Land Bank Ramps Up Efforts To Assist Island Farmers

David Creed •

Mount Vernon Farm
An aerial of a portion of Mount Vernon Farm that is currently being used for community farming. Courtesy of Sustainable Nantucket

The Nantucket Land Bank Commission continued its renewed push for local agriculture during its Wednesday meeting, voting unanimously to approve funding for essential supplies and services for the farmers who rely on Land Bank properties for their business. The commission’s vote paves the way for perimeter fencing, water, and electricity to be funded for all farmers working on licensed Land Bank properties.

“I think we have done more for agriculture in the last hour and 20 minutes than we have in a long time,” commission chair Neil Paterson said. “I think it is a pretty significant step for agriculture on Nantucket.”

Other actions taken Wednesday include increasing the length of farmers' licenses from five years to 10 years and beginning the process of hiring a full-time agricultural specialist.

Agriculture is one of three pillars of the Land Bank's mission - along with open space and recreation - and in recent years the commission has been focused on expanding its efforts in this area, along with extending additional resources. The Land Bank's agricultural properties leased to local farmers include Moors End Farm off Polpis Road, My Grandfather’s Farm and the Mt. Vernon Farm off Hummock Pond Road, Eat Fire Spring Farm (awarded to Aidan & Natasha Feeney in 2022), the newly acquired Berry Patch Farm off Hawthorne Lane, and the apple orchard off Millbrook Road now known as Millbrook Heritage.

Dan Southey, a local farmer who began Washashore Farm in 2016, urged the Land Bank for financial assistance with basic needs to help farmers hit the ground running on their properties. He mentioned fencing as being the number one priority because of the island deer population and their tendency to eat farmers’ crops. He expressed his appreciation for the action taken during Wednesday’s meeting.

“There are so many generational farms in America and they're slowly dying and we're losing them," Southey said. "And not just Nantucket—in America. If you want new farms, there's got to be help to get them going. If you don't do that, we're just going to keep losing farms. In farming, you need the people who have skin in the game and working really hard and fighting for it. You can't just hand it over.”

“It's just a lot more expensive out here,” Southey continued. “On the mainland, putting up a fence is a third of what it is out here. Those are the battles that we fight."

Commission Vice Chair Kristina Jelleme said that she wanted the commission to remain cognizant of freely handing out subsidized and financial support but agreed they needed to provide farmers with longer licenses and financially support them with the basic needs and services essential for starting up and maintaining a farm. She referenced how some farmers on the island have made hefty investments into their business such as the Larrabee family, who have financially committed to building a house on Land Bank-owned property on Hummock Pond Road.

"I kind of would like to see a little bit more of a different structure where it's a longer period of time (the licenses) and there's the financial bite for the farmer,” Jelleme said. “You can't just give land and say, 'Okay I'm never going to see you again' and you can't micromanage and be like, 'Okay you only have five years and we're going to take it away from you.' There's something in between.”

Southey responded saying farmers weren’t looking for the Land Bank to pay for everything and mentioned the need for farmers to have the ability to freely spend their own money on items/investments to improve their farms.

“(We would like) permission to do things on our own and to put our own (investments into the farms),” he said.

This discussion eventually led to the commission’s unanimous vote to increase the length of awarded licenses to 10-year pacts rather than five, with the option to renew the licenses two times.

"I don't think you're ever going to get a successful farmer unless they've got a commitment from the landowner (that they don't have to leave)," Paterson said.

"You guys want successful farmers so you don't have to deal with losing farmers and taking care of that land," Southey added. "That's a partnership where if the farmers are successful and able to have a job and do it well and create a product, that makes everybody look good. Losing a farmer that's farming a big chunk of land is a pain in the butt for everybody. That land needs to go back into management somehow.”

The Land Bank’s Director of Operational Resources Rachael Freeman presented the commission members with several suggestions as to how she believed they could improve their efforts to assist the island in this area and asked the commission to prioritize those suggestions.

To go along with longer licenses and funding basic needs for farmers on Land Bank land, the commission members also agreed that they should prioritize the handling of community gardens and approved a motion to hire a full-time agricultural specialist. There will be further discussion at a later meeting to approve the job description before posting the position.

The commission agreed that adding someone to assist with the handling of their agricultural goals while monitoring the plethora of agricultural properties in their portfolio.

"I think it's a great idea,” Paterson said of the agricultural specialist position. “It shows we're serious and it is a positive start.”

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