By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY —State and local nonprofit groups are working on a deal to buy the development rights to the 99-acre Bingham Farm off Creek Road, property that would fortify a large block of land that has already been conserved at Middlebury’s southern gateway.
“The boys have enjoyed growing up here and I didn’t want to see it developed,” said Marilyn Bingham, whose family has owned the farm since 1959. “I enjoy living here. I like the view, and the quiet.”
While nursing has been her main occupation, Bingham raised five sons on the farm and the oldest, Alpine, lives on the farm and runs a small, diversified vegetable business. Alpine Bingham had previously managed several farm businesses on the spread, including a milking herd of 50-55 Holsteins. He sold the cows several years ago, and has focused on growing vegetables on around three acres while renting the balance of the cropland to a nearby dairy farmer.
The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) and Vermont Land Trust (VLT) are now working on a conservation deal with the Binghams that would allow the family to invest in their farm while keeping it open, in agricultural production and available for possible inclusion in a larger “Trail Around Middlebury.”
Officials at MALT and the VLT are now working to raise around $200,000 for the Bingham Farm deal. Middlebury selectmen have agreed to tap the town’s conservation fund for $10,000 to go toward the transaction. That $10,000, according to VLT Champlain Valley Co-Director Alan Karnatz, will be used to leverage approximately $190,000 in grant money through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Karnatz said he is very optimistic the VHCB will approve the grant this month.
“I think it connects really well to other conserved properties on Creek Road,” Karnatz said, citing specifically portions of the former Candido and Seeley farms. The conserved block stretches from Halladay Road to just south of town. Most of this land is already conserved either through VHCB or MALT.
MALT’s Trail Around Middlebury, known as the TAM, runs north of the farm and a separate public trail easement is part of the Bingham project. The easement will be transferred to MALT in hopes that the Bingham trail can serve as a connector for a larger trail system. The abutting property already has a public trail, and officials are laying the groundwork for a spur to East Middlebury.
Karnatz noted that more than two-thirds of the Bingham farm is tillable, with 14 acres of prime soil and 73 acres classed as “statewide agricultural” soil. The prime Winooski silt loam, which runs almost the entire length of the farm, has the highest ag productivity ranking in Vermont. During the past few years, the fields have been in a hay-corn rotation.
VLT and MALT officials believe the Bingham farm is under “significant” development pressure. They noted Middlebury recently extended its sewer district to an abutting property for the new Lodge at Otter Creek retirement community. The Middle Road Ventures subdivision is also under construction nearby.
Story Jenks, chairman of the MALT board, said a conserved Bingham Farm would not only provide a long-term plus for farming, TAM and conservation efforts, but it would also protect land along the Otter Creek for boat access and other public enjoyment.
“(The Bingham farm project) serves a number of functions for MALT, and we are very excited about it,” Jenks said.