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Michele Gillian takes home New York ironweed that she dug up at the former Project Native farm in Great Barrington. Gillian and a group of others gather to dig up and replant as many plants as they can before the land is repurposed and the organization is no longer allowed on the property. The group gathers for a communal breakfast before they begin their digging on Saturday.

GREAT BARRINGTON >> From Rhode Island to New York, the native plants from Helia Land Designs will find new homes.

With its Project Native farmland and nursery in Housatonic closing, Helia held a free-for-all on Saturday that saw residents from around the region digging up and taking home native plants.

With no firm future location in sight, the North Plain Road company served an early morning breakfast in a field and opened up its stock of native plants on the 52-acre property to anyone willing to put in a little elbow grease and $100 to donate to its moving costs. Appropriately dubbed "Dig It," a steady stream of visitors filed in throughout the morning — something Bridghe McCracken, the founder of Helia Land Design, doesn't find at all surprising.

After unexpectedly losing rights to the property, "the number of people who have stepped forward has been unbelievable," she said.

The nonprofit Project Native independently operated the farm for roughly a decade and, after a request for proposals, chose Helia to become its successor and steward of the land. The two parties entered into a purchase and sale agreement and Helia began to lease the land and operate the Helia Native Nursery in February.

But the deal was rejected by the state Department of Agriculture, which holds the right of first refusal thanks to the state's Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, even though McCracken believes her proposal was "completely in line" with the spirit of the land's previous use, augmented with production of honey, maple syrup, eggs and more.


"I tried everything I could to work with them," she said.

The property was re-bid and eventually awarded to Sean Stanton, Select Board chairman, who intends to use it for livestock grazing. Stanton is set to take over the property on Aug. 12 and, out of options, Helia planned "Dig It" day.

McCracken hopes those who took native plants with them on Saturday will harvest seeds and contribute to a seed exchange network. A map of the northeastern United States was adorned with pins, indicating where the plants leaving the Project Native farmland would find new homes.

By spreading the native plants — an important resource for pollinators and the ecosystem — in backyards, nurseries, and gardens throughout the area, Helia hopes its mission will only continue to grow, despite losing access to the Project Native farmland.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376