Plant offering to mark end of Project Native farmland, seed bank


GREAT BARRINGTON >> The fate of Helia Land Designs may be uncertain amid the impending closure of the Project Native farmland in Housatonic, but its owner wants to ensure its mission continues to grow.

Members of the community this weekend will have the opportunity to help themselves — for a suggested one-time donation of $100 — to the company's native plant stock as the landscape company prepares to relocate in advance of the new ownership.

"The hope is that from this one seed bank will come hundreds and thousands," Helia owner/operator Bridghe McCracken said.

The event, dubbed "Dig It," is scheduled for Saturday at the farm at 342 North Plain Road.

It marks the conclusion of a monthslong dispute between Helia, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, and local farmer and Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton.

Project Native, a horticultural nonprofit, called the farmland home for almost a decade, growing indigenous plants such as Showy Goldenrod and the New England Aster. The group began leasing the 52-acre parcel in February to Helia, which intended to purchase the site. Helia also operates a nursery store on the property.

Helia's attempt to purchase the farmland was rejected by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, which holds the development rights to the property through the state Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program.

The rejection opened the door for bids on the land, and the department chose Stanton's in May. He will take possession of the farm on Aug. 12. He has said he intends to use it for livestock grazing.

Stanton said he offered to let McCracken stay on the land until Dec. 31, but she declined.

McCracken confirmed that Stanton had made a verbal offer, but she told The Eagle that she hadn't seen an offer in writing. So she plans to move out by Aug. 12.

Sunday will mark the last day the Helia nursery store is open. Then the next week will be taken up moving the remaining plants off the farm. The future site for Helia and the Project Native nursery is undetermined.

"We're trying to continue the legacy of what we've done here," McCracken said.

The options include a site in Sheffield operated by Ward's Nursery of Great Barrington. That site will house the plant stock temporarily.

"They see what we're doing as part of the community, and not competition," McCracken said. "We appreciate that."

If you go ...

What: Dig It, an opportunity to share Helia Land Designs' native plant stock

When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; community breakfast at 9 a.m.

Where: 342 North Plain Road, Great Barrington

Cost: A one-time donation of $100 is suggested.

What to bring: Shovel, containers and a chair for the breakfast gathering


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