Starting in 1977, the Vineyard Conservation Society helped facilitate a
partnership among the town and the state to permanently protect more
than 160 acres of the Great Plains at Katama Farm. The flat, stone-free
soils had been farmed for generations, including a thriving Ayrshire
dairy herd of 125 head owned by Elisha Smith in the 1950's and 60's. In
recent years, the town has leased the farm to a variety of agricultural
interests, and today, the FARM institute makes Katama Farm its home.
Though the farm is now quite well-known due to the popularity of the FARM
Institute, most of its current visitors are likely unaware of the
unusual history of this special place. The Farm’s southeast field once hosted a turnabout for the narrow-gauge Martha’s Vineyard Railroad, which for a short time between 1874 and 1896 linked Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Today, embankments and cuts remain, testifying to this earlier land use.
During the 1920s, and again in the 1970s, hundreds of building lots on the property were subdivided – but on paper only. That development fate was avoided through the work (begun in 1977) of a dedicated group of town and conservation leaders.
After much planning and fundraising, VCS took title to the Farm in 1978 and re-conveyed to the town 162 of the 220 acres, restricted to agricultural and conservation uses. An additional 24.3 acres (including the barn) were conveyed for other town uses. Clustered development planning for the remaining land, done by the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, generated proceeds to reimburse the town for its share of the grant that launched the conservation success.