In a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon, the Edgartown conservation commission chose the Trustees of Reservations and Morning Glory Farm to take over the 182-acre Katama Farm.
The Trustees and Morning Glory submitted separate requests for proposals (RFP), with the Trustees set to operate the educational programming portion and Morning Glory to run the agricultural farming portion. The collaborative effort includes Slough Farm, which will act as community partners with the Trustees, and Grey Barn, which will share some farming duties with Morning Glory.
Commissioner Bob Avakian confirmed the unanimous vote in a phone call Wednesday, but declined to comment on the decision.
Fences appear to be mended between the commission and the Trustees more than a year after the commission severed its lease with the organization over issues concerning the farm’s use. Commissioners felt there was too big a focus on farm events and the teaching kitchen at the FARM Institute, and too little focus on agricultural production. The Trustees took control of the FARM Institute and its Katama Farm lease in 2016.
The breakup resulted in the commission appointing a Katama Farm stewardship committee to evaluate the existing farm and education program, develop criteria for farm management, and recommend a team or teams to manage the property. The committee made its recommendation at Wednesday’s meeting.
Working with Slough Farm, the Trustees plan to build on farm-based education through the FARM Institute. This programming on the Trustees’ roughly 30-acre portion will include field trips for the Island’s K-12 schools, summer camps, and work-study programs. Classes and programs for adults will also be offered. Programming will be year-round.
The Trustees will also seek to sublease portions of their acerage to new farmers with a preference for Island-based operations.
Speaking to The Times Wednesday, Trustees Islands director Sam Hart said the Trustees were thrilled to once again be providing education programming at the farm. Their goal is to have summer camps and programming up and running this summer.
“We’re grateful to the Edgartown conservation commission. This is an important milestone,” Hart said. “We will keep the mission of [FARM Institute] alive at Katama Farm, and we’re thrilled that Morning Glory was chosen as the farmer. We look forward to working in collaboration with them as well. We think it’s a great outcome for the community and a great outcome for the town.”
Morning Glory is run by the Athearn family in Edgartown. Patriarch Jim Athearn’s experience farming in Katama stretches back to the 1980s when he milked cows and did tractor work in the fields at the former Seaside Dairy Farm. In 2020, through an agreement with the Trustees, Athearn’s son, Dan, was in charge of a beef cattle herd on Katama Farm’s east pasture. Robyn Athearn, who is currently the flower director for Morning Glory, also worked with the FARM Institute during its transition from Herring Creek Farm to Katama Farm. For the past two years, Morning Glory has assisted the FARM Institute with fieldwork and preparing soil for pumpkin and sunflower crops for the FARM Institute’s programming.
Farming duties will consist of Morning Glory overseeing 100 acres of the farm and a portion of the property’s barn, while Grey Barn will operate 50 acres of farmland and another portion of the barn.
“We would cooperate whenever possible and advantageous, and at the same time conduct our business independently,” Morning Glory’s RFP reads. “Our operations complement each other well.”
Morning Glory’s farming operations will be run by Dan Athearn, and consist of raising cattle, pigs, and egg-laying hens, and also include hay harvesting, planting row crops, and soil stewardship.
With the Katama Farm lease, the farm plans to double its mother cows from 10 to 20 within five years, with the goal of a herd of 60 cows. The proposal also calls for increasing the farm’s pigs from 45 to 60 per year, and its chickens from 900 per season to 1,350.
Morning Glory’s RFP estimates the farm will break even. The application cites a family tradition of farming, hope of increased income and lowered costs, and a desire to provide locally raised food while promoting Katama Farm as an agricultural and cultural resource for the Island.
Speaking to The Times Wednesday, Dan Athearn said Morning Glory is excited about the opportunity. “We want to do better at what we’re already doing, essentially,” Athearn said. “We hope to manage it fairly intensively, and really pay attention to the soil. The soil is everything.”
Once agreements have been signed and rent has been paid, Athearn said he’s ready to get breeding cattle out soon, move another part of the herd in August, and move egg-laying hens there in June.
He thanked the town and the commission. “We’re excited to get out there. It’s beautiful land,” Athearn said. “We hope it can be an example for the best practices. There’s really nice infrastructure out there, and we’re very lucky and honored to get to use it.”
He praised the proposals that weren’t chosen, which included a proposal from Darcie Lee Hanaway for a new farm and from Shawn Byrne of Island Grown Farms for a hops farm.
The Grey Barn’s farming will consist of a multi-year staged development to improve soil health before raising a flock of hair sheep, which will be raised for meat. Grey Barn would also be a certified-organic operation, according to its proposal.
In addition to raising sheep, the farm would focus on community engagement through collaboration with the Trustees and Slough Farm.