Edgartown poised to approve TTOR takeover of Katama Farm lease

Under the amended draft lease, The Trustees would continue to focus on FARM Institute programs.

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The Trustees of Reservations want to take over The FARM Institute's 40-year lease. -Photo by Cathryn McCann

Representatives of The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), a statewide land trust with six properties located on Martha’s Vineyard, and the Edgartown conservation commission appeared before selectmen Monday to describe the details under which TTOR would take over a lease the town signed with the FARM institute 11 years ago to operate Katama Farm for a new 40-year term.

Established in 2000, the FARM Institute, a nonprofit education organization, leases the property from the Edgartown conservation commission. The FARM Institute is an educational nonprofit that offers year-round programs that teach participants about all levels of farming, including land preservation, agriculture, and livestock management.

A year ago, TTOR announced plans to absorb the FARM institute and bolster it financially. Taking over the lease is the next step in joining the two groups.

Conservation commission chairman Edward (Peter) Vincent Jr. told selectmen that the lease has been minimally altered following seven months of negotiations with TTOR and the FARM Institute. It includes provisions that require TTOR to continue to uphold the mission and spirit of the FARM Institute. Mr. Vincent told selectmen that all programs and staff currently in place will remain.

“The FARM institute is integrating with the Trustees of Reservations,” Mr. Vincent said.

Other lease provisions include a raise in rent to $12,500 annually, “which we understand is a fair figure for what the taxes are that we’re losing on property,” Mr. Vincent said.

The transfer of the lease to TTOR is occurring at the second option point built into the earlier 40-year contract that allows the FARM Institute to terminate the agreement.

The updated lease will also dictate the sourcing for any materials TTOR may sell through the farm: 50 percent of goods must be produced on the farm, 40 percent may be produced elsewhere on Martha’s Vineyard, and 10 percent can come from off-Island.

The conservation commission will review operations six months after TTOR takes over the lease, again at a year, and then annually thereafter.

Selectmen voted to take the proposed lease under advisement with the intent to act upon it at next Monday’s meeting.

“This will hit the paper, and we’ll get some feedback,” chairman Michael Donaroma said.

Sixth TTOR farm

The TTOR senior regional director for Boston and the Southeast, John Vasconcellos, told The Times in a phone conversation Wednesday that TTOR is the largest owner of private farmland in Massachusetts.

“Agriculture and its intersection with education are among the key tenets of our mission,” Mr. Vasconcellos said. “This was an opportunity to merge with an organization that was extremely complementary to the work that we were doing.”

He said that the FARM institute will benefit from merging with TTOR insofar as increasing its financial stability and its access to broader expertise and membership.

“This will become the sixth farm that we run as a full operating farm with an educational component,” Mr. Vasconcellos said.

The merger comes against the backdrop of a disagreement between the Dukes County commissioners and TTOR over the contract TTOR now holds to manage Norton Point Beach. The county insists all subcontractors adhere to a $15-an-hour minimum-wage standard. TTOR said that requirement would add $20,000 to its costs.

“We’re eager to get both properties running well and on as sound financial footing as we can, so we don’t necessarily see them connected, but we’re keenly aware of it,” Mr. Vasconcellos said.

He said he hopes the county appreciates the work TTOR does at the FARM Institute as well all the other properties it manages on Island.

He said these services are “really about a public good that we want to make sure is sustainable.”