Tea Lane Farm could soon be home to pick-your-own strawberries or fields of thousands of lilies and zinnias. Finalists for tenant farmer of the historic 18th century farm presented their plans to the Chilmark selectmen this week.
The three finalists — Rusty Gordon and Sarah Crittenden, Krishana Collins and Allen Healy — were interviewed at a joint meeting between the selectmen and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank town advisory board on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday Mr. Healy withdrew his proposal to move Mermaid Farm and Dairy to Tea Lane, citing time constraints and family reasons in an e-mail to the town.
Town administrator Tim Carroll said yesterday the boards will move forward with the two finalists, and will meet tonight at 5 p.m. to award the property to either Ms. Collins or Mr. Gordon and Ms. Crittenden.
The farmhouse, which is 256 years old, requires significant repairs. The tenant farmer will lease the property, as-is for 75 years with a $20,000 one-time payment, and will pay for all of the improvements out of pocket. The farmer will be required to live on the property 11 months out of the year and cannot sublet the farm.
The farmer also will receive a grant of $100,000 from the community preservation committee to go toward renovating the house.
The Tea Lane Farm committee, formed to review applications, received 13 applications and interviewed six semifinalists before recommending the three finalists to the selectmen and the land bank advisory board.
Mr. Gordon and Ms. Crittenden are proposing a fruit and vegetable farm. Mr. Gordon has been a farmer for over 20 years and is the former manager of the Whippoorwill Farm community supported agriculture program; Ms. Crittenden is a landscaper. Last fall, Mr. Gordon left Whippoorwill in pursuit of his own farm, Ghost Island Farm. He said if he is awarded the lease, he would consider bringing a CSA program to Tea Lane Farm sometime in the future.
Mr. Gordon said he and his partner had $100,000 in savings ready to put into the farm.
“I’m very happy with the plan. I think that the fields will grow, I think we can turn the place into a productive farm and have a means to sell all the products,” Mr. Gordon said. “The plan will work and make ends meet and be a successful farm . . . I have no doubt we can make it work.”
He said his first priority would be upgrading the house, which he estimated would cost around $107,000 and could be done in under three months.
The applicants said they would convert the stone garage into a farm stand in the immediate future, with a longtime vision of converting the barn into a stand.
The farm would not be in full production until the 2013 season. Meanwhile, Mr. Gordon will grow and sell vegetables at the Nip ’n’ Tuck Farm stand in West Tisbury and Pilot Hill Farm in Vineyard Haven.
The applicants said they plan pick-your-own crops such as raspberries, strawberries, peas and flowers.
Ms. Collins said she would continue her established flower business for retail and weddings, which she currently runs out of fields on Old County Road in West Tisbury.
“I think it’s been very successful. I’m making a profit every year and it’s growing every year,” she said.
Ms. Collins would plant a cover crop the first year, but in the second year she would plant flowers, salad greens and bok choy. She described her plan to grow 10,000 lilies, 12,000 zinnias, 6,000 sunflowers, 3,000 dahlias and 20 other varieties of flowers, including perennials. She estimated she could grow 50 to 100 pounds of salad and 20 to 60 pounds of bok choy every week.
Ms. Collins also would plan to raise livestock along with crops in a rotation plan.
“I really feel Tea Lane Farm needs and wants animals and I think it’s a more complete and symbiotic relationship to have cropland with animals for manure to rotate and then animals help manage the land,” she said in her interview.
As for the house, Ms. Collins estimated nine months and an investment between $280,000 and $324,000 to winterize and secure the structure. She said she has about $200,000 in savings ready to go into the project. She also plans to restore the barn to working condition.
Ms. Collins emphasized the importance of keeping the historical integrity of the property, and said if awarded a lease she planned to work with Carleton Sprague, a contractor with a historic restoration background.
Ms. Collins said she would ideally have a farm stand on the property but she has safety concerns about the corner intersection of Tea Lane and Middle Road.
She said she is ready to go to work.
“I’ve been farming for 20 years and I’ve never given up, and I’ve persevered on borrowed land and . . . I know I can carry it to Tea Lane Farm. I want people to drive by and be proud,” she said.