Make growing, not buying, a priority in ’05

Here’s the farm. Who are the farmers?

On the Bentryn land on Day Road East, they are many. Under the stewardship of the Bentryn family, various growers have for years been allowed to work the land under no real obligation.

Indeed, anyone who’s gone out that way to select a pumpkin at Halloween knows the land rolls out in proud defiance of any signs of individual ownership. Of boundary markers and signs and fencelines, there are none. And while we have trodden the ground on several occasions, both professionally and personally, we still could not say with any precision where the Bentryn holdings begin and end.

To the farmers, that hasn’t seemed to matter; they’ve worked the land as a team.

We hope that cooperative, collectivist spirit persists and prevails, as the city prepares to purchase another 11.5 acres of Day Road East farmland from the Bentryn family. (The issue goes before the council this evening, and unanimous approval is anticipated.) The $770,000 arrangement marks another step forward in the Bainbridge community’s efforts to preserve some semblance of agricultural activity in our midst. While the heyday of berry farming ended years ago, replaced by subdivisions and what have you, the Bentryn farm deal will help perpetuate an agricultural district among other, unfortunately more contemporary uses.

Yet as reported on today’s front page, those who’ve been working the Day Road land for years raise concerns – legitimate ones, we believe – concerning their future there. They ask: what happens when the Bentryns cede control of the parcel in two years, and the city is the new landlord?

One can appreciate their concern. While the city’s open space program has allowed the public purchase of several farms, the city has not been particularly swift in formalizing a program to see them put to use. Eighteen months ago, the city paid out $360,000 for two small farms off Lovgreen Road; since then, the properties have yet to yield so much as a turnip.

Because such farms bring a commercial aspect not found in community “P patches,” the challenge remains how to publicly manage a fundamentally private enterprise – growing food for profit. It recalls what happened when the state ferry system condemned waterfront property to expanded the ferry yard a decade ago, promising all the while to lease a corner of that land to a private boat-yard operator. A nice promise – one that has never been followed up with a lease rate a private operator could afford to work under.

Will our farmers run into the same problem?

When we last reported on the farm issue back in August, the city and the Trust for Working Landscapes were talking to would-be growers in hopes of getting a pilot farming program under way near the Bentryn property, sometime in 2005. We hope that’s still the case; we hope the city administration makes it a priority.

It would be a shame to see another summer and fall come and go, with nothing to show for it. It’s no longer the farms at stake – it’s the farmers.

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