Chilmark selectmen winnow down Tea Lane Farmstead candidates

The Tea Lane Farmstead will soon have new occupants. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Chilmark selectmen, in a joint meeting Tuesday, May 1, with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s town advisory board (TAB), interviewed the three finalists who want to be the resident farmer at the Tea Lane farmstead.

The resident farmer will receive a 75-year lease for the Tea Lane Farmstead, after which the town will sell farmhouse, barn, garage and two outbuildings to that farmer for $1. In exchange, the resident farmer will agree to make certain renovations to the historic farmhouse.

The lease allows the farmer to own the value of any renovations he or she makes to the farmhouse. At the annual town meeting in April, voters approved an article authorizing $100,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for renovations to the farmhouse.

The three finalists who met with selectmen and the TAB were: Rusty Gordon and Sarah Crittenden, Allen Healy, and Krishana Collins. Mr. Gordon recently started Ghost Island Farm and was the co-organizer of the winter’s farmer market at the Ag Hall.

Mr. Healy operates the Mermaid Farm and Dairy off Middle Road, where he sells yogurts, cheese, and raw milk. Ms. Collins operates Bluebird Farms in West Tisbury, which specializes in growing flowers and making floral arrangements.

Each applicant got a half an hour to answer questions and explain their farm and renovation plans for the farmhouse. All three applicants said they had start-up money to begin construction on the farmhouse, but planned on using CPA funding to offset the cost.

Mr. Gordon and Ms. Crittenden explained that if they were chosen, they would grow vegetables and perform a large amount of renovations in the first two-and-a-half months, and move into the farmhouse after that.

Mr. Gordon said they would replace the rotting sills and jack up the north side of the farmhouse to repair the rotting floor system. He said the second floor would be completely gutted, and would be left one open space.

Mr. Gordon said he would plant cover crops on much of the land in the first year, to prepare the soils for the growing season next year. He said they would plant strawberries and raspberries in the next year and plant a more diverse range of vegetables in following years. He added that they plan to start a farm stand.

Mr. Healy said he wanted to move the operations at Mermaid Farm and Dairy to the Tea Lane farmstead. He said he would focus on renovating the large barn on the property first and convert it into a dairy barn, and then turn his attention to the house.

He said he would lift up the foundation of the farmhouse and build a new basement, and also replace the sills and rotten wood. He said he did plan to build an addition in the back of the farmhouse, facing Tea Lane.

He said he would build an apartment above the dairy barn for employees and would use a shed on the property for winter housing for his livestock. He said he would continue to produce yogurt and cheese and sell it wholesale to local stores and restaurants.

“I sort of have outgrown my space, so Tea Lane would allow me to maintain a larger herd,” he said.

Mr. Healy said he did plan a small retail operation on the property, and would move into the farmhouse when construction is done, which he estimated could take one or two years.

Ms. Collins described a two-year plan for the farmhouse, starting with all the structural, heating, plumbing and electrical work. She said she would do preliminary work for an addition on the house, but would not build it right away.

“I don’t want to overextend myself financially. I want to take things slowly,” she said.

She said she would shore up the barn in the first year and then in the second year evaluate whether it made more sense to repair or rebuild it. Ms. Collins said she did not plan to build a farm stand on the site.

She said there would be a combination of crop land, pastures, and cover crop — and she would primarily grow flowers, salad greens and bok choy.

“I think my farm plan will be a success at Tea Lane Farm, because I know I can do it . . . I have thought a lot about it . . . I have been farming for 20 years, and I have never given up,” she said.

Both selectmen and members of the TAB said they needed more time to make their decision. They agreed to schedule a meeting on Friday at 5 pm at the town hall, to make their final choice.