A deal to sell Thimble Farm to a private buyer is no longer on the table, allowing more time for Whippoorwill Farm owner Andrew Woodruff to put together his own bid to buy the farm.
Thimble Farm owner Lawrence Benson confirmed yesterday that a private buyer who had offered to pay $2.3 million for the 43-acre farm has backed out. Two weeks ago Mr. Woodruff, who leases Thimble Farm for his community supported agriculture program, was facing an August 28 deadline to match the private offer. Mr. Woodruff has a right of first refusal on any sale at the farm.
Mr. Benson said he has received another offer but has not accepted it. He also said he would like to see Mr. Woodruff continue farming the land. “I lean towards Andrew because I’m the one that brought him here,” Mr. Benson said yesterday.
Five weeks ago, Mr. Benson accepted an offer from an undisclosed buyer on the property, which has been on the market for three years at an asking price of $4.5 million. Mr. Woodruff had one month to make a counter offer. As the date neared, Mr. Woodruff and his Whippoorwill Farm board members ramped up ongoing discussions with four Island nonprofits, including the Island Housing Trust, to purchase the farm. As the deadline loomed, word spread around the Island and potential private donors came forward.
Whipporwill Farm board member Alice Early said Monday that she was grateful for the extra time the board now has and also the public attention. “People have come forward with ideas and potentially with money,” she said. Before the deadline, the board hoped to see a nonprofit group buy the property, which Mr. Woodruff would then farm under a long-term lease. The recent attention has changed the nature of the discussion, Ms. Early said, although she did not elaborate on the details. “The matter of the structure and where the money comes from has changed, but the goals have remained crystal clear,” she said.
The news of the impending sale also brought out more buyers, Ms. Early said. “All of the attention has brought the farm’s availability and price to the attention of potential buyers,” she said, noting that another agreement could be reached at any time. “We are still in a beat the clock situation,” she said.
Both she and Mr. Woodruff remained optimistic. “We’re working as hard as we can to pull a deal,” Mr. Woodruff said by telephone yesterday. “I wouldn’t be in this if I wasn’t hopeful.”
Whippoorwill Farm operates the only community supported agriculture program on the Vineyard. Mr. Woodruff has been leasing Thimble Farm for the last three years. His lease runs out in December of this year.
Ms. Early said yesterday that part of the work now under way involves converting the community supported agriculture program into a separate legal entity.
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank bought the development rights to Thimble Farm in 2000 for just over $1 million. The land bank restriction requires that the land be in agricultural use, but does not limit that use to food production. A horse farm, for example, would be allowed under the restriction.
Originally a hydroponic tomato and pick-your-own berry operation, the farm was sold to Mr. Benson by former owners Patricia and Bud Moscow in 2001 for $980,000. In 2005 Mr. Benson put the property on the market for $4.5 million.