Sherman weighs Happy Acres' future
Published 9:41 am, Thursday, July 31, 2014
Plans were still not in place for the town of Sherman to take over ownership of Happy Acres Farm when Tony Hapanowich died in August 2013.
The town had purchased the farm from Hapanowich in 2010 for $2.9 million, granting him a lifetime estate to remain on the property.
Fast forward to July 2014:
A tenant farmer still has to be found to run the 92-acre farm and, possibly, manage its herd of beef cattle.
A request for proposals to farm the property was sent out for bid Wednesday, July 30.
Some residents are nevertheless disgruntled.
Others see wisdom in the caution exercised by the Board of Selectmen in vetting the process.
"Like anything, it takes time," said Marie Hatcher, a nine-year Sherman resident who grew up on a farm in Ireland. "I know the selectmen are looking at this carefully."
"There are a lot of factors that have to be followed through," she added. "They have to make sure it works out financially and for the best for the town."
"The town is spending money to run the farm," Bruzinski said. "The farm is a fantastic opportunity for educating our children."
"We're not reinventing the wheel here," he remarked. "Other towns around us have done similar things."
A June 28 town meeting approved $35,000 to continue operations at the farm under the temporary manager, Jeff Lescynski.
Residents had previously approved $64,000 for farm operations to the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
Selectman Andrea O'Connor noted the tenor of the June 28 meeting was often "that of distress that there seems to be no forward progress in securing a tenant farmer."
First Selectman Clay Cope defended his and Selectman Bob Ostrosky's actions as the majority on the three-member board.
"We're working hard to find a solution," Cope said Thursday. "There's good reasons to be sure this process is vetted properly. I do want to be cautious and I want to be careful."
The selectmen's notes, accumulated after meetings with various town commissions, are now with the town attorney, Jeff Sienkiewicz, who was to draft the RFP.
That fact causes resident Thomas Piel some concern.
"I used to write contracts," said Piel, a 60-year Sherman resident. "Turning this over to an attorney is costly and I'm afraid the language of this request is becoming too complicated for your average farmer to respond to."
Piel noted "running a farm is not the business of government."
"Happy Acres is a beautiful farm," he said, "but government should be focusing on road maintenance and town infrastructure. Maybe that's the problem."
Before a farmer's proposal were to be accepted, it would go to a town meeting for residents to approve.
Cope said, at this point, Happy Acres' future is "a great unknown."
"We've made the RFP broad enough so as not to narrow down what type of farming could be done there," Cope said. "It could continue as a cattle farm."
"It could be a CSA (consumer supported agriculture)," he said. "Or it could be something completely unique."