No crops, just studies

The city names a new consultant to jumpstart use of public farms.

Although few green sprouts are popping this spring from city-owned farmland, some seeds of change have been sown.

The city on Thursday named the American Farmland Trust as the agricultural consultant to help craft a management plan for 61 acres of farmland under local public ownership.

The Washington D.C.-based trust was formed in 1980 and has helped preserve over 1 million acres of farmland nationwide.

“They’ll inventory all the farmland we have here, interview the players and come up with a model we can follow,” said Councilman Bob Scales, a member of the ad-hoc farming committee that recommended the trust to the mayor.

Not having a model to work from has stymied efforts to connect farmers with lands purchased by the city for small-scale farm use.

The 4.7-acre Morales Farm at the intersection of Highway 305 and Lovgreen hasn’t been used since the city purchased it two years ago for $210,000. The 14.5 acres on the Johnson Farm on Fletcher Bay Road has sat fallow for the four years since the city bought it for $750,000.

“It’s fairly unusual for a city to be as involved in farmland as Bainbridge is,” Scales said. “Much of it is new to us.”

Kordonowy hopes to have a lease contract finalized with the Trust for Working Landscapes for management of the Morales Farm in the next few months.

“It’s going through our attorneys and then it has to go back to the City Council,” she said. “It will be done perhaps a little later than the spring season, but hopefully we’ll be prepared for the fall or an early spring crop next season.”

At the Johnson Farm, efforts to subdivide a portion of the property for affordable housing has slowed efforts to return the land to farm use.

A geotechnical assessment is in the works that will help determine where buildings can be erected on lands formerly used as a gravel dump. The assessment will also clarify where a donated barn can be reassembled.

The city also plans to assess the kinds of agricultural uses the Johnson Farm will support. Dotted by a dozen or so fruit trees, the farm’s hilly landscape is largely dominated by grasses and weeds.

“It could be up to a year before we get the barn built there,” Kordonowy said. “It’s lease work and legal work that’s taking the most time.”

The TWL will also manage the Johnson Farm once the assessments and legalities are clarified.

“As soon as negotiations are finalized, we’ll start the process of farmer selection,” said TWL board chair Rik Langendoen. “We’re looking at it being small plots used as Community Supported Agriculture-like farms.”

In the meantime, the council has passed measures to help maintain the city’s agricultural land until farmers move in.

The council earmarked $4,000 to mow grass, fertilize, prune trees and remove snags at the M&E Tree Farm off Lovgreen Road. About $1,300 will be spent on repairing and maintaining a fence along Day Road to protect the Suyematsu property from deer incursions.

The council also approved $30,000 to pay for the remaining legal work and structural improvements at the Johnson Farm and $12,000 for the AFT’s consulting work.

“This certainly jumpstarts things,” said TWL member Candace Jagel, who has been monitoring the Johnson Farm’s progress. “It’s taken a while to get going, but basically everybody’s doing what they can do.”

Kordonowy hopes the city’s action will tie loose ends to get the process moving again.

“These items take care of some of the details and maintenance,” Kordonowy said. “Then we can get into a phase where more work can be done. This is all new territory for us and we’re building it as we go. Every good step forward raises questions that we want to answer.

“Farming’s a part of the island’s heritage and we want to set ourselves up for something good for next year and the years after.”

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