Del Pico fondly remembered growing up on the farm, where he worked alongside his brother, Joseph, and sister, Theresa.

At the time of the farm’s founding, Braintree’s transition from a predominantly agricultural town to a bustling suburb was already well underway. Even as entire new towns like Holbrook were carved out of its once-massive land area, Braintree’s population increased more than tenfold between 1850 and 1960, from 2,969 to 31,069. It has some 36,000 residents today.

Living on a farm in Braintree made Del Pico and his siblings outsiders, he said. The stench of the chicken coops that permeated his clothing and the excrement that caked his shoes earned him a nickname at school: “The Hick.”

“I didn’t live like everyone else. We didn’t play sports or watch TV,” he said. “I would come home from school, pick up eggs, shovel manure, load trucks, and clean the barns on weekends.”

The farm struggled early on. In debt and hounded by lenders, Del Pico’s father once told the family to be prepared to pack up and flee the state in their station wagon.

And the work was grueling. Roland Del Pico often toiled from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. to keep the business solvent. When the temperature became too cold or too hot, he would rouse his family in the middle of the night to help close or open the chicken barn’s 150 small windows.

But Don Del Pico said he soon came to appreciate the lifestyle that had made him ashamed as a child.

“It was a different way of life, but everyone was happy, and it put a real work ethic in us,” he said. “We pulled together and survived.”

At its peak, Del Pico’s Poultry Farm housed 10,000 chickens. In an era when store-bought eggs were routinely sold months after they had been laid and long before organic and locally sourced food became widely available in supermarkets, Braintree residents were enjoying fresh eggs from just down the road.

The Del Picos also found ways to supplement the income from the farm. Roland worked as a master clockmaker and cabinetmaker, built models for Fore River Shipyard, and also found work as the neighborhood handyman — though he rarely had the heart to charge his neighbors, most of whom became close friends, according to his family. Roland’s late wife, Anita, used eggs, chickens, and produce from the farm to make prepared foods like pot pies and barbecued chicken, which quickly became popular.

“Still to this day, people come up to me and say, ‘Your mother’s barbecue chickens were the best. They don’t do them like that anymore,’ ” Don Del Pico said.

Although the elder Del Picos are still fondly remembered, some of their longtime neighbors objected to the plan to turn the farm into a subdivision. The project, ironically approved the day before the state celebrated Agriculture Day on March 26, was green-lighted over complaints by abutters that the construction could threaten the area’s watershed and drastically change their backyard views by removing trees.

“I really liked [Roland] Del Pico,” said Steve Bonfiglioli, whose property abuts the farm. “But right now, I look at woods; it’s all trees. If this goes through, I’ll be looking at a bunch of backyards. It’s a big change.”

The Del Picos have said they will instruct the eventual developer to preserve as many trees as possible, and to mitigate storm-water runoff from the development with a drainage system.

Ultimately, the three zoning board members who voted on the proposal were persuaded by the Del Picos’ argument that designating the development a subdivision would give the town, and abutters, more control over the project. Without permission from the board to create lots smaller than the usual minimum size of one acre, the family could have instead moved ahead with any number of so-called ANR — “approval not required” — developments, such as a church, school, or a smaller subdivision without a new road.

One such alternate plan floated by the Del Picos would have seen the land divided into five lots with homes set far back from an existing road, each with its own long and narrow driveway that would be difficult for fire trucks or ambulances to gain access to. Don Del Pico said the family even declined an offer from someone who wanted to grow medical marijuana on the farm.

“I came here pretty closed-minded, but looking at the other options, it’s clear this is the right move,” zoning board member Michael Ford said at the hearing. “If we go the other way, we give up all control.”

The board directed the family to consider the concerns of abutters during the remaining approval process, which will include oversight by Braintree’s Planning Board. Del Pico said the family plans to choose a developer this month and begin construction by early summer.

“I want to find the right developer. It might not even be the high bidder,” he said. “I still live in Braintree, and I’ll have to drive by it every day.”

Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com

Last Farm in Town Slated for Development
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