WILLIAMSTOWN -- The farm is widely believed to be inactive, and has had three owners in the past five years. But despite those factors, apples are being harvested at Green River Farm this year, albeit quietly.
On Wednesday morning, two workers were washing trays in preparation for the harvest. The apples had been slightly damaged by the frost, but the workers, who declined to give their names, said the orchard is looking forward to a successful season. For the second consecutive year, the fruit is being sold to area produce sellers or pressed into cider.
The orchard at Green River Farm is being leased by Paradise Farm Corp., a Williamstown farm owned by Harry Patten, who owned Green River Farm from 1997 to 2008. Patten is an East Coast entrepreneur, named one of the year's 50 most fascinating business people by Fortune Magazine in 1986.
Green River Farm, in commission since the 18th century, recently has been engaged in what appears to be a hot potato game of ownership. Patten bought Green River Farm in 1997 from Fritz Langer. He sold it in 2009 to Jim Galusha. Galusha then sold the farm to Franklin C. Lewis, who closed it in 2011.
The farm and the connected Store at Five Corners were a South Williamstown hub until they closed unexpectedly two years ago, said Williams College biology professor and Williamstown resident Henry Art. The store, which traces its origins back to 1832, reopened briefly last year, but has since closed again.
Lewis, who had purchased the store four years ago in a separate transaction from Meredith K. Woodyard of Petersburg, N.Y., combined the two properties under his ownership.
William Barkin of the Williamstown Assessor's Office refers to the recent history of the farm and the store as "convoluted." Lewis wanted to market the farm as a tourist attraction, but that collided with the long-held rural values of his some of his neighbors.
The farm's story is a bitter one for many, and has been mired by rumors, many of which are unfounded, according to Town Planner Andrew Groth.
And many people you ask aren't quite sure what's happening at the prominent site, whose apple trees grow on the hill between Green River Road and Route 7.
"There's very little in the way of signage or information," Art said.
Art has been part of committees to find a future for the farm. He envisions a farm shared by members of the community. But the asking price for the farm, he said, is in the millions. The farm is not listed with any real estate agency; Lewis is selling it -- if he is selling it -- independently.
In 2011, Lewis told The Eagle that he could take a year or two, or longer, to find a way to move forward with the property. It proved a financial difficulty, losing $100,000 each month in operational costs at the end of 2010. Lewis also has a residence in the state of Florida.
Beth Phelps, chairman of the Williamstown Agricultural Commission and owner of Sweet Brook Farm, said Williamstown residents have taken an interest in the farm. Jess Young of Caretaker Farm, for example, bales hay at the farm. But the ownership situation has complicated things. Paradise Farm Corp. did not return phone calls requesting an interview.
"There's one side saying one thing, the other side saying the opposite," Phelps said. She said Lewis has had a "spiteful" attitude toward the residents of South Williamstown, and that the residents had problems with how he ran his business.
No agricultural activity occurred at Green River Farm during the 2011 growing season, but in January 2012, the trees were pruned to make them ready for harvest. The workers in the orchard said the current work is being done at the request of Lewis, who didn't want the apples to go to waste.
It's an unfinished story for Green River Farm, where the apples on the hillside are blooming once again.