Voters to Decide on APR Funding at Fall Special Town Meeting

J.D. O’Gara
Holliston Open Space & AgCom Hope to Preserve 28+ Acre Thistle Dew Farm
Issue Date: 
October, 2019
Article Body: 

As he describes it, the property adjacent to his Outpost Farm on the Ashland-Holliston line was a “grubby old piece of land” when Charlie Nickerson bought it about 50 years ago. “I made it the way I wanted, took the rocks out, planted apple trees, made it beautiful. I was fortunate to have good helpers, Adrian being one of them.”
Adrian Collins, who worked for Charlie Nickerson at Outpost for 13 or 14 years, bought Outpost when Nickerson retired and leased this parcel of farmland from him until a couple years ago, when Upswing Farm began farming on the parcel.
“All the things we grew (on that land), we put back into Outpost,” says Nickerson, a nonagenarian who plans to live until his last day in the house he built on that land.
It was the retired farmer who got the ball rolling with the state to sell just over 28 acres of the land under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction. This voluntary program offers a non-development alternative to farmers and other owners of “prime” and “state important” agricultural land who are faced with a decision regarding future use and disposition of their farms.
Under the APR restriction, says Nickerson, the land cannot be built on. “It’s under the APR now, and coming up (for vote) is whether the town wants to be part of it.”
Lixy Carey, Chair of the Holliston Open Space Committee, believes the town will be on board.
“It was actually the Open Space Committee and the Agricultural Commission together that are sponsoring the article,” she says. “Our respective committees have voted that this is actually something we’d like to do, and we’ve met with the Chair of the Finance Committee and it’s our understanding that they are in favor of it (at press time Carey was unsure if an official Finance Committee vote had been made). We also me twice with the Select Board and know that they are also in favor as well. Everyone we’ve talked to so far has expressed support for it,” says Carey.
Local conservation group Sudbury Valley Trustees, says Carey, has pledged $150,000 toward the purchase, she says, and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has awarded a $465,588 grant toward the preservation of this farmland.
In order to secure the grant and preserve the farm, the town of Holliston must commit up to $500,000 in Community Preservation funds toward the cost of the APR, a decision they will make at the October 28th Fall Special Town Meeting. The owners of Outpost Farm, then, will purchase the property at its agricultural value of $290,000 and expand their local farming enterprise.
“This is prime farmland, definitely worth preserving,” says Carey.
“We have to try to preserve as much of the agricultural land as we can,” says Pj Kilkelly, Chair of the Holliston Agricultural Commission. “In the next 20-40 years, all those open space properties could be built. The temptation is always there— developers are looking for property, and that’s where the APR comes in. It picks up the difference between the agricultural value and the developers, and the property owner gets full price.”
Under the APR, says Kilkelly, Outpost Farm would be the owners, “and if they ever decide to sell, it’s going to stay agricultural and will be sold to someone who’s agriculturally involved.”
“The public benefit is really agricultural,” says Carey, who adds that Outpost is open to the idea of having some public trails on the property which could link to Waseeka, owned by Mass Audubon. “It’s a good opportunity for public access to connect to other trails.”
Thistle Dew Farm boasts excellent farmland soils, and was identified as a priority for acquisition in Holliston’s 2013–2020 Open Space and Recreation Plan. It is part of an extensive corridor of already protected land that includes Warren Woods and MassAudubon’s Waseeka Sanctuary. A trail around the perimeter of the property will allow for public access.
“We farmed that land for many years. It’s a beautiful piece of land with tremendous soil capabilities, right on Highland Street, right on the Holliston Ashland line. I’m just happy that it’s not going to become house lots and will continue to be a working farm,” says Adrian Collins.
Collins says when the Open Space Committee approached him about allowing walking trails to be maintained on the parcel if the property came under his ownership through the APR, he liked the idea.
“I thought about the walking trails through Europe-style farms, where the community and the farmers have a relationship, where they allow them to walk the trails through the farm, and they both respect each other and don’t damage the crops.”
“It’s a team effort to save this piece of land. A lot of different agencies have to come together to make this work,” says Collins.