O’Brien Farm is an active, working farm where people learn about and practice sustainable food production. It also tells the story of Irish settlement in St. John’s, NL through the story of the O’Brien family.
Situated in the Freshwater Valley in the middle of St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, O’Brien Farm is one of the last original family farms in the city. In its day, O’Brien Farm along with similar farms – most of which were also operated by Irish families — fed the northeast Avalon Peninsula. A dairy operation for most of the farm’s 180+ years, the O’Brien family developed the hillside meadows for hay and in summer cattle grazed in common pastures on Mount Scio.
The last of the family line, three bachelor brothers, John, Mike, and Aly, tell a story of resistance, stubbornness, and passion for their land. Amid concerns that the farm would be swallowed by urban development, Aly, working with interested groups and the Provincial Government, was able to preserve O’Brien Farm as a reminder of the city’s agricultural past.
Thimble Cottage, the 1850s saltbox style house that graces the property, was built as a summer home by Timothy O’Brien, son of John O’Brien who first settled the farm. Today, it is a Registered Heritage Structure, representative of traditional Newfoundland vernacular architecture of the period. By 1875, it had become the primary residence for the farm, replacing what was believed to have been the original Irish long house with residence and stable combined.
Subsequent to the purchase of the farm by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, The O’Brien Farm Foundation was formed in 2011 to preserve, develop, and operate the farm, according to the wishes expressed in Aly O’Brien’s will.
In 2012 a master plan was developed for O’Brien Farm to guide its development and operations. The plan emphasizes a number of key principles:
- The valuable farm landscape can only be maintained by actively farming it.
- Build something for the entire community that retains the intimate feel of the farm.
- Interpret and provide programs for a broad audience, including residents of and visitors to the city.
- Make it a place of learning and nurturing.
- Ensure responsible stewardship of the property.
- Operate on a model of mutually-beneficial partnerships.