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.
“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.”