Island farmer Krishana Collins prepares for the future

The Tea Lane Farmhouse, shown in the this photo taken last spring, has a new owner. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Tonight, in a brief signing ceremony in Chilmark town hall, Krishana Collins officially became the new owner of the Tea Lane Farm. At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Ms. Collins purchased the farmhouse and outbuildings for $1 and signed a 75 year lease agreement with the town of Chilmark for the three acres on which the buildings sit.

Separately, Ms. Collins is expected to sign a lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank for the right to farm the adjoining 11 acres that were part of the Tea Lane homestead. The 250-year old farmhouse and buildings are in dire need of repair and upgrades.

In May, selectmen chose Ms. Collins from a pool of applicants who submitted farming proposals. That decision ended years of planning and proposals for the town-owned farm.

Town voters have appropriated up to $100,000 of Community Preservation Act funds to help renovate and preserve the historic farmhouse. According to the agreement, all work must be reviewed by town officials, and the value of any town funded improvements cannot be added to the selling price, if Ms. Collins decides to sell the farm in the future.

The diminutive Pensacola, Florida native began farming as a teenager and has been working the land for 20 years in Vermont and on the Island. She was at Antioch College in Ohio when the farming bug got her. She suspects she was born that way. “My grandmother told me I planted sticks and weeds when I was a baby,” she recalled this week as she prepared to become a leaseholder and farmer-in-residence on approximately 14 acres of land off Middle Road.

“I went to work on an organic farm in Vermont when I was 19. Coming from Florida, 20 miles from Alabama, I only knew about romaine and iceberg lettuce. I didn’t know about all the varieties. I ate a carrot I’d pulled from the earth and it tasted better than anything I’d ever eaten. After a couple of years I came to the Vineyard because I’d heard the wages were better.”

Ms. Collins said she is familiar and comfortable with the seasonal rhythms of farming life. “But that was completely different this year. The things I was thinking about were different,” she said of her double-duty of raising her gardens and planning for a new life next year.

For many years, Ms. Collins has raised flowers and vegetables on three different leased plots, including Whippoorwill Farms on 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 under the name Bluebird Farms. “Flowers, salad greens and broccoli. Those are my mainstays,” she said

“This year was more of a struggle, but it was better with the knowledge that I would be in one place next year. It definitely made it easier to work through. All summer long I’ve been thinking about the application process, then waiting for the closing.

“I was so busy this summer but my line of work includes a lot of boring repetitious tasks, so I have a lot of time to daydream and plan,” she said this week. “Making proposals has not been a part of my life. I cannot believe how much I learned in the proposal process, figuring out a ten-year plan, writing a marketing plan. I’d never thought that way before.

“The way I started farming was to start farming. But when I wrote the plan I realized that I had a plan the whole time and didn’t realize it. That’s given me confidence about everything, realizing I have some intuitive knowledge. Other ideas bubbled up as the proposal developed. It was a mind-expanding experience,” she said.

Prioritizing and pragmatism are also parts of her plan. Her agreement with the town of Chilmark calls for her to make improvements to the old farmhouse. “Structural house repairs have to be done ASAP. Foundation work, sills need to be replaced. The heating, plumbing and insulation systems need replacement or upgrades. I want to get started this fall with a hope to live there in winter,” she said.

Her workforce will include a combination of volunteers and contracted workers. “People are happy the farm is going to be used. I’m amazed at how many people want to be part of it. The people in this community are amazing, organizing work parties, encouraging me. Community involvement has gone way beyond a handful of people and it gives such enthusiasm to make it what it could be,” she said

“I am awed by the outpouring of support. Maybe this happens somewhere else in the world, but I believe it’s singular to this community. You know, my rototiller broke one day, just sitting in the field. Then it was gone. I found it back in the field the next day, all fixed and ready to go. A lot of the worries of the rest of world don’t exist here because of community,” she said.

“A year from today, I see myself living in the house with a couple of people who are working on the farm. I see animals on a third of the land, cover plants and crops on the remainder. Allen Healy [of Mermaid Farm] and the people at Beetlebung Farm, who are experts in the symbiosis between crops and animals, are helping.

“We have to build the soil up. It needs help, it’s not in the place it needs to be so the first crop will be a cover crop this fall. A mixture of winter rye and thatch. We’re going to set up a new composting system. It’s an experiment, but knowing I have 75 years provides the time to do the things I’ve always wanted to do. Farming is a creative process. I’m excited,” she said.