Preserving Four Corners

WILTON – Negotiations are under way to preserve a portion of the Four Corners Farm on Abbot Hill Road and to ensure the continuing operations of the Wilton-Temple Community Farm, which has leased the site for eight years.

Mike Andrews, a volunteer with the Community Farm, presented an update of the plans to the Planning Board on Wednesday. The farm is seeking to be able to construct farmer housing on the site. Other plans include construction of a farm stand.

The group is also negotiating a 99-year lease for the part of the property used by the farm, a portion being placed under agricultural easement.

The Community Farm operates a dairy farm and a large vegetable farm on the site.

Most of the 150-acre property, owned by Steven Moheban, is being subdivided. The farm dates to the mid-1700s, and the current farm buildings to before 1800.

The farm is subject to three easements, according to Conservation Commission Chairman Spencer Brookes, some of which overlap. Ownership of the land remains with the Mohebans.

Development rights to the site are valued at $550,000, and the farm set out to obtain that amount. It was helped by an agricultural grant from the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Plan, a wellhead protection grant for wells owned by High Mowing and Pine Hills schools from the Department of Environmental Services and a trail easement grant obtained by the Wilton Wanderers Snowmobile Club to maintain trails on the property.

The town also voted $40,000 toward the LCHIP matching grant.

The agricultural grant covers the farmland and agricultural buildings, but not the farmhouse, although it is included in the easement. The house is to be restored and used as a rental property. Andrews said the farm could not afford to rent it for its operation.

Andrews said the Community Farm was approached about 14 months ago with the idea of raising the $550,000, which it succeeded in doing. The Community Farm previously purchased a 43-acre orchard in the area with the idea of moving operations there if it had to leave Four Corners. That property is now owned by a land trust.

The town holds the easements on the wellhead protection area.

The Wilton-Temple Community Farm is the oldest such cooperative farm in the country, Andrews said, and serves as a model for the hundreds of others.

The Planning Board determined that the farm stand is an allowed use, provided 35 percent of the produce sold is produced on the farm.

A processing plant, such as an apple-packing facility, would have to be 100 percent home-produced.

Allowing the construction of a residence for a farmer raised a few more questions, mostly zoning related, but board members agreed they were not sure of the various options permitted farms under state statute, which tend to favor farming activities.

“We are trying to look ahead to when our current farmers retire,” Andrews said.

Moheban said, “We support the farm (in its desire) to have some type of housing on the farm to make it viable. The question is, is it to be on a separate lot? We are working on it.”

The farm houses a number of apprentices “from all around the world,” Andrews said, “mostly seasonal, but the dairy person is year-round.” The Community Farm would like to convert an existing barn into the housing.

The seasonal worker housing is grandfathered.

“You need to resolve some issues before you come to us with what you want to do,” board Chairman Mark Whitehill said. “There are time limits on subdivisions. If you don’t do anything, you lose it. It is hard to plan for 20-30 years.”

He suggested the farm and Moheban continue their discussions.

“We as a board want this to work,” he said.