Guest columnist Jeremy Barker Plotkin: Farmers urge return of Lampson Brook Farm to Nipmuc People

  • Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, who is the co-owner of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, uses a seeder to plants beets, Tuesday, Apr. 7, 2020. Gazette File photo

Published: 2/28/2022 9:38:22 AM
Modified: 2/28/2022 9:37:55 AM

We are a group of farmers and agricultural professionals whose lives and careers have been influenced by our time with the New England Small Farm Institute at the Lampson Brook Farm property in Belchertown.

We are writing to express our strong support for the return of the Lampson Brook Farm land to the Nipmuc People, the original inhabitants of much of the state of Massachusetts. We treasure our memories of working this land, and feel that returning the land to the Nipmuc would be a fitting next chapter in the story of the property’s history as a center for sustainable agriculture and community building.

The state of Massachusetts has the opportunity with this property to blaze a trail with an example of a just return of stolen land, just as the small farm institute blazed a trail in supporting, developing and demonstrating sustainable agriculture.

Returning the land to the Nipmuc people is a small step toward righting one of the most egregious historical wrongs on which our country was built. Most of the tribe’s traditional homelands have been taken from them, sometimes using self-serving colonial “law” and sometimes through outright theft. The Nipmuc People currently have sovereignty over less than 4 acres of land, the Hassanamisco Reservation in Grafton.

We request that the land is returned to the tribe by the state, free of charge and without restriction, excluding the Jepson House parcel. Currently the disposition of the property is governed by Bill S.2972, which divides the property into several different parcels, all with different restrictions that designate their potential use. There is a designated and complicated process for accepting proposals for various entities to take ownership of the various parcels. This legislation recognizes NESFI’s history with the land by giving the Jepson House parcel to NESFI for free. The tribe has a history and a relationship with the land that goes back thousands of years. This history and relationship needs to be recognized and honored.

We recognize and support the impulse behind placing conservation restrictions on the land, and many of us currently work properties that are under conservation restrictions. In this case, it is a violation of sovereignty to place such restrictions on the land. Full sovereignty means no restrictions and no state or local oversight. The Nipmuc have sustainably managed the eastern woodlands for thousands of years and will continue to do so. The future sale of development rights could represent an income source for the Nipmuc to aid in their stewardship of the property, but it should be under their discretion as to whether to follow that path.

Our strong preference would be for the legislation to be amended at this time as described above. If that is not possible, the Nipmuc People should be prioritized and given first consideration in the designated RFP process. The Management Plan should be amended with a clause to minimize or eliminate restrictions and oversight if the land goes back to the Nipmuc People.

We are in a time of climate disruption, caused by western world views of extraction, domination, and “use” of nature, settlers have a lot to learn from Indigenous people. We as farmers and agricultural professionals are directly impacted by this disruption. The development of the sustainable agriculture movement, in which NESFI played key role, is a direct counter-response to those destructive world views, and has been influenced by indigenous ways of thinking that have not always been acknowledged or recognized. Returning this land to the Nipmuc people would be an elegant and fitting way to continue the legacy of NESFI and it’s founder, Judy Gillan.

With respect and concern for the land.

Jeremy Barker Plotkin operates Simple Gifts Farm. This column was signed by Madeleine Charney, David DiLorenzo, Gabriel Immerman, Jarrett Mann, Desiree Robertson-duBois, Matt Rulevich, Chanya Sae-Eaw, Alexandra Stone, Patrick Taylor and Jane Litwin Taylor, Danya Teitelbaum, Eric Toensmeier, John White and Michelle Wiggins.
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