Thoughts on the potential sale of 107 East St.

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Far From Ordinary

The Evonsion Farm is the largest remaining parcel of very high quality agricultural soils in town. The total parcel of 125 acres contains 88 acres of prime agricultural soils and 20 acres of farmland of statewide importance. It is irreplaceable.

Context Matters

The town already studied the issue of the future of this parcel only 2 1/2 years ago. A volunteer committee (the Town-Owned Land Study Committee) concluded, after considering testimony, written comments, investigations, a town-wide opinion survey and two public hearings, that this property should remain in agriculture. The present RFP was triggered by an unsolicited offer from a resident to either buy or lease the land to establish an organic dairy farm (his subsequent submission as an RFP is limited to a purchase option only). Had this offer not been made, out of the blue, we would not be here debating what to do.

“Act in haste, repent at leisure”

The Town should not be in any hurry to decide the merits of any of these proposals, or to pick one. Instead, it would make more sense to proceed in a careful way, to assure that the best long term plan for the farm is adopted. This is the best way to assure that whatever is done is in the town’s best interest. In particular, I suggest that the best way to do this would be for the Board of Selectmen to set up a permanent commission—the Evonsion Farm Commission—or the 107 East Street Commission–to act as an advisory body to develop on an ongoing basis the various agricultural, and perhaps other uses, to which the farm might be put. Done right, this will take time. One of the RFP’s under consideration requires a town response by April 30. The town should feel no pressure to do anything in such an abbreviated time frame.

Don’t sell the Farm

Selling to a private party would be a mistake. Even if the development rights are retained by the town, or acquired by the state or a non-profit entity, the risks of private ownership are many. Death, illness, bad luck, financial misfortune or mismanagement, could all result in the land falling into disuse and growing up in invasives. The prospect of an “organic” farm has great appeal to many, but the actual execution over the long term is far from a certainty. There is a reason why family businesses sometimes last only a single generation.

In addition, sale of the development rights to the state also has control issues. As part of the sale process, a detailed site plan will be developed and memorialized by the state. Future changes to such a plan are not easy to make and the town has no control over them.

Get real expertise from an unbiased source

The University of Connecticut is a land grant institution. It likely has expertise beyond that of anyone in town. So do other institutions. Think of Cornell, or SUNY, or Yale.

Respect history

The Hayes family has been the agricultural backbone of Granby for over 300 years. Their record of service to the Town of Granby is long, varied and distinguished. The present generation knows what it is doing, and has invested in the most modern methods of managing and milking a dairy herd. If any decision must be made now (which seems inadvisable to be in such a rush), then going with experienced local farmers makes a lot of sense. Of course, there is no legal compulsion to make any decisions now at all.

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future

No one knows where our food will be grown in 50 or 100 years. It might not be in California or Arizona. Nor does anyone know what we will be eating. Maybe healthier stuff? Maybe local sources of food will be more important than they are now. Gary Cirullo, owner of the Garlic Farm, told me that it is a huge mistake to lose high quality soils. My personal view, as a non-expert in agricultural matters, is that the town would be best served by treating the farm as a valuable agricultural resource, and retaining full control by leasing part or all of it on reasonable terms that preserve and build soil quality.

The worst of all arguments

There is one argument that ought to be rejected. It is that the town has no business owning land that  would otherwise remain on the tax rolls. The Town has many reasons to keep this land in agriculture. It is a hedge against an uncertain climate future. It may make the difference between being able to feed people good food at reasonable cost, and the opposite–forced reliance on Big Agriculture. Where has that gotten us? It should also be retained for possible other town uses that are unknown at this time. I’d say the town has a duty to look out for those who will be alive when we are not. Keeping this land in town ownership and control so that it can be assured of an agricultural future or other use beneficial to the interest of the town and its citizens, makes all kinds of sense to me.

Luckingbeal is a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission, an environmental lawyer and longtime Granby resident.