There were laughs, some applause, and even a few tears.
On Tuesday night, nearly 100 people packed a meeting room in the basement of the Durham Public Library to express their support for Deerfield Farm and dairy farmer .
While nearly everyone in the crowd came to support Naples, several members of the audience became emotional while sharing personal stories of the farm with the town's Conservation Commission.
"Deerfield Farm is important to me in many different ways," said 11-year-old Logan Naples-Marut, a member of the farm's Jolly Ranchers 4-H club, while fighting back tears. "Melynda opened my eyes to agriculture. I have been exhibiting cattle at different fairs since I was about five years old. I wouldn't have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if it wasn't for Deerfield Farm."
Check out Patch's video for more public comments and commentary from commission members
For the past several months, and again on Tuesday night, the commission, which oversees the town's open space properties, met to discuss lease options for the town-owned property at the corner of Pent Road and Parmelee Hill Road which Naples has operated as a dairy farm since 2005.
Commission co-chairman Bob Melvin said the town's first lease to Naples was for five years. When a two-year lease expired at the end of last year, Melvin said the two sides began working on a month-to-month basis.
"And, if you remember, the reason we went with a two-year is because she was almost $7,000 in arrears and one of the provisions is if you're over 30-days late, or 60-days, whatever it is, you're in default," he said.
Under terms of the previous lease, Naples is required to pay the town $4,800 on a yearly basis to operate on the 60-acre farm. The money, officials said, is put into an account and used when maintenance is needed at the farm.
While Naples made good on her lease payments this spring, the overdue payments, combined with the commission's recent decision to , were enough to force the commission to take a hard look at the way the town leases property.
"I've heard a lot of rumors around town about how bad we are. They are just rumors," said commission co-vice chairman Ralph Chase. "That we were trying to get rid of Melynda and I feel fairly comfortable that I can speak for this commission and say to you that is not so, we are not trying to get rid of Melynda."
Chase said the commission instead was trying to work out an agreement acceptable to both the town and Naples.
"In my opinion, you think of the time and the effort and the money that she's invested in that farm. A mow full of hay, her equipment, her animals. To say nothing of her sweat and long hours," Chase said. "That investiment needs to be protected."
The commission, Chase said, had failed to communicate with Naples but was interested in moving forward. To that end, Chase made a motion that Deerfield Farm continue as a dairy demonstration operation "from this time forward."
While the motion was unanimously approved, some members of the audience urged the commission against following the advice of town attorney Robert Poliner, who in recent meetings with the commission recommended that the lease be put out to competitive bid.
"It seems as though that would make sense to exhaust things with Deerfield Farm before we consider others," said Katie Hughes.
"The property is worth so much more than the dollars associated with it," selectman Steve Levy said. "It is worth a quality of life. It is worth an educational value. It is worth the fabric of our community.
"It shouldn't be who has the most dollars, it should be who has the most to offer to the town and I am so afraid that the word bid means dollars."
While Melvin reiterated that the commission was not looking to make a profit on the property and would only request an amount needed to maintain it, First Selectman Laura Francis said the town had received two letters of interest for the property.
"This is public property, and this is a public access," Francis said. "Unless we decide as a community that this is a lifetime award, there should be a period, a stated period of time when this asset might be available to the public."
Joe Pasquale, who called Deerfield Farm "a gem," said there was nothing requiring the commission to go through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process in order to lease the property.
"That is a good tool for the future when you want to find a new tenant. But, if in fact, you all believe that the tenant you have today, like all of us do, is a good tenant, a good steward of the property, that you can in fact negotiate a new lease with her and not go through that RFP process," Pasquale said.
Although Naples was present at the meeting, she did not speak.
Diane Saunders, a member of Wallingford's Farm and Lease Committee, said she considered Deerfield Farm the envy of town-leased properties.
"I can tell you, just as a taxpayer, if we had kids like this on our farms in Wallingford I would hug them everyday," she said.