FINDING FARM LAND ON AN ISLAND // the local food report

Nantucket has a reputation. Beautiful, definitely. But also pricey. As of 2011, Nantucket County had the highest median home price in the United States, and the only one in the seven digits. ($200,000 more on average than Manhattan!) 

Of course, that's excellent news if you're a homeowner. But it's terrible news for wanna-be farmers. Part of the reason for the sky-high prices is that Nantucket is an island, which means there's a finite amount of space. In addition, roughly half the land on the island is owned by the community land bank and is preserved as open space, which is excellent for conservation but also drives up demand and prices even further. But when it comes to food production, there's a big silver lining to this equation: the possibility of partnerships.

Land use partnerships are something non-profit Sustainable Nantucket has been looking at for a while. The organization's tagline is "Cultivating a Healthy Nantucket," and the focus of this effort is the building and strengthening of the community's local food system. The most recent news is the development of a community farm on a 2-acre land bank parcel. The idea is that the farm will serve as an incubator, where beginning farmers can start a business with very little overhead cost. In this way it's different than a community garden, where by-laws prevent growers from selling what they produce—the whole idea with the farm is to foster commercial growers. The parcel will be divided into sixteen plots each 1/8th of an acre, and Sustainable Nantucket will raise money to put in an irrigation system, pay any fees associated with the use of the land, and put up fencing. Growers, in turn, will pay a small fee to cover these costs. And the hope is that growers will be able to graduate to other land partnerships if their business gets to a size where they need more space. 

It's pretty exciting—especially for an island that less than 200 years ago had about a hundred farms and is now down to somewhere near a dozen. New growers Carl Keller and Tori McCandless (pictured up there) of Boatyard Farm say they have tons of friends who are interested in growing, but that everyone's always thought of it as something you can only do off island. Hopefully, that will change soon. Sustainable Nantucket is working right now to finalize the site plan, and interested growers will meet regularly over the next year to research soil and amendments, sustainable energy options, greenhouse options, and business plans. If all goes well, the first farmers will get started on the farm in the spring of 2015. 

Does your area have anything like this? One of the most exciting aspects about it seems like all the potential for working together. I'd love to hear about other examples of this sort of community growing! 


Michelle Whelan said...

Thank you for the excellent post! We are so excited about the community farm program and eager to recruit growers and volunteers and share updates with the community! Thank you for helping us get the word out!

Tori said...

Thanks so much for coming to the island Elspeth! Carl and I really enjoyed your visit and the time you took to listen!

Gracie Cavnar said...

Congratulations on your new project. We are ramping up a similar operation in Houston, Texas with Hope Farms to train new farmers and incubate new market growers. Love to share progress! www.recipe4success.org


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