After 10 years, the town is looking into offering the lease of the Fisher Family Farm to a new farmer. The farm, on Town Farm Road, has been leased to Ron Simmons since the town bought the farm in 2002.
Over that time, the Simmons family has sold milk, launched a successful yogurt brand and recently begun to sell cattle. It has also missed months of payments to the town, racking up large debts, occasionally catching up and then falling behind again.
Members of the Town Council’s Farm Subcommittee recommended putting management of the farm out to bid because the town’s lease with Simmons will expire April 30, 2013. The Town Council voted unanimously to go forward with the recommendation at the Tuesday night meeting.
“The people of Farmington voted to buy this farm and it’s our responsibility to move forward and make sure it continues to be a viable farm and see what our farmers can bring in,” said Nancy Nickerson, a town councilor and member of the farm subcommittee.
“We would be remiss if we didn’t ahead of the lease expiration see if there are other people interested in running this. It is a part of our community … We really have to have the right person in there,” agreed councilor Charlie Keniston at the September meeting.
John Vibert, also a member of the farm subcommittee, expressed his support for Simmons.
“I don’t want to leave the impression that Ron Simmons is running a poor farm. We’ve had inspectors over there and he runs a very successful dairy farm over there, considering the dairy market,” Vibert said. “He’s had to move from milk to a yogurt business… now he basically raises young cows and sells them. For a dairy farmer to be able to take those innovative steps shows a lot of business sense.”
Members agreed the lease, which has been changed slightly over the life of the contract, needs some adjustment. The town also needs to work with the town of Avon, which loans a portion of the land the Fisher Farm is on. Their lease, however, expires several months later that Farmington’s, due to a misunderstanding.
During public comment, Matt Pogson, himself a member of a farming family and a teacher, urged the council to look at the best possible use of the farm and restore it to the way it once was.
“It’s very important to me to see all the farm land in Farmington taken seriously and taken to a level that is consider pristine and in good condition… I feel it may not be the way this property has been in the past few years,” Pogson said. “One thing area towns have done is use farms more as an educational tool.”
He suggested the town could offer a vocational education program for students on the farm.
“I really do think this farm gives that opportunity to add a type of class not offered by every other community. Not only that but we could offer to some of the surrounding communities that they could bring their students as well,” Pogson said.
Council members seemed interested in that or some other possibility for the farm. Nickerson and Vibert agreed the RFP should be left open to allow for farmers’ innovation.