Letter to the Editor

This Letter to the Editor appeared in the Record-Journal on March 18, 2007 and was written by FOBK President Kimberly Stoner, Vice-President Bob Giddings, and Treasurer Greg Melville

Boulder Knoll

Editor: We’d like to salute Cheshire Mayor Matt Hall and the entire Cheshire Town Council, which approved making application for the free, environmental review (ERT) of the town’s properties at Boulder Knoll. The Council acted promptly, after receiving the unanimous recommendations of both the Planning Committee and the Environment Commission. The nine Councilors also voted unanimously to officially request an ERT of the state’s Resource and Conservation District.

This environmental review will be a critical first step toward restoring and reclaiming the former Boulder Knoll Farm, as the Town has requested, for agricultural and recreational uses. Conducted by professionals from several regional, state and federal agencies, the ERT will provide important information on the soils, water, wildlife, geology and historic uses of the former Lassen farm – as well as the two, adjacent, town-owned lands.

With this data in hand, the citizens of town can decide what parts of the adjoining lands (previously, the Blauvelt, Jackman and Lassen properties) are suitable for agricultural production, educational programs, hayfield restoration, wetlands and wildlife habitat preservation, forest management and passive recreation.

The properties on Boulder Knoll, which are primarily open, agricultural lands, comprise the crowning gem of Cheshire’s “Green Belt” in the southeastern part of town. Now, seven years after the town’s citizens had the foresight to purchase the last of these – the former Boulder Knoll Farm (i.e., Lassen property) – it is exciting that, in the spring of 2007, its restoration will finally begin.

Friends Get More Publicity

This article appeared in the Record-Journal on March 25, 2007.

Town-owned Boulder Knoll could become a farm again

by Tiffany Aron, Record-Journal Staff

Copyright 2007, Record-Journal, All Rights Reserved.

CHESHIRE – It’s hard for some to get excited about yard work, but the Friends of Boulder Knoll are hoping to change that. The local nonprofit organization’s mission is to educate the public about responsible uses for open space and it has organized a free, three-part adult education course on Boulder Knoll, a 153-acre, townowned parcel.

At the first session Monday, Kimberly Stoner, president of FBK and an entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, gave a talk on community farming. She explained that Cheshire could create its own community farm on part of the former Jackman, Lassen and Blauvelt properties that could grow food, which could be given to members of the community, especially the poor. Such a farm also would present the opportunity for educational programs, events and festivals.

Before any seedlings can be planted or vegetables harvested, though, the grass on the parcel has to be cut. It’s been several years since that’s been done, and until the cutting is taken care of the land remains unsuitable for farming. The more time that passes, the more difficult cultivation becomes, which Stoner believes is a shame since the town paid $1.6 million for the property in 2000. “They bought it and have failed to maintain it,” she said.

Though the town still may be far from deciding on the best open-space use for the property, Stoner and the rest of FBK are gathering input from residents and trying to raise awareness through the three-part series. The second course is scheduled for Monday with a presentation by Bob Giddings, FBK’s vice president and an area veterinarian, on creating a wildlife habitat. Giddings, who lives adjacent to the land parcel, has created a 10-acre habitat on his own property and has volunteered to create a similar five-acre habitat and walking trail on the town parcel.

The third course, to be given by FBK Secretary Jill Casertano, will be about communitysupported agriculture, in which customers become shareholders of local farms. By paying up front for weekly boxes of produce throughout the growing season, the shareholders create a stable customer base and income for small farmers. They also get to enjoy a steady supply of fresh, locally grown food.

The image of a mutually beneficial relationship between local farmers and residents is attractive, but it cannot become a reality in Cheshire until the mowing is taken care of. “I saw some pictures. It does look pretty bad right now,” said 15-year-old Hannah Gregory, who attended FBK’s first course. A vocational agriculture student at Lyman Hall in Wallingford, Gregory needs some agricultural hours to meet her academic requirements. Being so close to her home in Cheshire, Boulder Knoll would be the perfect spot for her to roll up her sleeves and “be involved with the physical work” of a community farm, which she said would be fun. She can’t do anything , though, until the land is cleared. “It’ll cost more the longer they wait,” she said, estimating that the cost now would be about $7,000. “It’d really be best for the town right now to just get it done.”

Giddings’ talk on ” Creating a Wildlife Habitat” is scheduled for Monday and Casertano’s presentation on ” Community-supported Agriculture” is sched-uled for April 2. Both courses will be at Cheshire High School from 7 to 8 p. m. For more information, contact Friends of Boulder Knoll at ( 203) 439 0073.

Officials in Cheshire have had on-off discussions about a dog park since at least 2000. Current debate centers around whether town-owned farmland at Boulder Knoll is the ideal location, said Parks and Recreation Director Bob Ceccolini.

Officials in Cheshire have had on-off discussions about a dog park since at least 2000. Current debate centers around whether town-owned farmland at Boulder Knoll is the ideal location, said Parks and Recreation Director Bob Ceccolini.
“The Waterbury Republican American, March 20, 2007”

Friends in the News

Below is an article that appeared in The Cheshire Herald on January 11 that features the Friends of Boulder Knoll organization:

Review Is First Step In Restoring Town Farm
by Leslie Hutchison           
Cheshire Herald Staff           

“A request for an environmental review of the town-owned Boulder Knoll Farm was unanimously approved Monday by the Town Council’s planning committee. Supporters say the review will give their non-profit group information necessary to launch a cooperative venture to grow organic produce.            

The Friends of Boulder Knoll submitted a letter Monday to Town Council Chairman Matt Hall officially requesting support for an Environmental Review Team (ERT) to examine the 88-acre farm. The review by the Southwest Conservation District is provided free of charge through the state’s conservation programs. However, the ERT must be requested by a municipal body, not a civilian group.

Kim Stoner, a founder of the Friends group, said the information from the ERT would include “a good inventory of wildlife, to plan for management of wildlife habitats” as well as an overview of invasive plants on the former dairy farm. She noted that information about soil types will allow the group to “put agriculture in the best locations” and not cause erosion or silting of wetlands.            

The Friends submitted their plans to utilize the farmland in response to a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the town in August. The town’s document stated the proposal must be limited to “agricultural and/or passive recreational uses…” Those uses “should not include the care and/or raising of farm animals, but may include using the barn. Recreational uses should be primarily for pedestrians.”

According to the Friend’s proposal, the group’s “first priority is to bring back the land to a condition where it could be farmed – start mowing and planting cover crops to manage perennial weeds and build fertility.” The group stated, “Most of the land at Boulder Knoll would be managed for wildlife and passive recreation.”

The proposal notes the Friends would “identify animals and plants on the property and develop an ecological management plan, manage invasive species and mow and take other steps to improve habitat (nest boxes, brush piles), and create walking paths and trails.”

The Friends requested a 10-year lease on the land. Stoner said she realizes the Friends “are asking a lot from the town so they expect us to make a case” on how they’ll manage the land. She added, however, “we’re offering a lot to the town. A lot of energy and active learning.”

Town Environmental Planner Suzanne Simone said the Environment Commission, which heard from the Friends on Dec. 13, also supports an ERT for Boulder Knoll because the commission “supports more information on any open space.” She said ERTs have been conducted in the past including one in 1992 near the Moss Farm subdivision. That ERT was conducted, Simone added, because the area contained “species of concern.”
Simon said the Environment Commission suggested the Friends refine their proposal to add “a sequence” or timeline with “a clear objective and goals” for a year-to-year plan.

That’s the same message the Friends received from the council’s planning committee. Chairwoman Diane Visconti said she supports an ERT because “knowledge about our resources is a good thing.” She added, “The Friends are great. They are a bunch of heavy hitters.” Visconti noted, “The RFP invited people to be visionary” and the Friends wide-ranging proposal does just that.

A brochure from the state’s conservation district notes an ERT consists of experts from “federal, state and local agencies” that “partner to form a multi-disciplinary study team to assist municipalities in the review of sites proposed for development or preservation.” An ERT can take six months to complete.

Funding for ERTs comes from a portion of the land use fee collected on municipal land use applications (the fee bill) and a $1,000 line item in the state budget. The state established the program in 1969 where it “has always been a service provided free of charge to all Connecticut municipalities.”

Stoner said grant money is available to help establish an organic farm program but the group “must have the lease first.” Because the town’s review of the Friends’ proposal is expected to continue for several months, she said “we may not get crops in the ground this summer.” Instead, the group hopes to “work on the habitat” and perhaps mow some of the meadowland if the lease is approved.             

The committee also agreed to send a second proposal for Boulder Knoll Farm to the council. That proposal, from Kerry Deegan of Boulder Road, asks for approval to cultivate three acres on the north side of the road for a sunflower garden. Bouquets would be sold to benefit the American Cancer Society or a similar organization in honor of Jim Hall, a local friend of Deegan’s who died of liver cancer.             

Visconti said the two proposals will likely be considered by the council at its Feb. 13 meeting.”

Join Friends of Boulder Knoll at the Febuary 13th Town Council Planning Commission meeting to help support the Friends and our proposal.

Front Page for The Friends

The following article appeared on the front page of today’s Waterbury Republican-American:

CHESHIRE: Community farm backers frustrated by state, town regulations

Monday, March 5, 2007

BY LAURESHA XHIHANI

Copyright © 2007 Republican-American

Cheshire: Green fields nurturing colorful vegetables. Children learning science through hands-on activities. Hiking and walking trails enjoyed by all people.

All this could someday be a reality at Boulder Knoll Farm.

But for anyone visiting the farm, one of the three parcels that make up the 150-acre, town-owned land known as Boulder Knoll, it’s hard to imagine.

A red barn is almost falling down from its own weight. A sign posted on the barn orders people to keep out. Overgrown burdocks and other brush stick out from a carpet of white snow.

The 93.5-acre Boulder Knoll Farm, long owned by the Lassen family, was a dairy farm for all of the 20th century. It was with hopes of preserving a piece of Cheshire’s agricultural tradition that the town bought the farm in 2000 for $2 million, using a $450,000 state grant.

Managing farmland has been much harder than managing any other open space the town owns, in part because of restrictions that came with the state grant.

Since the purchase, nearly nothing has been done to the land.

“Every year we wait it gets worse,” said Kim Stoner, president of Friends of Boulder Knoll, a group of about 40 dedicated residents brave enough to dream of the day when agricultural activity will return to the farm.

It was inactivity at the farm that led to the group forming two years ago. Last fall, the group presented the town with a 60-page proposal for bringing the farm back to life.

Under its plan, the group would have signed an agreement with nearby farmers to cut hay for this season, hired a farm manager this spring and seen the first community-supported agriculture by spring of next year.

By 2011, the group hoped to recruit 350 local residents to buy community-supported agriculture shares.

The proposal asked to enter into a partnership with the town that would have required the town to spend $540,000 over four years, starting with $160,000 in 2007.

Though members of different committees who have heard the group’s plans liked the idea and welcomed the group’s enthusiasm, the town is not willing to put up the money to make it happen. Nor do officials have a counter-proposal, at least not yet.

“The town wasn’t ready to deal with something that complicated,” Stoner said.

Part of the reason for the paralysis are the conditions placed on the state funding for the purchase of the farm.

Environmental Planner Suzanne Simone said that according to the agreement with the state, the land has to be open to the public and maintained as open space. Wetlands and watersheds on it must be protected. It is to be used for public enjoyment and education. When used for agricultural purposes, it has to be not-for-profit, and nothing can be sold on the premises.

Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Dennis Shane said the money was given to encourage preservation of open space and scenic beauty, and to ensure public access to the land.

Shane said DEP restrictions on farmland are different from restrictions imposed when the state Agricultural Department invests in the preservation of farmland, usually involving farmers who want to continue farming their land.

The town’s own regulations don’t make it easier.

Robert Giddings, a member of the Friends of Boulder Knoll and neighbor to the property, offered to volunteer to mow a 5-foot-wide path along a road used by the Lassens to get their equipment through the farm in the spring and fall. Giddings thought townspeople could enjoy walking on the property.

But taking him up on his offer requires months of approvals, numerous permits and enough running around to test the patience of a saint.

Giddings and the group have been told they would have to have a soil scientist map wetlands on each side of the proposed path, and determine if there is a natural path separating the two wetlands that Giddings can trace with the mower. He would need to go before the wetlands and parks and recreation commissions and before the Town Council, he was told at an Environment Commission meeting recently.

Town Councilor David Schrumm said the farm has been one of the most frustrating town endeavors.

It took six years to finalize the agreement with the state and get the money. The state restrictions are a particular source of resentment for Schrumm.

“Their restrictions are so draconian it is very hard to find someone who wants to use it as a farm,” Schrumm said.

He said he wishes the town would give the money back.

“If we hadn’t used the state money we would have been miles off,” Schrumm said.

The town’s management plan for its agricultural properties includes the other two farms in Boulder Knoll: the 37.53-acre Jackman Farm, which the town acquired in 1994, and the 19.5-acre Blauvelt property, purchased in 2002 for $175,000.

For the past four years, the town has rented the home at 866 Boulder Road, also part of Boulder Knoll Farm, to Kerry Deegan, a police lieutenant. Currently, Deegan’s rent is $600 a month. Deegan has fixed the house, planted a garden and polices the property.

Last August, in an effort to get things moving at the farm, the town put out a request for proposals for the property. It got two, one from Friends of Boulder Knoll and another from Deegan.

Deegan proposes to plant sunflowers on 3 to 5 acres on the farm, sell the flowers, and donate the proceeds to the American Cancer Society. He said he still has to figure out how he’ll sell the sunflowers, since the state guidelines prohibit him from selling them at the farm. The Town Council gave him the green light for his project.

The Town Council approved one of the ideas of Friends of Boulder Knoll: to get a team of environmental scientists to inventory wetlands and wildlife on the land. The other ideas have been shelved for now.

What makes the efforts of Friends of Boulder Knoll even more pressing is that farmland that is let go can revert to forest. The farm is showing signs of it, Giddings told the commission.

Stoner said once it reverts to forest, it’s much more expensive to make it farmland again.

Though disappointed it didn’t get the support it wanted, the group is not giving up.

It has scheduled several educational programs starting March 19, focusing on community-supported agriculture, community farming and wildlife habitat.

Stoner said they will stick to their plan to bring community-supported agriculture to the farm and will work toward an agreement with the town. Once they agree with the town, they’ll look to raise their own funds, Stoner said.

“All we can do is just take it one step at a time,” Stoner said.

Updates from The Friends

March 2007. Vol. 1, Number 1

GREETINGS FRIENDS!

Board of Directors’ Update
The Board of Directors of Friends of Boulder Knoll is continuing its efforts with the leadership of the Town of Cheshire, to achieve our goals for Boulder Knoll Community Farm. Progress to date includes:

The Town Council voted to support our request for an Environmental Review Team (ERT). This ERT Is a free service of Southwest Conservation District and will provide information regarding the natural resources of Boulder Knoll Farm. We are doing what we can to assist the town in the application process.

Board of Director Vice-President Bob Giddings is working with the town to develop a plan for mowing of fields on the south side of Boulder Road. This land is designated for conservation and trails for public use. Bob anticipates commencing this work in the spring.

The Board of Directors is also continuing their efforts to educate the Cheshire community in the values of local agriculture and celebrate agriculture in town. Planning is underway for a fall Celebration of Farming in Cheshire, sponsored by Friends of Boulder Knoll. Events currently in the planning phase include:

A three part documentary film series focusing on Connecticut farms and community farming

A photo and artifact exhibit at the Cheshire Library, including historical images and farming implements from Cheshire and the state.

In efforts to help spread our message now, and facilitate communication with the town, a Friends of Boulder Knoll informational flyer is in the process of being printed, and our website is up and running (see below for details). We have also donated to Dodd Middle School and Cheshire High School one copy each of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Footage Gardening. We hope this resource will inspire Cheshire’s students to get their hands in the soil. Donations for the town’s elementary schools will be made soon.

Upcoming Events

Friends of Boulder Knoll Adult Education Series. 3 Mondays, 7:00-8:00PM: The FBK is sponsoring a series of one hour classes/ discussions at Cheshire High School as part of the Adult Education Program. Each session will be led by a member of the Board of Directors and will address one element of our vision for Boulder Knoll.

Monday, 3/19- Kim Stoner will discuss the decline of farmland in the state of Connecticut, the importance of preserving and using farmland, and community farming.

Monday 3/26- Dr. Bob Giddings will discuss Wildlife and Land Management on the Farm.

Monday 4/2- Jill Casertano will present and discuss Community Supported Agriculture, its origins, goals and models in the state of Connecticut.

Hike of Boulder Knoll. Saturday, May 19 9:00-10:15AM – Town of Cheshire is sponsoring a ¾ mile hike on the Boulder Knoll property. Park at the old barn and meet at trail head kiosk on north side of Boulder Road. Rain date is Sunday, May 20th. Pre-register with Suzanne Simone, Environmental Planner, 271-6670.

It would be great to have lots of members at these events!