Island Grown Initiative adds Chilmark spring property to portfolio

Chilmark Springwater will soon cease operations. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Island Grown Initiative (IGI) last week announced that it had signed a purchase and sale agreement with the Dunkl family to purchase the family’s 23-acre homestead off Old Farm Road in Chilmark. Under the agreement, siblings Heidi, Peter, and Frank Dunkl will continue to live in the house they built on the property they have owned for more than 50 years for the rest of their lives.

The purchase marks a shift for IGI, the Martha’s Vineyard nonprofit founded in August 2006 to grow the community through sustainable agriculture, local food advocacy and education.

To date, IGI’s sole and most significant property purchase, funded by approximately $3 million in donations from three wealthy seasonal residents, was the former 37-acre Thimble Farm off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs. IGI has ambitious plans to put the farm’s existing 33,000-square-foot greenhouse and fields back into production.

The plan for the Dunkl property is far simpler. “Island Grown Initiative’s objective for this purchase is to preserve and protect the abundant water source that is important to the Island community, to protect the property as a natural resource and to protect the natural habitat that includes many endangered species and plants as well as a diversity of wildlife,” IGI said in a press release.

The Dunkl property abuts the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s 185-acre Waskosim’s Rock preserve and the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation’s Roth Woodlands. Sheriff’s Meadow holds a conservation restriction over the Dunkl property put in place in 1979 for the express purpose of protecting the Mill Brook watershed and frontage on North Road from development.

Sheriff’s Meadow executive director Adam Moore said he was aware of the discussions between IGI and the Dunkls, but given the level of existing conservation restrictions, a purchase was not a priority of the Foundation.

Asked why, given the existing level of protection, IGI decided to purchase the property, IGI president Sarah McKay said it was to protect against a private purchase.

“The purchase does not add any other protection other than protecting against the possibility of the Dunkls having to sell the property to support themselves,” Ms. McKay said in an email to The Times. “The sensitive nature of the property left them with few viable options. IGI was able to work cooperatively with the family to allow them to continue to live on the property. We look forward to developing appropriate educational initiatives around this unique property and the Dunkls.”

Ms. McKay was asked if this purchase marks an initiative by IGI to act as a conservation organization, along the lines of The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy, or Sheriff’s Meadow.

“IGI has no intention to go into the water business and does not plan on acting as a conservation organization,” Ms. McKay said. “IGI will continue to work withconservation agencies particularly as it relates to connecting available land to local growers. We support their work and collaborate when we can as it relates to our mission and sustainable agriculture.”

Last chapter

The Dunkls are the owners of the Chilmark Spring Water Company, a labor of love more than profit, according to Frank Dunkl. At it for more than 15 years, it has yet to turn a profit, he said of the water drawn from his family’s land and bottled on Martha’s Vineyard.

IGI said in its press release it has no intention of purchasing The Chilmark Water Company “and it is anticipated that the Dunkls will close its operations in the coming months.”

In a telephone conversation Monday during a break in the bottling operation, Frank Dunkl confirmed plans to cease operation.

“We will close it down,” Mr. Dunkl said. “It’s been 15 years we haven’t made any money and when you’re almost 70 you figure, hey I’ve got better things to do with my time.”

Mr. Dunkl said a sale to a nonprofit like IGI was the best option. “Who in the world would want to buy the property with us living there for maybe 20 years?”

He added, “The second thing is, we put 50 years into protecting the ecological resources of that property and we wanted to see to it that whoever eventually gets the property is going to have a little bit of a kind heart towards the ecology.”

Mr. Dunkl said it was important, as the members of his family age, to craft an agreement that would offer them some security heading into old age and have a community benefit. He said this agreement preserves the water source and that water source may at some point be of use to the community.

“We haven’t figured out what’s the best way of making it available to the community, or how it can best serve the community at this point,” he said. “That’s something that will be worked out in the next two to three years with Island Grown Initiative.”

Mr. Dunkl said he expects to conclude the sale this fall. The sale will be structured so that the Dunkls, well known for their simple, no-frills life style, receive a yearly amount.

“If we were to go out and buy a brand-new Lexus, that would blow the whole thing and we’d be done with it and be back out on the street,” Mr. Dunkl said. “But if we continue to live quietly, and cautiously, we will be able to live comfortably.”

He added, “What we consider to be comfortable, other people might consider that to be below poverty level, but to us it’s comfortable. As long as we go easy and watch the budget we’ll be alright because we’ll have a roof over our heads and have money coming in each year.”