By SCOTT MERZBACH Staff Writer Friday, September 27, 2013
AMHERST — A site on Belchertown Road that could become an incubator for young farmers and where Amherst children and other residents could learn about agriculture may be purchased by the town.
The effort to buy the 19-acre undeveloped parcel, owned by Robert Saul, is expected to come before fall Town Meeting. The site is within walking distance of both Fort River School and the East Amherst village center, Ziomek said.
Town Meeting will be asked to approve a request to use Community Preservation Act money and a state Local Acquisition for Natural Diversity grant. The amount needed is $155,950.
“One of the goals would be to create a community cooperative garden,” said assistant town manager David Ziomek.
The CPA Committee this week voted 4-1 to seek Town Meeting support for the $41,785 match.
“This is a unique opportunity to buy a piece of property at a reasonable price,” Ziomek said.
About 2½ acres would used as an outdoor learning center with tillable land. It would have a demonstration garden and educational workshops and would be open to all residents, unlike the individual plots at community gardens that are used by specific families.
In addition, four acres would be set aside for the sale of two to four licenses, issued by the Conservation Commission, to be used by start-up farmers who could learn about best organic growing techniques.
“The benefits of such a program ensure that those participants who reach the end of their license are more likely to have success when establishing their own farms elsewhere in the region,” Ziomek wrote in a memo to the board.
The village center has been a focus of both redevelopment and improvements, Ziomek said, and open space is part of this.
“A significant component of this vision is to integrate open space, community gardens, walking trails, space for passive recreation, into the village center” Ziomek wrote.
An interpretative trail outlining the natural resources and agricultural activities would be built and a foot bridge would be constructed from Fort River School to the site.
The land features 1,400 feet of frontage along the Fort River and is adjacent to other land already protected through the state’s Agricultural Preservation Restriction program.
Ziomek said he has support from both the public schools and the Grow Food Amherst organization for the purchase. The transaction must be made by the end of the year.
Food grown on the site would go to the Amherst Survival Center to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, he said.
NOTE: anyone interested in helping Grow Food Amherst develop the community garden at the site, may contact Stephanie Ciccarello for information or come to a Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee meeting.