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.