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Land Use Committee and Agricultural Commission Looking to Grow a Garden

Town officials are exploring the possibility of leasing part of this 29-acre parcel at the corner of North Avenue and Hopedale St. in Mendon to a farmer to be used for growing produce. Jane Bigda photo





Ellen Gould of Mendon's Agricultural Commission and Anne Mazar of the Land Use Committee came before the Board of Selectmen for some initial dialogue concerning a town-owned land project. The conversation took place during a May 28 meeting.

The property, located on 131 North Ave., totals approximately 29 acres of land. Gould and Mazar approached the Board concerning the possibility of leasing up to 2½ acres of that land to grow vegetables and produce crops. The land would be leased to a local farmer very cheaply who would then cultivate the land for freshly grown produce.

In an interview after the meeting, Gould stated she hoped the vegetables would then be available locally through some type of farmers market or through a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) where a group of people would purchase shares of what is produced.

However, before anything can move forward, the deed on the land needs to be amended. Currently, there's a deed restriction which states the property is to be utilized for building a library or open space. However, the town is now renovating the former St. Michael's into a new library. According to Mazar, town counsel will determine if residents must approve the deed change. "The details of the restriction need to be worked out, but it will be basically to allow agricultural activities on the property," she said. If agreeable, the Library Trustees would turn the property over to the town.

Town Assessor Jean Berthold, who was in attendance at the meeting, said another concern to be worked out would be the issue of insurance on the property.

If changing the deed restriction goes through, the Agricultural Commission and Land Use Committee, who are working jointly on the project, will send out RFPs to inquire if there is interest among the farming community to utilize the land to be gardened. The final RFP will be finalized by the Board of Selectmen. "I feel strongly that because it is town-owned land it needs to benefit the residents," said Gould. She added the produce would be available to residents from other local communities as well but she hoped Mendon residents would take advantage of the fresh produce.

Mazar noted the goal is to find a farmer who will not use chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers and use natural soil amendments, such as manure. "Organic certification would not be required, since this can be very costly to a small farmer, but we would like these methods used to offer healthy produce to local residents and to protect the ecosystem that surrounds the farm fields," she explained.

The soil on the property needs some improvements. Should the project move forward, the two committees will be looking for donations to apply lime and other natural resources to create a healthier soil.

The property was originally donated by John Gannett as the proposed site of the joint Mendon Upton Library about a decade ago. Voters did not fund the joint library project.




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