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Board will get a look at Joppa Hill farm's roof after tiles removed

BEDFORD - The Educational Farm at Joppa Hill has reached an agreement with the town that will allow its board to inspect the barn's ceiling once the town has the roof's tiles removed, in order to see if it can afford to make the repairs, said Jo Hendry, secretary of the farm's board.

Hendry said some of the dispute with the town over signing a long-term lease was a result of uncertainty about the level of repair work that needs to be done.

"We couldn't do something until we could see what we had," she said.

According to Hendry, the board was hesitant to sign any agreement that they felt had unrealistic time restraints, including an agreement made in January after a meeting between the two parties that the farm's board ultimately refused to sign.

That agreement required repairs to be made to the barn within about six months, and contained other requirements the farm's attorney said were nearly impossible to meet.

"We wanted very much to move forward," Hendry said of that meeting, "but there were some things we weren't sure we were physically able to promise, and we needed to have everybody there to discuss it."

Hendry said there is much to celebrate at the farm, despite the barn being closed to the public since this summer.

"Even though we had to put up a tent, we ran the best summer camp we've ever had," Hendry said.

The mission of the 35-acre farm is "to increase public awareness of open space, sustainable agriculture and the environment by operating a working farm, providing interactive educational programs and promoting firsthand experience through community involvement," and Hendry said many of the farm's activities directly support that mission.

The farm has hosted 660 campers and over the years, employed 32 camp counselors and counselors-in-training, and more than 700 students visited the farm for field trips, Hendry said.

Many groups and organizations volunteer at the farm, including scouts, students, local businesses and the board itself, Hendry said.

The farm is also a community meeting space for groups, including the Animal Rescue League and the Bedford Land Trust.

"There are a lot of great things happening at the farm that aren't in the public light," Hendry said.

Fundraising continues to be a focus, and though the summer camp is a main source of revenue for the farm, "There is nonstop fundraising," Hendry said.

Hendry said the goal of the board is to work with the town going forward to continue with the farm's mission.

"We care as much as the town officials do about what happens there," she said. "We work so hard - we want to do what it takes to keep it going."

If the farm chooses to move forward with the repairs, Town Manager Jessie Levine said the town will begin negotiations of a long-term lease that would go into effect only if the barn repairs are made.

"I am glad that EFJH is publicizing its activity over the last few years and reporting back to the community how it is using town property for public benefit," she said. "In any future lease, the town will include clear, enforceable expectations for performance and benefits to the community, not only relating to use of the property for maximum public benefit, but maintenance of the property for maximum agricultural protection and preservation."

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