SEBEC, Maine – There are not too many properties like the Varnum Farm. It contains over 2,000 acres of fields and woods, including 840 acres of rich river bottom land. The property not only boasts highly productive farm fields, but bountiful wildlife and about eight miles of frontage on the Piscataquis River.
No wonder the Varnum family didn’t want to sell it to just anyone, when it become clear that selling was the only viable option. That reality set in soon after Richard Varnum, the family patriarch, passed away.
Richard’s widow, Rinda Varnum, said the farm represents “a great deal of hard work and sacrifice,” but also years of “pleasure and joy.”
“Our family selling this unique and beautiful property to Maine Farmland Trust will ensure that farming will be ongoing, and that’s so important to us,” expressed Varnum.
Since its creation in 1999, Maine Farmland Trust has worked with land owners who wish to protect their properties from development with agricultural easements. To date, the Trust has been involved in 132 such projects all across the state.
But more recently, Maine Farmland Trust has also been buying farms in order to protect them. The Varnum Farm is the twentieth farm the Trust has purchased.
“It has become increasingly clear that some of the most vulnerable farms are those that are up for sale, and if we want to save that land, we need to buy it,” explained John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust.
When the Trust buys a property, it does not intend to own it long-term. According to Piotti, the plan is always to protect the property with an agricultural easement and then re-sell it to another farmer. The easement ensures that the land will always be available for farming. The easement also helps any farmer who might buy the property, since protected land generally comes with a lower price tag.
Maine Farmland Trust’s purchase of the Varnum Farm is the largest project in the organization’s history. The Trust may re-sell the property as a single farm, or divide it into two farms, given its size. But in either case, all of the land will be permanently protected with an easement. Easement provisions will also ensure that there remains a dedicated snowmobile trail on the property. In addition, a non-motorized boat launch will be established along the river.
Piotti says that a project of this size and scope was only possible because of support from state and federal agencies, who saw the value of protecting this land, not only for farming, but to preserve wildlife habitat and to provide recreational opportunities.
Both state and federal funds will be available to help pay the cost of protecting the land with an easement. The state funds are from the Land for Maine’s Future program, and were authorized in July, 2011. These funds came from bonding approved by Maine voters in November, 2010.
According to Piotti, these easement funds were necessary to make this particular project happen. As he explained: “This was an expensive property to buy, even with the Varnums giving us a very good deal. When we re-sell this property, it will not have as high a value, because it will have an easement on it. So we simply couldn’t afford to go forward with this deal if funds from Land for Maine’s Future. They help fill the gap between what we bought the farm for and what we’ll sell it for.”
The Varnum project will add 2,075 acres to Maine Farmland Trust running tally of protected farmland, which has recently crested 30,000 acres.
The Trust’s goal is to protect 100,000 acres of Maine farmland by the end of 2014. That goal is driven by the fact that so much good farmland will be in transition in the next few years, because so much of it is owned by old farmers.
“We need to operate at that scale if we are to have the kind of positive impact that the future of farming demands,” said Piotti.
For More Information:
Contact Name: Erin Herbig
Telephone Number: (207)338-6575