250 Year Old Coastal Farm in York Protected With Community Support, Amidst a Rising Tide of Development

250 Year Old Coastal Farm in York Protected With Community Support, Amidst a Rising Tide of Development

February 1, 2023


Emily Gherman-Lad

The Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm on the shore of the York River has been a steadfast part of the landscape and community for 250 years, even as development has swelled around it in recent decades. In December 2022, the Blaisdell family – Henry and Patricia, their son Tom, and their daughter Cherie – signed the easement to protect their farm in perpetuity with a pen made of wood hewn from the property, which they had been saving for this occasion for over 15 years. Together with Maine Farmland Trust, and with support from York Land Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the National Resources Conservation Service, and the generosity of dozens of community members, Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm will remain a farm for centuries to come.

“The Blaisdell family has stewarded this land for generations. While surrounding lands divided and re-divided into house lots and riverfront estates, the Blaisdells have grown their farm and kept it intact over 250 years of change, and in doing so, they have cultivated a uniquely close relationship with the land. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to help the Blaisdells conserve their farm, and my colleagues and I are very pleased that the family has chosen Maine Farmland Trust to be their partner in stewarding the future of this historic and vibrant farm,” said Charlie Baldwin, Farmland Protection Project Manager at Maine Farmland Trust.

The farm at 160 Southside Road in York has a rich history in the community. Purchased by Elijah Blaisdell in 1772, though the family’s history of farming in the area extends even earlier, the farm has been in continuous operation for hundreds of years, producing livestock, grains, hay, vegetables, meat, and forest products. Situated along the York River, the family farm utilized the river to transport its goods to surrounding communities before reliable roads and bridges were built. As a boy, Henry Blaisdell remembers helping to cut and stack blocks of ice from the seasonal ice pond that his father and uncle created in the 1930s to provide refrigeration for the farm and its store, local homes, and inns. The farm also supplied and delivered bottled milk from its dairy until the late 1960s.

Since the 1970s, the farm has primarily produced grass-fed beef. In the early 2000s, Tom’s wife Doris and Cherie added a pumpkin patch, which has grown over the years to attract hundreds of families each year, some of whom have been coming since they were children themselves. The farm store has been an important part of the farm operation since the 1920s. Today, community members can continue to buy beef, lamb, pork, and eggs, along with pickles sweetened with maple syrup produced from the farm, preserved beets from an age-old family recipe, and other farm products made by Blaisdell family members, relatives, and friends who help out with the farm store, the harvest, and other activities around the farm.

Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm is popular among local families, who flock to its pumpkin patch, petting zoo, hay maze, and farm fresh products from its longstanding farm store.

Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm is one of the last remaining working farms in York, as development has risen sharply around it. In the 1950s and 60s, the land along the York River was nearly all farmland, including Ram’s Head Farm, which the Blaisdells have hayed for decades and is now protected by York Land Trust. A half century ago, between the Blaisdells and their neighboring farms, approximately 400 acres of farmland stretched continuously all the way to Route 1. Today, the 86 acres at Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm are bordered by housing developments, and the river frontage is layered with houses that have been built in recent decades. The fields on the south side of the farm are now surrounded by housing developments, which sit elevated from soil that has been filled to slope and reshape the lots. Water runoff from these slopes now impacts the agricultural use of these fields, an example of how nearby development can affect farms.

Tom Blaisdell gestures toward houses along the York River, which over the past several decades have replaced what was once expansive farmland in the area.

As they watched farmland disappear around them, the Blaisdell family first began thinking about protecting the farm with an easement more than 20 years ago. As they worked with then- Town Planner Steve Burns to discuss how the town could support farms in York, the Blaisdells gave him a few pieces of cherry wood hewn from the farm for some of Burns’s woodworking projects. In return, Burns gifted the family a pen he had made from the wood, with the hope that the family would use it to sign an easement. At the closing in December, the four Blaisdell family members passed the pen to one another as they signed the easement together. “Thanks, Dad and Mom,” said Cherie as they each penned their names. “You did it together.” “And to Grandpa, and Grammy,” added Tom. “Yes, and all the other generations,” finished Cherie, as they formalized the document that will ensure that their family legacy of farming will continue forever.

The Blaisdell family signs the easement documents with a pen hewn from a cherry tree on the farm that they have been saving for more than 15 years for this occasion.

In many ways the family considers the farm a member of the family, the living legacy of their ancestors who are buried in the family cemetery on the property. “I think we feel as much a part of the farm as it is to us. We grew up knowing how special it was to the whole family. It’s just…us! We’re hoping each generation loves it as much as we do.” remarked Cherie at the closing. Added Tom: “Yes, or if there’s another owner, we hope that they realize why we placed the easement. We take care of the farm – but it also takes care of us. In some ways, the farm is the youngest member of our family, and in some ways it’s the oldest – because we’ve been here for so long, but each year you’re growing something new. So it’s both the oldest and youngest family member that we want to see protected forever.”

The Blaisdells aren’t the only ones who recognize how special their riverfront farm is to the community and want to see it protected. An outpouring of community support from dozens of individuals and organizations made this easement possible. York Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust partnered with Maine Farmland Trust to support the project. The 1772 Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, Fields Pond Foundation, Kennebunk Savings Foundation, Land Trust Alliance, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Maine Community Foundation, and dozens of individual donors made generous contributions to help realize the project. Thanks to this tremendous community effort, the Blaisdell farm will forever remain as open fields on the shores of the York River, and together with the Blaisdells, Maine Farmland Trust will steward this important community resource for future generations.

Cover Photo: Patricia and Henry Blaisdell (front row, L to R), their son Tom Blaisdell (center left), their daughter Cherie Blaisdell (center right), MFT Farmland Protection Project Manager Charlie Baldwin (right), and attorney Sarah McDaniel (left) celebrate the protection of the 250-year-old Blaisdell Brothers Family Farm in perpetuity.

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