Town, Tenant at Odds Over Boesch Farm Lease

by | Jun 11, 2023

Pat’s Pastured has been renting the town-owned property on South Road since 2011

After two years of negotiations over a new lease for the farm at the town-owned Boesch Farm (also known as the Briggs-Boesch Farm), the town recently notified Patrick and Kelly McNiff, owners of Pat’s Pastured, their lease will be terminated Dec. 31. 

For Town Manager Andy Nota, the notification is just a recognition that the lease has expired – the lease actually ended 2021 and they have been going month-to-month since then. Nota said the McNiffs did not sign a one-year lease sent to them last September. Pat said the lease had mistakes (incorrect names on the documents) so they sent it back to be corrected and it was never resent to the McNiffs. [Editor’s note: Andy Nota reached out 6/11/23 to say the town had agreed to an extension through 2023 and the McNiffs rejected the short-term lease extension, looking for a longer-term lease.]

For the McNiffs, the letter from the town is a threat that they may need to move off the land they have been farming and lived on for 12 years. 

Negotiations are continuing but last week the McNiffs emailed clients and friends of the farm asking them to notify town officials of their support for Pat’s Pastured and “the value we bring to East Greenwich and Rhode Island.” 

In the email, they called the town’s proposed lease “unreasonable and would make living and working here impossible for us as a small working farm.”

They said the town is looking for a 71 percent increase in rent while the McNiffs have suggested a 49 percent increase (the rent was $1,000 a month in 2012 and has been increasing by 3 percent yearly since then). The McNiffs are also looking for a longer-term lease – 20 to 90 years, which they say “is not atypical in the agricultural community” – versus the 10 years offered by the town. Another point of contention is who bears responsibility for existing outbuildings on the property, two of which are in very poor condition.

The historic barn at Boesch, center, is in poor condition.

“We want to make this all work,” said Patrick McNiff last week. “We’re a working farm … we’re valuable to this town beyond what we send by check [in rent].”

The town bought the Brigg-Boesch Farm in 2001 as a Municipal Land Trust property with money from a bond referendum approved by voters as well as a couple of grants, both to preserve farming on the site and to preserve the woodlands. The intent was to maintain open space and to preserve the historic farm. The first tenant farmer was Erik Eacker, who ran Ledge Ends Produce, until health issues prompted him to abandon farming in 2011. Pat’s Pastured moved onto the property in 2012 and they raise chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep and some cattle on the South Road property. The property also has public walking trails and a public parking lot. A 2001 management plan for the property said “a stated goal of purchasing this property was to preserve the farmland and keep it in production.” Find that plan here: Boesch Management Plan 2001.

In 2005, the Frenchtown Community Club gave the town their building at 2608 South County Trail (which was being leased at the time and still is today by Happy Hearts Preschool), with the stipulation that proceeds from rent or sale of the property would be used to benefit Briggs-Boesch Farm ( 2608 South County Trail Deed).

That money has helped to offset expenses at the farm, including recent lead abatement of the historic farmhouse, where the McNiffs live with their two young children. The town paid for the family to live in a rental house in East Greenwich for five months while that work was being done.

It is that kind of action Nota points to when he argues the town has done a lot to support the McNiffs. But Nota said he would like town residents to have more ability to enjoy the property, “not just one business.” 

In terms of maintaining farming on the property, Nota said there are other types of farming then what he called the “high-intensity” animal farming on the property now, including community gardens.

Town Council President Mark Schwager said he was letting the McNiffs and the town administration work out a new lease. 

“At the present time, the town and the tenant are in the process of negotiating a new lease,” said Town Council President Mark Schwager. “The old lease is not rolling over. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed.”

He added, “It’s not an eviction [but] there is a bit of a disagreement. Our position is that there is not an existing lease. If you argue there is an existing lease, this is your six-month notice that the lease expires Dec. 31.”

Pat McNiff said the town’s own Comprehensive Plan (a blueprint for the town that is redone every 10 years) talks about keeping farms viable. 

“We need stability…. We’re not getting rich doing this,” he said. “We want to create a win-win for the town and for us. I feel like we’re good members of the town and that we offer a lot to the community. We’re a working farm. We are what a working farm looks like.”

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Greg Weiss
Greg Weiss
June 12, 2023 7:23 am

Let them stay

KC Malloy
KC Malloy
June 12, 2023 9:58 am
Reply to  Greg Weiss

One tenant (the McNiff’s) is the best fit for the farm, opening it up for ‘other types of farming’ will end up destroying the idealistic setting and costing the town more time and money to manage.

Curt Alheim
Curt Alheim
June 12, 2023 10:02 am
Reply to  Greg Weiss

They are fine stewards of the land and a valuable asset to the community.

SUSAN E JACOBI-JOHNSON
SUSAN E JACOBI-JOHNSON
June 12, 2023 9:46 am

Oh, c’mon, EG, don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish. Make this work. The McNiffs and Pat’s Pastured are good, valuable citizens of the town. 100% behind them.

Carolyn Khanna
Carolyn Khanna
June 12, 2023 10:08 am

This is their home and they add value to the town. Work it out.

Kelly Brady
Kelly Brady
June 12, 2023 12:03 pm

We love this farm. It’s always open, available and acts as a gathering place for friends and family. The trail is lovely and we love exploring the land. The animals and free range goods are a plus as well. The town is doing us all a disservice by shutting this farm down.

Rachel Lucas
Rachel Lucas
June 12, 2023 12:44 pm

Let the mcniffs stay. Renegotiate a fair lease and end this. We need small farms to stay in town not forse them out due to greed!

Kim Ambler
June 12, 2023 8:55 pm
Reply to  Rachel Lucas

Nota and town have some idea of what else could be there “like community gardens?” Let’s not walk away from something that is actually working and providing value to EG for some unplanned dream of the possibility of something else. The town could chose to be grateful that someone else is making it happen on their behalf.

Jill Millard
Jill Millard
June 14, 2023 8:59 am
Reply to  Rachel Lucas

East Greenwich should be doing all it can to support and protect small scale local farming. It is a benefit to everyone in the community. I am a gardener, but the idea of turning this working farm into community gardens in a town like EG seems superfluous. The Town doesn’t appear to have a real alternate plan for the space, and Pat’s is a viable and important part of the community – work with them to allow them to keep local farming in our town.

Fallon
Fallon
June 12, 2023 12:48 pm

Been neg penny wise and pound foolish is generally not the way to go

Gregory Dubell
Gregory Dubell
June 12, 2023 7:38 pm

I’m hopeful that Town Council will not let the Andrew Nota ruin a good relationship Pat’s Pastured has had with the East Greenwich Land Trust, the original intended steward of this property, not the Town. The EGLT hasn’t even been involved in the negotiation with Pat regarding the renewal of the lease. It would be a shame if Pat takes his business elsewhere.

Cheryl El. ey
Cheryl El. ey
June 13, 2023 9:13 am

We have to protect our smaller farms. We don’t need community gardens but we do need local farms.

Mary Ward
Mary Ward
June 13, 2023 9:30 am

Realistically, where can one rent a farm and an upgraded family home for $2400/month (assuming the original lease of $1000/month in 2012 with a 3% annual increase & a proposed 71% increase in 2023) What would the rent be if the town applied the affordable housing rent formula to the property against the farm’s income? That way the family could stay on the working farm & the town would receive an income to help preserve the buildings for the future. Are there other interested parties with alternative plans interested in leasing the farm? And why shouldn’t/doesn’t the town see what other opportunities might be available?

Dale Van de Vrede
Dale Van de Vrede
June 13, 2023 11:31 am

McNiffs are working their tails off, and doing a great job of conforming to EG Land Trust’s mission.

Community gardens or similar would overcomplicate everyone’s life without a community benefit.

Negotiate a fair longer term lease and move onto other priorities.

Justin Cahir
Justin Cahir
June 13, 2023 1:03 pm

I can see it 10 years from now. “With no sustainable plan in place after kicking the McNiff’s out, town decides to sell Bosch Farm to developer to build massive low income housing development”
Work out a plan EG. Pat’s Pasture is a town gem!

Heather Greene
Heather Greene
June 14, 2023 7:08 am

Pats Pasture is an amazing farm and such a valuable resource that needs to stay. They are doing good work. As a gardener, having a community garden in a big space like that is not the way to go. Also a community garden does not take care of the buildings or make any use of them. Figure it out town officials. Find a way to make it work where they are paying a fair price and they can still work the land amd make a living. I’m over the town trying to shut things down without having a solid plan in place. No solid plan equals no plan at all, just thoughts not ready to be on paper.

Pats has my full support.

Emily Caldarelli
Emily Caldarelli
June 15, 2023 9:44 pm

I fully support Pat’s Pastured and know that they are a huge asset to the community of EG. From the quality of their products, to Burger Nights, and educational outreach that they do the with public schools is incredible. We need them!!!

Lisa Maloney
Lisa Maloney
June 16, 2023 9:33 am

Andy Nota – EG needs to support farmers especially Pat’s Pastured.
Please reconsider and work with them and not against them.

A family running a farm should be encouraged and praised.
Don’t destroy what they have worked so hard to achieve.
They aren’t getting rich from this but the town and anyone who visits them or buys their products are richer because of that experience.

Deborah Block
Deborah Block
June 20, 2023 1:04 pm

Pat’s Pastured and the McNiff’s are hardworking, good people, stewarding this beautiful land with great care. They are a model of what’s possible and EG should do everything possible to maintain this relationship and keep them on the property. They have gone out of their way to welcome the community to events and to provide healthy food that benefits all of us. Please make this work.

Donna Quinn
Donna Quinn
July 3, 2023 9:09 am

It just doesn’t make sense. Pat’s Farm has reached out to the local EG community with good, pure farming, fresh farm stands, and educational children’s programs. EG needs to make an arrangement that is a happy medium so the family can continue running this working farm.

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