By TAYLOR HARTZ
The Farm Heritage Committee (FHC) is taking steps to utilize open space properties in town that were once used for farming, and those lands could potentially operate as self-sustaining farms once again.
At a May 9 meeting of the Town Council, plans were finalized to use town-owned farmland off of Belleview Avenue as a farm for Vo-Ag students at Southington High School (SHS). The committee is now setting their sites on plans for Pleasant View Stables, a farm neighboring DePaolo Middle School.
While the two properties were acquired by the town’s Open Space Committee, the goal of the FHC “is to determine where we want to go next,” said FHC Co-Chair Ed Pocock.
On Monday, the council voted to approve a contract with local farmer Mark Ramsay. The approval marks the re-launch of the LEAF program, an educational agricultural program based on the property.
The town will be investing $150,000 to get the project started, and Ramsay will operate the farm through his non-profit.
“The challenge we’re facing is trying to keep an operational farm without making it a burden on tax payers,” said Pocock. He described the $150,000 as “seed money to get it rolling along.” Pocock said the BOE will also be investing $40,000 into the project for the educational program.
As long as the project is beneficial to both parties, said Town Attorney Mark Sciota, the contract will remain in place for five-years.
Palmieri, who is a lead developer for the educational plans for the property, met with several educational department heads last month.
He said special education programs plan to involve special needs students with work on the farm. Vo-Ag students will gain experience using farming equipment and caring for livestock, and the technology education department plans to help build chicken coops and fencing.
Riccio said he was shocked by the enthusiasm from administrators and school staff, and said the project represents an excellent partnership between the town and the BOE.
“What I see in this plan is educationally phenomenal,” said councilor John Barry (D).
On May 4, the FHC held a meeting to discuss their next project, planning for use of Pleasant View Stables. The property, on Pleasant Street, consists of five facilities. The committee met on the property to take a tour of each.
The meeting was held on-site “so everybody could have an idea of the shape and condition of the property,” said Pocock. “It’s always easier to have people on-site so that people know where they’re talking about at meetings later on.”
Palmieri told the council that he was shocked by the condition of the property. “It’s definitely in distress,” he said.
The committee co-chair said clothing items, furniture, and electronics were left in the home on the property, and that the committee hoped to evaluate which barns and stables could be restored. Talks to develop a “touch therapy” program for individuals with special needs through Southington’s ARC are still in the works.
Pocock said the new committee is trying to create “a symbiotic relationship” with the town, BOE, and local farmers.
Plans for the two properties include haying, finalizing low cost leases for farmers, areas passive recreation, vegetable gardens, production of hay for ponies used in the Vo-Ag program, and planting self-fertilizing clover.
“We’re getting use out of it, and it’s giving back to the town,” Pocock about the plans for both parcels. “We’re not only acquiring a piece of property, we’re preserving heritage as well.”