Whippoorwill Farm, home of the first Community Supported Agriculture program on the Vineyard, will move its operation from Thimble Farm in Oak Bluffs back to Old County Road, farm owner Andrew Woodruff said this week.
The news that Whippoorwill will relocate comes as a community group continues efforts to buy the 37-acre Thimble Farm, although the status of those efforts remained unclear this week. Called the Martha’s Vineyard Farm Project, the group organized this summer when owner Eric Grubman, who saved Thimble Farm from sale into the private residential market four years ago, said he was ready to turn the farm over to new owners. Members of the farm project include the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, the Farm Institute and the Island Grown Initiative.
Early plans outlined this summer sketched a scenario where a money would be raised to buy the property. Sheriff’s Meadow would receive and hold the funds and the Agricultural Society would take ownership of the property, leasing it out to a farming enterprise. Long-term goals call for altering a conservation restriction already on the land to require that it be used for food production, and building housing for farmers on a portion of the property.
The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank holds an agricultural preservation restriction on Thimble Farm, a former berry and hydroponic tomato farm located in the Iron Hill section of Oak Bluffs with high-quality soils for food production.
Whippoorwill has been based at Thimble Farm for five years. Four years ago when the farm was suddenly at risk for sale into private hands, Mr. Grubman, a seasonal resident of Katama, stepped in to buy it for $2.45 million. Mr. Woodruff has a lease on the farm that runs out at the end of this year.
In a newsletter that went out to CSA members this week, Mr. Woodruff said his decision to return to the property he owns on Old County Road in West Tisbury was driven by the unknowns about the impending new ownership.
“The land at Thimble Farm has been very important to the Farm and the CSA and we hope that the solution will include a role for the CSA. But because it is unclear how those efforts will turn out, I have made the decision to move the headquarters of the CSA back to my land on Old County Road in West Tisbury for the 2012 season. It is necessary to begin planning for next year now,” Mr. Woodruff wrote.
Reached by telephone this week, Mr. Woodruff said only that the project to buy the farm remains unsettled at a time when he needs to begin planning for the next growing season.
“We need to plan for next year and we can’t wait for a resolution . . . we felt it was the best move to go back to where I own land in West Tisbury,” he said, adding: “There is a lot at stake here. I care about this land and I’m hopeful that a good outcome can be achieved and we can still use a portion of the farm at some point in the future.”
Mr. Woodruff owns eight acres off Old County Road, the site of his original CSA, a program where people buy a share in the farm’s harvest for the season and in return get weekly pick-ups of freshly grown vegetables. He also farms about 40 more acres at various other locations that he leases on the Island.
He said CSA share membership dropped this year from 500 to about 400 members, and that with less land to farm he expects to shrink the program somewhat in the coming year.
Meanwhile, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Farm Project said this week that the Island Grown Initiative, which recently obtained nonprofit status, has agreed to take a leading role in shaping a plan — including a fund-raising plan — to buy the property and keep it as a farm.
Little more was available in the way of detail.
“IGI has been a member of the farm project all along,” said Alice Early, a board member for Whippoorwill Farm who has been active in the farm project. “At our last meeting they said they wanted to provide the leadership to create a farm plan — that the ability to attract donors to the project was hampered by the fact that we didn’t have the ability to articulate clearly how the farm would be owned and run in the future,” Ms. Early continued. “They were going to take their resources which includes Island farmers and reach out to members . . . to try to create a farm plan that would answer some of those questions --basically try to pull it together in more of a cohesive whole.”
Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation executive director Adam Moore said the farm project raised $18,000 over the summer; after expenses about $15,000 remains.
Sarah McKay, executive director of IGI, confirmed that her group has taken the lead in the initiative to buy the farm from Mr. Grubman, but would not elaborate.
“It’s still early to say much, but we’ll be helping put together a business plan for the farm,” said Ms. McKay. “Where the title of the farm ends up is definitely to be determined. It could end up with IGI, I’m not sure,” she said.
Mr. Grubman said yesterday that he still hopes to find a buyer — nonprofit or otherwise — by the end of the year.
“My timetable hasn’t really changed. What I told people this summer is I hope people could put forward a plan by the end of this year, and if that couldn’t happen I’d see that as a sign that there’s not a lot of support. If there’s no plan, I’d be very disappointed,” Mr. Grubman said. He said his offer to give back an undisclosed sum of money toward the purchase still stands. “I’m still committed to considering funding a project if it makes sense,” he said, concluding:
“As far as I’m concerned I still have the same mindset that I started this with some years ago. I hope to find a way to keep this in permanent food production but I don’t want to be the only person supporting that. I love the CSA and I think very highly of Andrew, but my first priority is to see if this can stay in permanent food production.”
Gazette reporter Remy Tumin contributed to this story.