Lanesborough Couple's Efforts to Keep Family Farm Continues
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — About a month ago Kristen Tool returned home to find a for sale sign in the yard.
Tool and her husband, Chris Wheeler, are more than a year and a half into an effort to keep the Olsen Farm. Wheeler's great-grandfather had established the farm in 1938 and it has been passed down through the generations.
But when Wheeler's father, Thomas Olsen, died in January 2017 he left no will but rather about $100,000 worth of debt on the property.
Tool and Wheeler turned their attention on taking over and re-establishing the farm. They planted crops, trees, have bees, and chickens there but they still need to come up with the money to purchase the property and rid themselves of the debt.
"The land and the house are the assets so they have to be sold to pay the debt. We offered to buy them to pay the debt but our offer was rejected," Tool said.
The 30 acres of farmland is currently owned by the estate with Wheeler's sibling as the executor. Tool and Wheeler have been raising money through a variety of ways in hopes to get enough to purchase it all. They had the property assessed and made an offer they felt was fair.
But, it wasn't as much as the estate felt it could get selling to someone else. After rejecting the offer, the land and home were put on the market to find another buyer.
"The land was put on the market about a month ago. We just came home and found a for sale sign in the yard," Tool said.
The concept of selling the land had always been in the back of their mind but that sign made it much more real and upped the urgency.
Tool said the couple has asked for mediation with the estate in hopes to come to a middle ground on a sale. They want the land not just for themselves but to keep the land from being developed into housing projects like what happened on much of the farm's original land.
"It is more than just us wanting to keep living here. There is no open land practically anywhere and thinking about having a bunch of pre-fab houses there is heartbreaking," Tool said, adding that they've talked with experts on placing some of the land into a conservation restriction.
Just this week, the couple heard more bad news -- the septic system needs to be replaced. Tool said they were pre-approved for a mortgage but the bank wouldn't do so on that particular property because it lacked a Title 5 certificate.
On Wednesday an inspection was done and the system failed.
The effort to raise enough money to make a deal has continued. The couple started with a Gofundme page and has now expanded into raffles and auctions.
"We've been continuing our GoFundMe. That kind of petered out. We reached the people we were going to reach so we thought what could we do that isn't just asking for money to be given but what could we do for if you donate money you get something back. We've done a couple online auctions that were really successful. Local artists, crafters, vendors, other local farms donated to the cause. That was really amazing to have that support," Tool said.
On Sunday, Nov. 18, Tool is auctioning off pieces of art at Dottie's in Pittsfield. She had participated in an "Inktober challenge" in which every day she drew pictures inspired by the farm. Those have all been framed and put to auction.
Tool said a family friend has also offered to auction a quilt. They've recently delved into making and selling Chaga mushroom tea from what they've collected on the property. Tool is making jewelry to sell at the Handmade Holiday Festival. They've been kicking the tires on holding a pancake breakfast.
"We're kind of stuck in that we can't have events or fundraisers here at the farm because we don't own it yet. So we're kind of asking people to invest in this thing they can't physically experience. We can't have a farm day. We can't have a workshop here," Tool said.
The ownership question has caused trouble not only for using the farm to raise money but for also re-establishing it.
"We can't really build the farm until we own it," Tool said.
Wheeler said a number of people have offered to help with repairs and one person had even offered a greenhouse-type structure. He said they've received numerous offers like that but they can't yet accept it.
"We have a lot of stuff built up behind the dam," Wheeler said of the physical help people have offered to help re-establish the farm.
The couple says there is no shortage of people who will get the work needed on the property done. But for now, the focus continues to be on raising the needed money to take ownership of the property and reach a deal.
So far, they've received a lot of public support once their story was shared around the community and for that they are grateful.
"People are invested in this place because they came here as kids and bought eggs from the original farm or they knew Chris' parents," Tool said. "It has been overwhelmingly positive."
Tags: agriculture, family business, farming,
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