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Special lobbyists for green pastures

Lexington supporters of community farm hope goats will aid case

Goat-herd manager Sofia McDonald nuzzles one of the Nigerian dwarf kids purchased by the nonprofit Lexington Community Farm Coalition. Goat-herd manager Sofia McDonald nuzzles one of the Nigerian dwarf kids purchased by the nonprofit Lexington Community Farm Coalition. (Photos by Jon chase for the boston globe)
By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2011

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A nonprofit group whose proposal to create a community farm on town-owned land touched off a two-year debate that continues in Lexington, has acquired a small herd of Nigerian dwarf goats and is housing them next to the town-owned site.

The Lexington Community Farm Coalition said the goat yard it opened last month next to the town’s Busa Farm property will be used to further its mission of educating people about sustainable land use by teaching about the care of goats, and their relationships with people and farming.

Coalition president Janet Kern said she’s also hoping the goats will show the value of a community farm at a time when the Board of Selectmen is deciding between competing proposals for the 8-acre property off Lowell Street that the town purchased for about $4 million in 2009.

“I’d like to believe that it certainly would make sense; people see a barn, they see a farm, and they see a goat. You’d think that most people would then say, ‘Oh, there is some value in keeping this as a farm,’ ’’ Kern said.

But seven months after a selectmen-appointed Busa Land Use Proposal Committee recommended using the property for a community farm and a small amount of affordable housing, the Board of Selectmen has not decided what should be done with the land.

The board’s chairman, Hank Manz, said the selectmen are reviewing proposals for a recreation field as well as a community farm and affordable housing, and he expects it will take another two to three months before they make a decision.

But some neighbors say the delay has made them concerned that selectmen are trying to find a way to get around the recommendation for a community farm on the property, said Fabian Borensztein, who lives next to the farm.

Borensztein said he is not affiliated with the coalition, but he and other neighbors have collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition supporting the committee’s recommendation for a community farm on the property.

“We got really concerned that suddenly the Busa Land Use Proposal Committee was not really being taken seriously,’’ Borensztein said. “They decided what they decided, and we should now live with that.’’

Manz said the Busa committee ran an excellent process to make its recommendation, but it’s now up to selectmen to make sure the proposals for the land are “sound and viable.’’

Instead of repeating the work of the committee, Manz said, selectmen are going deeper into the details of the proposals, including the financial viability of a community farm.

The coalition has said it would hire a farmer to raise crops on the land and the group would also educate people about the farming process. The group said the operation would pay for itself by selling approximately 250 shares of the harvest for about $550 each.

Because of the novelty of having a community farm in Lexington, Manz said, selectmen are taking their review process “a little slowly.’’

Manz said selectmen have also requested that the Lexington Housing Assistance Board develop a proposal for four to eight affordable housing units along Lowell Street that could be considered for the property.

Manz said he thinks selectmen are interested in more affordable housing on the property than the one or two units recommended by the Busa committee.

Selectmen also continue to consider a Recreation Department proposal for a playing field on the Busa property. Recreation officials have said the town needs another field because demand for space is so high that hundreds of requests to use existing fields must be denied, including many requests by the high school.

Sandra Shaw, a member of the town’s Recreation Committee, said an athletic field would fit on the Busa site and still allow space for other uses, such as affordable housing.

Shaw said while it will be “harder’’ for selectmen to choose a recreation field after the Busa committee recommended a community farm, the board is still entitled to make its own decision.

“I think we have a good shot,’’ Shaw said.

David Horton, chairman of the Busa Land Use Proposal Committee, said the committee found that a full-size athletic field would not fit on the property, and the majority of the members wanted to see the land continue to be used as a farm, as it has for several hundred years.

But Horton said he’s not upset by the selectmen’s review of the proposals despite the committee’s recommendation.

“I think they really want to make sure we’re getting it right,’’ Horton said.

Kern said she thought a decision could be made sooner, but people are being very cautious because the community farm concept is new to the town.

The coalition hadn’t planned on opening a goat yard while it waited for a decision, Kern said, but when the goats became available, the group signed a lease for property next to Busa Farm and hired two part-time caretakers to help with the small herd.

Coalition membership fees are paying for the venture, and the nonprofit group will also hold fund-raisers to support its efforts, Kern said.

With one adult milking goat and four kid goats, Kern said, the coalition is not focused on selling milk for dairies right now. But it has already begun an education program that invites people to visit the goat yard to learn about the animals.

“This is here and this is now, and that’s why we’re doing it,’’ Kern said.

“After so many months of trying to figure out what the decision makers are thinking about and what matters most to them, we’re just trying to stay the course and stay true to what we believe in.’’