After a period of lying fallow, Katama Farm will be traditionally farmed again. The Edgartown Conservation Commission on Wednesday night agreed to lease the historic property to FARM Institute.
Their decision brings the 180-acre farm back into the Island farming community. It also allows FARM Institute the opportunity to expand its role of helping young people learn the ways of agriculture.
"We are so psyched. This is awesome," said John Curelli, executive director of FARM Institute. "This is what we are all about."
At Wednesday night's meeting, Robert Woodruff of West Tisbury said: "I can't imagine a better match than the FARM Institute. This is a historic moment. We are finally getting into the public face of it." Mr. Woodruff was one of the original people who tried to save Katama Farm in 1978 from development.
FARM Institute stands for Farming Agriculture and Resource Management. The nonprofit organization was founded in January of 2000 and began operating at Herring Creek Farm in July of 2001. At the farm, hundreds of Island children have learned farming chores, from collecting eggs to feeding chickens and even carrying newborn lambs.
This new activity recalls a time when Katama Farm was surrounded by children, all involved in the 4H program. At that time there were programs on the farm run by the county extension service.
The Edgartown conservation commission oversees the town owned land and over the years has leased the property for agricultural use. The last leaseholder was Mervin C. Hardwick of Sandwich. He began leasing the 180-acre farm in 1994 at a rate of $5,000 a year. He raised cows for beef and at one time had as many as 150 head of cattle on the property. He told the Gazette last November that at the age of 58, he just thought the work was too much.
Mr. Curelli said he first learned of the property's availability last fall. "We talked last October and submitted our proposal on Nov. 15," he said. The conservation commission had seven applicants.
Christina Brown of the conservation commission said that Katama Farm is a community resource. "You are not going to make money, but I hope you can sustain yourself. The town's support is the land itself. I hope you can demonstrate an ability to farm on the Island."
"The product has got to be there, Island-grown stuff sold to Islanders. I'd like to see the average working person be able to go out there and afford a carrot," Steve Ewing, another member of the commission.
FARM Institute will have a 10-year lease on the property with an option for renewal. Mr. Curelli said he will meet with his board of directors today to plot out a detailed plan for getting started. There is much to do. The horses already there can stay.
Among the first changes be seen on the property involve plantings. Mr. Curelli said: "We need to put some attention into the soil. We will plant grass. We are grass farmers. We want to have a good harvest of hay this summer. We will do some fencing for animals and some preparations for irrigation."
Mr. Curelli said the institute will continue its work at Herring Creek Farm. The beauty of this new site, he said, is that it promises to increase the visibility of both the organization and the traditions of farming. Herring Creek Farm is a wonderful place, but it is also a privately held property. Katama Farm gives the institute a higher profile in the community. Mr. Curelli said he wants his organization to be accessible to youngsters from all over the Island. There will be plenty of opportunities for expanding programs for youths.
"Our mission is educational. No farmer can do that without hard work, good weather and good luck," he said Wednesday night.
Yesterday, Mr. Curelli told the Gazette that he wants to explore the possibility of offering dairy products including cheese, ice cream and yogurt. There will be beef, lamb, chickens and eggs.
Mr. Curelli said the institute wants to establish a perimeter trail for people who want to walk around the farm, smell the grass and watch the cows. "We want this to be a place where families can come and have a nice day," he said.
For the immediate future, he said: "We have to start planning. We need a real infrastructure here and we need to announce a capital campaign."