In its effort to encourage local farming, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank has issued a number of request for proposals (RFP) for agricultural land leases.
As of Tuesday, the M.V. Land Bank is accepting proposals for agricultural leases for one acre at Featherstone Farm in Oak Bluffs, one acre at Chilmark’s Tea Lane Farm, in addition to offering a cropland lease agreement for two acres at the Wapatequa Woods Reservation in Vineyard Haven.
Newly available land includes five acres at Quenomica Preserve North in Edgartown and two acres of John Presbury Norton Farm in West Tisbury. Neither property had been offered before for agricultural use through the RFP process.
Lease terms for the properties are from April 1 of this year to Dec. 31, 2027, with proposals due by March 24.
An RFP sent out in December that garnered more bids than expected was the impetus to introduce the new leaseholds, Land Bank executive director James Lengyel told The Times.
Following the close of a nine-year lease cycle for Short Cove Preserve, the Land Bank ultimately opted to renew the previous lessee’s contract, leaving a number of eager prospective leaseholders without land to farm. This prompted the Land Bank Commission to issue RFP’s for other locations, hoping to meet that demand.
Currently, the Lank Bank touts 90 acres of available land for agricultural use under contract, with 12 leases available among 11 properties; property sizes vary from one acre to 13 acres. How each site is being used also varies — from growing hay, vegetables, and flowers to crops and pasturing — Lengyel said.
But what remains the same is the motivation behind the Land Bank’s offerings.
Per the Land Bank’s public use policies, leasable land is available at no higher than $10 per acre, per year.
“It’s clear that the impediment to farming in general, and [specifically] Martha’s Vineyard, is the price of land,” Lengyel said.
Often, developable land is seen as more valuable than conservation land, or farm land, which causes farming to be “constantly squeezed,” he said.
But, “the Land Bank’s policy is designed to reverse that,” Lengyel said.
Instead, the conservation organization decided to “take the land cost out of the equation so that the farmer can apply all the diligence that’s necessary to make a profit without having to be saddled with a prohibitive land cost.”
However, the nearly free cost of farm land does not come without ordinance. Each property is subject to annual review to determine whether the use of the land is meeting all necessary conditions of the agreement.
Each year on Dec. 1, the Land Bank looks at every lease to make sure that the respective property remains “in the public interest,” Lengyel said.
If it’s decided that a lessee isn’t following the land use guidelines, the Land Bank reserves the right to unilaterally cancel the lease — a practice that happens periodically, Lengyel said, when lessees are “not making full use of the resource.”
“The Land Bank really wants these farmlands to be farmed,” Lengyel said.
But if a leaseholder has been doing a satisfactory job, he said, the normal lease duration of five years can be renewed for an additional four.
Ultimately, it’s up to the land superintendent to ascertain whether a prospective lessee has the ability and motivation to realize the farm plan. It’s subsequently the responsibility of the Commission to decide what would be the best use of the land, and what would be best for the Island for that property, Lengyel said.
Although the Land Bank does sometimes receive too many bids for one RFP, Lengyel said the supply of properties still outweighs the current demand overall.
“We will often have a farm field that we know can be used and there’s no one who wants to do it, or put in the effort,” he said.
In fact, some leaseholds lack bids altogether, Lengyel said, but “we’re always hoping that there’s going to be a continuing upswing of farming on the Vineyard and we can make the fields available.”
On the newly available leasable land, Lengyel said, the Land Bank’s “hoping these RFPs will attract that sort of interest.”
At their Tuesday afternoon meeting, the Land Bank Commission voted in favor of issuing (and reissuing) the five requests for proposals.
Per the specification of the RFPs, prospective bidders must “specify how they will farm the leasehold,” such as details about crops or livestock, and whether new infrastructure will be needed, like wells or fencing. Bids should “contain no non-agricultural elements” and “be in accordance with” Land Bank policies, particularly part 2.1, which lists policies regarding farming.
“Bidders must be able to demonstrate secure housing on the Vineyard, so as to be able to supply proper oversight on the leasehold,” the RFPs stated.
Bids must be received by the Land Bank by 10 am, March 24, 2023. They can be mailed to P.O. Box 2057, Edgartown, MA 02539, hand-delivered to 167 Main St. in Edgartown, or emailed to email@example.com. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-627-7141.