Friends of Holcomb Farm and Granby Land Trust Work with Town to Preserve 277 Acres of Holcomb Farm

At its October 17 meeting, the Granby Board of Selectman (BOS), in front of a packed meeting room and with many people joining via Zoom, reviewed the proposed Holcomb Farm Conservation and Sustainability Plan (“the Plan”), listened to input and took questions from some 20 residents. The vote, after three hours, was unanimous in favor of the plan. Future Drummer articles will report more specifically on the meeting. This article briefly outlines the Plan and provides answers to Frequently Asked Questions to help the community better understand this historic action.

The Plan, available on the BOS website in the meeting packet located under “Public Documents” (and can be accessed directly here), does the following:

• Places a permanent conservation easement held by the Granby Land Trust on 277 acres of the 310-acre town-owned property, which restricts the Town from ever subdividing or developing the land (see map);

• Accepts a $500,000 gift from the Granby Land Trust to establish a new Town-owned restricted fund, the Holcomb Farm Stewardship Fund, to invest and support the Town’s capital and operating costs at Holcomb Farm; and

• Revises the historic 30-year relationship between the Town and the Friends of Holcomb Farm (“the Friends”) through a 15-year, renewable Lease and Use Agreement, more clearly articulating the Friends’ role in performing its nonprofit farming and volunteer land stewardship services.

In an effort to help the community better understand how excited the Friends are about this Plan, we offer the following answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Why Now?

Interest in permanent preservation of the property has existed since the Farm first came to the town in 1992 and has been identified as a goal in the Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. The Town’s and Friends’ use of the farm, for the benefit of Granby, has evolved over the past 30 years.

The last 10 years have seen increased community-focused uses of the property. This includes the Town’s management of the Main Campus for programming and revenue-generating events, and the Friends’ financially sustainable farming program and new investments, like the Tree Trail, that require long-term stability and predictability. Both the town and the Friends want to build on this momentum. This proposal offers the structural enhancements, including permanent restrictions against development of much of the land, that will allow the Farm to serve the community and thrive in perpetuity.

Where did the $500,000 come from?

Past and current donors to the Granby Land Trust have made it possible for the GLT to support the permanent preservation of open space in Granby. While the Holcomb Farm is a unique situation—it is already Town-owned and tax-exempt—this donation to launch the new Town-owned restricted fund supports and encourages the Town’s continued capital and operational investments in this asset.

How will the money be used?

The fund will be the Town’s, but the Plan restricts the Town’s uses of the fund and its investments to support its asset, the Farm. If the fund grows beyond a specified size, some can be used for other town-wide passive recreation activities.

How does this help the Friends?

The Friends of Holcomb Farm exist only so long as the Holcomb Farm exists. Their ability to receive larger grants and build longer-term endowments to support its programs, such as Fresh Access and the Tree Trail, are greatly enhanced when they can assure the donors that much of the Farm’s land is now protected forever. This permanency of forever protection will further strengthen the operation of Holcomb Farm and the Friends of Holcomb Farm.

What changes for the people of Granby?

In the short term, nothing. The Town still owns the property for the benefit of the public. The Friends, through a “Lease and Use” agreement with the Town, will steward the land (trail maintenance, invasive management, tree trail development) and farm the land (in support of the CSA, Farm Store and Fresh Access). The Town will run programs using the main campus and buildings and oversee the appropriate uses of the whole of the land. The GLT will assure that these uses do not conflict with the conservation principles that have been agreed to. Long term, the strengthening of the Friends for its own fundraising, and the Town’s new Holcomb Farm Fund’s financial support of the Town’s asset, the Holcomb Farm, benefits taxpayers even as this community treasure grows as a public resource.

Why is some of the land “excluded” from the Conservation Easement?

The Town is conserving the major east and west flanks of the property, while retaining flexibility on future uses of most of the land along the west side of Simsbury Road—the main campus and agricultural fields. The active use of these areas for Town programming and Friends’ agriculture are, at this time, best supported with this flexibility. The “excluded land” includes areas already developed (i.e., containing buildings); the most actively farmed lands where additional structures—greenhouses, barns, roads, etc.—may be needed in the future; and wetlands that are likely undevelopable.

Why are there things included in the conservation easement that aren’t even allowed now?

The Town continues to own and control the land, subject to the terms of the Conservation Easement held by the Granby Land Trust. It is revising and extending its agreement with the Friends to manage, or steward, the land (all except the campus, which the Town will directly operate), but it retains the right to make the rules, if they don’t conflict with the easement. For example, the easement says nothing about dogs, but the town has rules that allow leashed dogs on the land, and the Friends endorse those rules.

On behalf of the Friends of Holcomb Farm, we applaud this action by the Town’s leaders, thank the Granby Land Trust for its support, and recognize with gratitude the many community members who have participated in the evolution of Holcomb Farm into the thriving community asset it is today.

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