WHITMAN – Sometimes wishes do come true.
And wishes came true Tuesday, Aug. 29 for John Hornstra, winning bidder on the Peaceful Meadows ice cream stand, barns, home offices, equipment and more than 55 acres of land. But the wishes of town officials, N.E. Wildlands Trust and loyal Peaceful Meadows customers hoping to keep the Whitman tradition going came true, too.
The town had the opportunity to right of first refusal on the sale should it have gone to a non-argricultural use, under the state’s 61A regulations on farming land. Whitman Town Administrator Mary Beth Carter was happy that it won’t be necessary.
“I’m thrilled that John Hornstra won the bids,” she said. “I think it’s going to be great for Whitman.”
Select Board member Justin Evans agreed it was a great turn of events for the town.
“It’ll be great to get cows back in the barn and really bring this place back,” he said.
“Everybody in town is … they’ll be ecstatic when the word gets out that we got it,” new owner John Hornstra said. “I honestly can say it’s a passion of mine. I’m the luckiest person in the world that I enjoy my business every day that I work, and I get to have my son work with me [who’s] 23, so it’ll be a great project.”
It’ll be known by a different name – Hornstra Farms – but Hornstra thinks people will see enough familiar about the future he has in mind for the iconic Whitman property.
“I’m glad to have it, and I hope I can continue what they did here and maybe have some cows, eventually here, and bring back a working dairy farm to Whitman,” Hornstra said of his winning bid. “Eventually, they’ll be back,” he said of the bovine bevy that had always been a popular attraction at Peaceful Meadows.
“The gentleman who built this in 1961 was a big inspirational person in my life,” Hornstra said. “I saw how successful this was, and that’s why I wanted to do it in Norwell.”
The immediate plan is to do some work on the barns, but he may try to keep the dairy store open during the holiday season in keeping with tradition before that renovation work is done and it reopens in the spring. There’s a lot of structural work to do in the barns, and one of them may come down, to be replaced by an all-automated, robotic barn where people can have their ice cream and see the cows being milked.
“We’ve got a ways to go,” he said of plans for a reopening date. “We’ve got a lot of fixing up and stuff like that – upgrading and stuff like that – but hopefully before Thanksgiving, but we’ll see.”
Soon some of the trademark red Holstien cows of the Hornstra Farms herd will also return a bucolic touch to the property, the fourth-generation farmer said after making the winning $1.75 million bid for the entirety of two property lots at 94 Bedford St.
Since Hornstra has no immediate plans to negotiate for Peaceful Meadows ice cream stand recipes (his Prospect Street, Norwell farm already makes their own old-fashioned ice cream, so we don’t know what to tell the person who reached out to auctioneer Justin Manning about the fate of Peaceful Meadows’ peanut butter sauce.
He said that, when the first information was posted about the pending auction, the JJ Manning website received more than 500,000 views, 175,000 clicks, 27,000 emotions and about 4,000 shares.
“I think that it’s a day that is going to bring conclusion to what is the final chapter for the family,” Manning said before the auction Tuesday morning. “I think they’ve gotten to the point where they’re more than ready to pass it on, to end it. They need that closure. I think that maybe it’s a little sad for them, maybe a little sad for the town, and the people who came to get ice cream, but who knows what is going to be the next chapter here at the property.”
Hornstra said his plan was to purchase the two lots in their entirety, which is why he did not enter a bid for them separately.
“We work with John Hornstra so we’re very supportive of his bid,” said Scott McFaden of the Wildlands Trust, on the non-profit land conservation trust’s presence to support Honstra. “We’d like to see it stay in permanent farming, because we’re about land preservation.”
McFaden said the Hornstras ran a big risk on the day.
“There were people here who, most likely would have tried to convert it to something else,” he said. “I’ve talked to some town officials informally and they were very supportive of seeing it preserved.”
Hornstra agreed that he had support “everywhere.”
“Part of the reason I went to $1.75 [million], was I didn’t want to disappoint everyone on the South Shore,” he said. “It was a lot of hyped media stuff and Facebook stuff, and I couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else getting it. I’m one of those people who always wants to do the right thing.”
After placing his winning bid, Hornstra first spoke to members of the family selling the property, before speaking with the press.
He said he came prepared to pay $1.5 million – having to go $225,000 over that.
“I went a little farther than I had to,” he said. “I saw my son standing next to me – I’m trying to support the next generation, so we went a little farther than we wanted to.”
Manning said on Monday it was a “coin flip” of the chances the property would remain in agricultural use, noting that real estate developers and a software company were among those interested.
As competing bidders approached Hornstra to congratulate him, one was heard to say he was “glad a farmer got it.” Hornstra, which also bottles milk for door-to-door delivery, already has Whitman customers on its client list.
He said the barns [which, like the other buildings and equipment included for sale at auction], being purchased “as-is” needed some work.
In his pre-auction instructions to prospective bidders, Manning said the first two parcels [94 Bedford St., divided between the ice cream stand, and other buildings and a second lot of the 55 acres behind it] would be auctioned separately.
All separate property lots were sold to the highest bidder, subject to the entirety, which is how both sides of the road were ultimately purchased by two separate bidders when bids were received greater than the individual bids. There would be no rebids of the individual lots.
Bidders were also cautioned that they were expected to have done their homework before the auction date.
Peaceful Meadows provided a lot of information down to the last five years of tax returns.
“With tons of information comes informed buyers,” Manning said. “If you are not an informed buyer, if you don’t know about this property and you didn’t go through all the information, and didn’t go through the properties, then don’t bid on the properties.” All properties are sold as-is.
Closing is slated to take place on or before Sept. 29, unless otherwise agreed upon by the seller in writing or if the buyer of the farm and ice cream stand went to a non-agricultural buyer, triggering the town’s right of first refusal under 61A.
As the bidding for the first two parcels as an entirety became competitive, Hornstra said he was just trying to decide where he was going. He held back from bidding on the two lots individually to get both as an entirety.
He looked at his son – who will be the fifth generation working the farm.
“He kind of rolled his eyes and I said, ‘OK, here’s $50,000 more, let’s see where it goes,’” he said.
Hornstra said he was not much interested in the other side of the road, bought as an entirety by a late-arriving group of Asian women, who said they had no specific plans for it, but wanted to preserve the land.
WHITMAN – Sometimes wishes do come true.