Questions need answers before signing farm lease | Letters | Dec. 9
December 5, 2011 · 4:44 PM
I am a long-time resident of Bainbridge Island, and for nearly 20 years I have managed a community pea-patch in conjunction with Eagle Harbor Congregational Church. As a result, I am very interested in the issues related to the use of the publicly owned farmland that is being managed by Friends of the Farms.
The proposal presented to the City Council by the Friends of the Farm's Ryan Vancil needs some close scrutiny. First of all, this land was purchased by the taxpayers to hold for public benefit. The proposal would essentially tie up this land for the lifetime of those of us currently living on the island.
The proposed lease converts this public land to private use fir a few farmers who are a part of the Friends of the Farms organization, while excluding many other possible users and uses.
The proposed payment to the city of $1 per year is likely to be construed by a court as gifting public land for a private purpose, inasmuch as the farmers who are benefitting from the subleases are making money from they land, even though Friends of the Farms is a nonprofit organization.
Tt has had some time to prove that the current leasing system works, and has failed to do so. Where is the money due to the public coffers from the continued profitable use of this land by the farmers who are allowed to work on it? How is the organization's board not to be seen as self-serving when its membership is granted to potential lessees of the public land?
In turn, these board members can determine which other farmers can utilize the land, in effect, giving control over possible competition to existing farmers.
There are many questions that need to be addressed by the city prior to modifying the current agreement, which runs for two more years. During this time, the community needs to be included in discussions of the future of this valuable public land.
In addition to determining who should be farming the land, and for whose benefit, there are many issues, including: fair market value; returns to the city from profits generated by the use of this land; how this land fits into a system of food security for Bainbridge; what sort of management agreement is needed between the two; how the use of the public land is determined in the future; and criteria to determine who is eligible to farm this land.
In other words, there are way too many unanswered issues for the city to move ahead with this proposed lease at this time. Just because our citizens support farmland is no reason to give "friends" carte blanche as to the management of this public land.
Edward Cannard, Winslow