It was disappointing to read about Commissioner Hounsel's prepared statement regarding the future of the county farm, wherein he would like to shut it down and replace it with something more productive. Such as what? Sell the land to build condo's? Once that happens, it is lost forever. It was encouraging on the other hand to hear Commissioners Bevard and Babson support keeping the farm operating.
By Daymond Steer
The Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY — At Wednesday's meeting of the Carroll County commissioners, newly sworn-in Mark Hounsell (R-Conway) said he would like to shut down the county farm and replace it with something more productive.
His fellow commissioners, David Babson (R-Ossipee) and Amanda Bevard (R-Wolfeboro) said they would like to keep farming on the land.
Hounsell offered his opinion on the farm, which has been a controversial topic for the past year. The 894-acre farm, which is 164 years old, has been growing produce and hay, and processing various types of firewood. The farm is credited with providing training to jail inmates and food for the nursing home and local food pantries.
In March, despite an outcry from constituents and commissioners, the farm budget was slashed $90,000 by the county delegation, a group of 15 state legislators representing Carroll County.
The majority of delegation members who voted against continuing to fund the farm claimed it competed with local growers and isn't an important source of food for the nursing home or of life skills for the jail inmates.
In response to the budget cut, commissioners created a farm advisory committee to determine the best use of county land and the costs of the farm as it exists now.
Late last month, the committee released findings that suggested that when charitable donations to food pantries were included the farm generated nearly $11,000 worth of profit over two years.
The committee is continuing to fine-tune the farm's financial numbers from 2016 and is working on making recommendations about next steps to the commissioners.
But Hounsell made it known he believes the farm is not worth running.
"At this stage, it is clear that the continuation of the current farm operation at the Carroll County Campus in Ossipee would not be a wise decision," said Hounsell, reading a prepared statement.
"I am hopeful the current committee, led by Steve Knox of Albany, will continue in assisting the commissioners as we work on determining the best use of the 900-acre property.
"I would like to believe that an educational-style program that could help the inmates could be developed. If so, that may be a future use of the farm."
A reporter at the meeting asked Bevard, also newly sworn in, and Babson, who was not up for election this year, their feelings on the farm.
"I think we should do everything we can to preserve the historical farm," said Bevard. "I think we should listen carefully to the recommendations we are going to get from the farm committee."
She said at the very least there should be some sort of "agricultural experience" on the county complex.
Babson, who is a farmer, agreed with Bevard that farming should continue but added that he had different reasons for that.
Babson was not as interested in the historic nature of the farm.
"At some point, somewhere along the line, this land is going to be very valuable and is going to be needed for agriculture," said Babson, adding that he's heard that if there ever was a large-scale disaster, New England could feed itself for only three days. "The place is too valuable to put into anything else but agriculture."
Knox, reached by phone Wednesday, said his committee will meet with commissioners at their Jan. 11 meeting to get a sense of the new board. He hopes the committee can file a final report in early February.
Later at the meeting, Hounsell announced that he was looking at opening an office in northern Carroll County so Conway people could speak with him about county business. Hounsell said he would not ask for public money to pay for it.
"This is just trying to make government more accessible to people," said Hounsell.
Bevard said she would be interested in having office hours at the county administration building at 95 Water Village Road in Ossipee.