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Buying the Farm

08/30/2007

By Bob Ferris

There are likely few times in our lives when we walk into any given situation and boldly state: We don't know who we are and we do not know exactly what we are doing, but we know absolutely that we are doing the right thing. Whew, we said it and we are sticking to our story.

The "right thing" in this instance is the pending purchase of the Kingsbury Farm property located smack next to the Iron Bridge and straddling the border of the towns of Warren and Waitsfield. This Route 100 icon has been on the market for many months now and we would bet dollars to donuts that most Valley residents and visitors alike have reacted at a very visceral level to the for sale sign on that house, that barn and that wonderful farm field with nearly one-half mile frontage on the Mad River.  

For many of us, the visage presented by this quintessential Vermont sight is sweeter than grade A maple syrup. We draw power and spirit from the continued existence of these working landscapes and are comforted by the fact that even if we cannot work the land ourselves that there are folks out there living in direct contact with the earth, water and air. It may seem silly but many of us do indeed smile at the sight of silos and believe that red, weathered barn siding looks infinitely better in situ than as paneling in our dens or incorporated into rustic furniture.

Unfortunately and far too often, the converse is also true. We are diminished in heart and experience with each farm that sells its cows and lets the developers' bulldozer re-sculpt what tens of thousands of plow passes have failed to alter. Our sadness as Vermonters -- new and old -- grows when these last tenacious holdouts to production agriculture succumb to destructive federal farm policies and our own neglect of our farmer neighbors. This is exactly why we shop at the farmers market, cook our popcorn with bacon grease during the localvore challenges, and why we should do everything humanly possible to keep the Kingsbury Farm a farm.

So who exactly are we? The answer to that is: You. You who live in or visit this Valley. You who drive down Route 100 and expect to see working farms and farmers. You who want more fresh Valley produce. You who want buffer areas created to better filter runoff into our beloved Mad. Sound good...? Because there is more....

What if this farm were managed by the broadest set of Valley nonprofits possible so that it also provided other community amenities such as housing priced to attract teachers or farmers and help local enterprises recruit and retain quality employees? What if those non-development plans also included classroom space where Valley residents and visitors could learn about permaculture, blacksmithing, gardening or canning their favorite fruit or vegetable? What if the river shore was also sensitively tied into The Valley-wide path system and the barn and grounds sometimes served as a venue for open-air concerts, lectures or an impromptu bucolic version of a drive-in theater?  

We do not really know what the real scope of possibilities might be, but we do know that none of this will happen unless all of us work together to develop the funds to purchase this Valley treasure.
 
So where are we and what do we need from you? Some of your fellow community members have stepped up and made an offer on the farm. The offer has been accepted and endorsed by the Kingsbury family who want to see their homestead kept in farming and serving the communities they love. A limited liability corporation is being formed to purchase the property and ultimately turn it over to some agency or organization. That deal will go through only if there is a reasonable likelihood that we can pay for it. The rub is that we need to know the answer to the funding question within the next 30 days. So push whatever local nonprofit you support to get involved with this project. Also, nudge our elected officials and agencies to seek whatever funds might be appropriate for a project such as this. And, more importantly, make sure to volunteer your time, expertise and resources to help this worthwhile project. (For more information on all of this, please contact Linda Lloyd at Mad River Valley Planning District at 496-7173 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

In pure terms this property will cost all of us roughly $83 apiece.
 
But some of this money could come from existing public and private fund pools and some might thankfully come from outside of The Valley. Some also could be borrowed and the debt service covered via land leases from new farmer neighbors and user fees. When all is said and done we (you and us) are likely asking each person to contribute the equivalent of a dinner for two at some local restaurant.  

My wife and I are newcomers to The Valley but we hope that our check will be one of the first of many. This is not much considering that we could end the day with our own Valley-sized version of the Intervale or Shelburne Farms. And, more importantly, a shining model of how the lines can be blurred and barriers to cooperation erased between nonprofits when they agree that the greater good trumps their own branding and of how communities can band together to accomplish great things if only they try.

@BLURB = Bob Ferris is the executive director of Yestermorrow Design/Build School and the vice president of the newly reconstituted Mad River Valley Housing Coalition.
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