Farmers raising money for Harry Conklin Fund for Farmsteads

Indian Line Farm owners Alexander Thorp and Elizabeth Keen. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Keen.

South Egremont — Two local farmers are raffling off event tickets to raise money for the Harry Conklin Fund for Farmsteads.

Indian Line Farm, owned by Alexander Thorp and Elizabeth Keen, will be hosting a farm-to-table dinner on Saturday, July 30.

Keen said that, as the hosts for the event, they are entitled to 10 half-price tickets, which Keen purchased.

In turn, Keen is holding a raffle for the tickets in order to raise money for the fund.

The fund is an initiative of the Berkshire Community Land Trust, along with Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, and Berkshire Grown.

According to the land trust’s website, the purpose of the fund is to support access to land for farmsteads for small-scale farmers, while retaining ownership of the land for a community organization.

The trust defines a “farmstead” as a property that “includes a home, barns, sites for greenhouses, plus flat land for growing.”

Both Thorp and Keen purchased the buildings on Indian Line Farm in June 1999 and signed a 99-year lease.

In a press release, Keen wrote that for two years before they signed the lease, both Thorp and Keen were farming on the land “with no long-term security, just a handshake agreement with young David Van En, the son of Robyn Van En , co-founder of the Community Supported Agriculture movement in the United States.”

“At the time, the idea of ​​farm ownership for us, without being crazy burdened by land debt, was unthinkable,” Keen wrote. “We had no family connections with the land, but an earnest desire to produce food for this receptive community. This land deal was made possible through the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires who bought the land outright and then sold a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy and then sold us back the buildings.”

However, in an interview with The Berkshire Edge, Keen said that the arrangements that both she and Thorp made are not as common for other farmers.

She said that there is a lack of affordable housing and farmland in the Berkshires, which has reached a crisis level to the point where the future of farming in the area is in danger.

“The Berkshires, as most people know, is a destination for both tourists and second homeowners,” she said. “This has happened to the point where houses and land have increased in price. When Alex and I first started in 1999, the issues were the same, but I think people could find a place to live and there were some creative options, including renting a place. Now, especially when it comes to housing, they can’t afford to live here. If a farmer can’t live here, they can’t have a business here.”

Keen said that there are no easy answers to the problems, but that one answer would be addressing open space regulations to allow farmers to own a business and a home on properties.

“Some of that involves looking at town zoning laws, and some of that would involve looking at some of the agricultural preservation restrictions we have in the state,” she said. “The restrictions have preserved so much land, but some of it is being farmed by some aging dairy farmers. We may not be going back to that same type of agriculture, so we have to figure out how to maybe look at these Agricultural Preservation Restriction properties around the state to make sure that they can be accessible to farmers.”

Keen said that while she thinks the state’s APR program is “fantastic,” farmland entered into the program cannot be developed for housing.

“In the southern Berkshires the housing prices are outrageous,” she said. “Farmers are going to struggle to stay here if we don’t do something.”

For more information about the raffle and the event contact Indian Line Farm.

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