Ray Owen has been farming on Nantucket since 1982, when he left his family’s farm in Needham, moved to the island, and bought a few acres of land just outside of town off Hawthorne Lane.
Over the next four decades Owen did what he loved, and together with his wife Barbara, created Berry Patch Farm. It was off the beaten path, and that’s how Owen liked it. The small farm raised chickens, turkeys, goats, and grew vegetables for local restaurants, along with flowers and other produce. It also blossomed into a refuge for island families who would bring their children to enjoy the solitude of the property and pet the farm animals.
Now 85 years old, Owen began thinking a lot over the summer about the future of the land he has farmed for nearly half his life, and on Wednesday, Berry Patch Farm was sold to the Nantucket Land Bank for $6 million.
The deal Owen struck with the Land Bank includes a farm lease that gives him life rights to continue living and farming the property until the end of his days. The Land Bank intends to keep the land in agriculture into the future, and has vowed that it will always be known as Berry Patch Farm.
“We are both thankful that the farm we created on Nantucket, Berry Patch Farm, will be here for generations to come,” the Owens said in a statement shared with the Current.
At the farm on Wednesday, Ray Owen talked about the decision he had been pondering over the past year, and praised the Land Bank for its role in preserving pieces of the island like his farm.
“Now that I’m getting older, I wondered what was going to happen here,” Owen said. “My children aren’t going to take it over, so the Land Bank approached me this summer about purchasing it. I thought it was a good idea. It’s a unique piece of property in town, and I’m glad to see it continue as a farm. I didn’t want to see it be a subdivision. We have enough pools and houses going in. It seemed a good way to end your life, really. We have life rights, and nothing’s going to change.”
For the Land Bank, the $6 million purchase of the 2.6 acre farm adds another parcel to its growing portfolio of agricultural properties. Those already include Moors End Farm off Polpis Road, My Grandfather’s Farm and the Mt. Vernon Farm off Hummock Pond Road, Eat Fire Spring Farm, and the apple orchard off Millbrook Road that is now known as Millbrook Heritage Orchard.
“We have been looking for opportunities to expand our agricultural footprint and the purchase of this small family farm by the Land Bank ensures that it will continue to be farmed in perpetuity,” said Land Bank executive director Jesse Bell. “Of our three basic purposes - conservation, recreation and agriculture - agriculture represents the smallest percentage of what we do. It represents around 5 percent of our total land holdings.”
The purchase of Berry Patch Farm marks the Land Bank’s 13th property acquisition in 2022. It has now spent $55.5 million and added roughly 48.26 acres to its portfolio this year after accumulating $50 million during the real estate boom of 2021 through the 2 percent transfer tax that supplies its revenues.
The Land Bank is currently seeking proposals for its Eat Fire Spring Farm property, and eventually will be doing the same for Berry Patch Farm. Bell said its collaboration with Sustainable Nantucket at Mt. Vernon Farm will go a long way toward hopefully filling those properties with the island’s next generation of farmers.
“A good portion of Mt. Vernon Farm is licensed to Sustainable Nantucket and is currently being farmed by several independent farmers - including Fog Town Farm, Washashore Farm, and more - under a license we granted to Sustainable Nantucket,” Bell said. “In conjunction, Sustainable runs a mentor farming program on the property where they say they are ‘growing growers.’ In other words, training in the next generation of farmers. This program has the potential to be very helpful to the Land Bank in the future as more properties become available for farming.”