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A Century Of Farming – A Photographic Exhibition At COA’s Ethel H. Blum Gallery – Curated By Maine Farmland Trust Gallery

A Century of Farming – A photographic exhibition at COA’s Ethel H. Blum Gallery – curated by Maine Farmland Trust Gallery

April’s Food Connections: Reconnecting Hands, Mouth & Mind through Food Systems Educationat College of the Atlantic will open Friday April 20 with a gallery reception from 4:00 to 6:00pm and key note address from Eric Holt-Gimenez, Executive Director of Food First, Oakland, CA titled How Food Systems Are Changing toward Food Justice & Sovereignty at 5:00. Topic of the exhibit, specifically curated for this occasion by Maine Farmland Trust Gallery’s Anna Abaldo, is Maine’s farming, past and present. The show includes work by photographers Lynn Karlin, Lottie Hedley, Bridget Besaw, Marty Hipsky, Megan Mallory and Lily Piel, as well as several historical photographs.

From a past exhibition at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery come several photographs depicting Maine’s agriculture a century ago, courtesy of the Penobscot Maritime Museum. Included in the show are images of corn husking, farm houses, fields, farm animals and farm people. Renowned Maine historian William H. Bunting conducted research for the exhibit and wrote the captions. The black-and-white images, shot originally on glass-plate negatives, are part of the Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Company collection owned by Penobscot Marine Museum.

"A century ago, agriculture was a highly visible component of the Maine landscape and a central element of its culture and economy," says historian Bunting. "Today it is nearly invisible in some parts of the state and its impact, while still significant, is recognized by few. This exhibit reminds us of the underpinning role that agriculture can play in a still-rural state like Maine."

Both Marty Hipsky and Lottie Hedley show us the struggles of older farm families who, still connected to this agricultural heritage, try to keep their farm going. Marty Hipsky, a devoted amateur photographer who prefers the dark room over digital technology, followed the farmers who live next door, telling the story of the Randall Farm, a farm in decline, in somber, yet tender black and whites.

Lottie Hedley’s series “Dare We?” portrays three Maine dairying families during the spring of 2011: Dave and Christy Spencer of Freedom, with their children Lilli, Albert, Catherine and Edy; Basil Barnes and his partner Marvel of Knox, with son Ricky, cousin Dawn and her son John; and Carolyn Howard and her son Jim of Orrington. Says Hedley: “The farmers currently working these farms could be the last generation. It seems doubtful any of them will retire. They’ll keep working until they can’t.”

Hedley attended the Maine Media College in Rockport, ME where she completed the year-long certificate program in 2011 and was awarded the Paul Caponigro scholarship. During her time at the Maine Media College, she focused on issues related to the vulnerability of the family farm, allowing her to pull on the muddy boots of her childhood growing up on a dairy farm in Wairarapa, New Zealand. Maine Farmland Trust Gallery is currently exhibiting another photographic exhibit by Hedley, through the end of May (www.mainefarmlandtrustgallery.com).

A very different tone emanates from the images of Megan Mallory, Bridget Besaw and Lily Piel. These three photographers capture stories on the opposite scale of the spectrum, which speak of the promise in farming.

Megan Mallory, a non-traditional Unity College student pursuing a degree in environmental education, took a Maine Media Workshop course with environmental photographer Bridget Besaw last summer. During the workshop, each student was paired with a non-profit to help tell their individual stories; Mallory partnered with Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Teen Agriculture program at Erickson Fields Preserve, a property in Rockport that Maine Farmland Trust permanently protected as a community resource.

Says Mallory: “I’m hoping that my photographs can highlight the inherent value in protecting working farmland. In the few days I was there photographing, I continually found myself in awe of the work that four teenagers – between the ages of fourteen to eighteen—were able to accomplish!  By the end of their commitment, the Teen Ag Crew grew and donated over 6,000 pounds of food to Camden Area Christian Food Pantry and Good Shepherd Food Bank.  Above all, I want to honor their work.” 

Bridget Besawis an environmental documentarian who tells the story of the human connection to the natural world. The primary inspiration for her work is environmental protection. Besaw’s projects have tackled issues such as development threats to northern Maine’s wilderness, loss of working farmland in New England and restoration of crucial salmon habitat in the North Pacific. The photographs in this exhibit are a small selection from her series “Maine Farms at Work,” created for Maine Farmland Trust. Each image speaks passionately about the life and vibrancy of Maine’s farms, illustrating that while there are indeed challenges to overcome, farming in Maine most certainly has a future.

Lily Piel’s photographs are also part of a Maine Farmland Trust series, documenting the growing number of preserved farms – or, as the Trust calls them, “Forever Farms.” Says the Trust’s Executive Director, John Piotti: “There is a lot to celebrate about farming in Maine, including the fact that more and more farmland owners see the value of permanently protecting their land and their legacy.” 

Over a hundred Maine farms have now been permanently protected with agricultural easements. These easements prevent subdivision and non-farm development, but provide the flexibility needed to enable the land to be actively farmed. Piotti explains how protecting farmland is critical for the future of farming in Maine. “After years of decline, Maine agriculture is growing and poised to grow more. But at the same time, farming faces a huge challenge, because the ownership of so much of Maine’s best farmland will be in transition in the next five years. Protecting farmland with a well-crafted agricultural easement ensures that good farmland stays available for farming—that it will not transition to non-farm uses.” For more information on the Forever Farms program, please visit www.foreverfarms.org.

Finally, to underline the celebratory note that is introduced by Mallory, Besaw and Piel, and echoed by Maine Farmland Trust’s John Piotti, the exhibit incorporates the elegant still-lifes by Lynn Karlin, from her Pedestal Series: photographic portraits of vegetables. “My new body of work is purely personal,” says Karlin. “It is about the obvious but often overlooked beauty of the harvest and my commitment to local and sustainable agriculture. After bringing a particularly stunning cauliflower back to my studio from the Belfast Farmers’ Market three years ago, and placing it on a pedestal in an east facing window, I began my quest to honor The Vegetable. Working to capture the unique character of these often overlooked plants, I have isolated my subjects against neutral or black backgrounds, creating personality-filled portraits.” 

Lynn Karlin graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 1970. An award winning photographer, her clients, past to present, include: New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, House Beautiful, Country Living, Gardens Illustrated, Coastal Living, Mother Earth News, Country Living Gardener, Horticulture, Organic Gardening, Country Home, La Vie Claire, Country Gardens, Cottage Living, Garden Design, National Geographic Traveler, This Old House and Design New England.

A Century of Farming will be on exhibit at the Ethel H. Blum Gallery from Thursday April 12 until Saturday April 21, with an opening Friday April 20 from 4-6pm. The Blum Gallery is located at 105 Eden Street, Bar Harbor in the Gates Community Center. Opening times are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday – Friday and 10:00 am – 5:00 pm on Saturdays. For more information about the exhibit please contact Anna Abaldo, Gallery Coordinator for Maine Farmland Trust Gallery: anna@mainefarmlandtrust.org; for more information about Maine Farmland Trust please visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org or call 207-338-6575.

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