Tea Lane Farm goes to Krishana Collins

The Tea Lane Farm will become a flower farm. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Tea Lane farmhouse off Middle Road in Chilmark, which was built more than 250 years ago and has been without a year-round tenant for several years, will have a new resident farmer this summer.

After years of planning – and after two different plans for the farm were rejected at town meeting – a joint panel of the Chilmark selectmen and the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank town advisory board (TAB) voted Friday to award the farm to well known flower farmer Krishana Collins.

The timing of the vote was auspicious. Friday was also the date of the full “flower moon.”

Ms. Collins is the proprietor of Bluebird Farm, located on land she leases from Whippoorwill Farm off Old County Road in West Tisbury, where she grows a wide variety of flowers, including zinnias, lilies, sunflowers and dahlias, as well as baby bok choy and salad greens.

In a straw vote, the joint panel voted 5-3 for Ms. Collins to become the new resident farmer at Tea Lane Rarm, according to town zoning administrator Chuck Hodgkinson. Land Bank town advisory board members Clarissa Allen, Lisa Randall, Dick Smith, John Flender and selectman Bill Rossi voted in favor of Ms. Collins.

Selectmen Jonathan Mayhew and Warren Doty (also a TAB member) and TAB member Tim Carroll voted for Sarah Crittenden and Rusty Gordon, a well known vegetable farmer who recently started Ghost Island Farm and was the co-organizer of the winter’s farmers market at the Ag Hall.

Following the straw vote, the joint panel unanimously agreed to formally endorse Ms. Collins as the new resident farmer at Tea Lane Farm. Ms. Crittenden and Mr. Gordon, the runners up, would take over as resident farmers on the off chance things with Ms. Collins fall through.

Prior to the vote Friday, the finalists to take over Tea Lane Farm were interviewed by the joint panel last week. A third finalist, Allen Healy of Mermaid Farm and Dairy off Middle Road, withdrew his proposal.

As expected, the vote to endorse Ms. Collins on Friday took place with no discussion. During the interviews last week, both selectmen and TAB members agreed they would not get into specifics about why they chose one candidate over another.

Members of the joint panel instead agreed the three finalists were highly qualified and choosing the resident farmer was an extremely difficult decision.

“They’re excellent applications – all of them,” Ms. Allen said.

“They all took it so serious . . . these are amazing applications,” Mr. Doty said.

Ms. Collins will sign a 75-year ground lease for the Tea Lane Farmstead, after which the town will sell farmhouse, barn, garage and two outbuildings to her for $1. In exchange, she will agree to make certain renovations to the historic farmhouse.

The lease allows Ms. Collins to own the value of any renovations 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.

During the interviews, 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.

Ms. Collins said last week she would shore up the barn in the first year and in the second year evaluate whether it made more sense to repair or rebuild it. 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.

Ms. Collins said she would eventually like to grow 10,000 lilies, 12,000 zinnias, 6,000 sunflowers, 3,000 dahlias and other varieties of flowers, and estimated she would grow between 50 to 100 pounds of salad greens and between 20 to 50 pounds of baby bok choy a week.

Ms. Collins said she was prepared and excited about taking over Tea Lane Farm. “I know it’s feasible I know I can do it, I have no doubt in my mind that I can take care of the house and the farm with the finances I have,” she said. “I am determined to do it. I have been farming for 20 years at this point I have never given up. I have persevered on borrowed land, and I still have successful business and I Know I can carry that over to Tea Lane Farm.”

Ms. Collins praised town officials for coming up with the resident farmer plan and said it could be a successful model for other towns.

“It’s amazing what you are doing by going through this whole process and I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of you for doing this,” she said. “I want people to drive by [the farm] and be proud.”