Category Archives: Farmland Protection

LouAnna Perkins receives Paul Birdsall Award

LouAnna Perkins received the Paul Birdsall Award at the MFT Annual Meeting, held on November 9, 2018. The award recognizes individuals who have made sustained and inspired contributions to Maine agriculture. LouAnna joined MFT in 2000 as the first, part-time Executive Director. Not long after she started, she closed her law firm in Bucksport devote all of her time to MFT’s work, bringing her legal assistant, Kristin Varnum (now MFT’s CFO) along with her. LouAnna shepherded the nascent organization through the critical first years of development, and laid the foundation for future growth. Today, LouAnna continues to help guide MFT’s work as our Senior Legal Counsel. Her contributions to MFT, and to Maine’s farming community, are deeply appreciated.

The Paul Birdsall Award honors the commitment and spirit of its namesake, the late Paul Birdsall of Horsepower Farm in Penobscot. Paul was one of the founders of MFT, a longtime board member, and is considered to be the father of farmland protection in Maine. He recognized that Maine has a limited amount of farmland and saw the need to preserve the soil and the open land so that agriculture could thrive for generations to come.  Paul was responsible for not only protecting acres of farmland, but also training farmers to work that land, and mentored over 100 apprentices on his farm.

Skowhegan’s Community of Protected Farms

Protecting farmland with agricultural conservation easements is a core part of our work at MFT. One thing we consider when protecting a farm property is whether there are other protected farms in the area. Ideally, we aim to create communities of protected farmland to help foster long-term farm viability by protecting the support network that farms rely on. In Skowhegan, a community of six protected farms exemplifies this goal to create clusters of protected, working farmland, and the benefits of doing so.

In 2002, MFT completed its first agricultural conservation easement on Brick Farm, a 130-acre farm in Skowhegan owned by the Hastings family. Brick Farm overlooks the valley of Wesserunsett Stream, several miles above its confluence with the Kennebec River. In MFT’s first newsletter, we stated, “With its prime soils, carefully tended woodlots, and proximity to other working farms, this easement is an important start in protecting the working landscape of the area.”

Today, MFT holds six conservation easements in Skowhegan, totaling 1,253 acres, with additional protected farms in surrounding towns. In 2016, Tricia Rouleau, MFT’s Farmland Protection Project Manager covering Somerset County, worked with farmer Tim Hewett to protect the 329-acre Hewett Farm, where Tim produces beef, hay, wood products and maple syrup. That same year, the Dostie family worked with MFT to protect their 210-acre dairy farm in Skowhegan (and later went on to protect their two farm properties in neighboring Fairfield). Rouleau explains that,  “In this case, the easement funds played a role in helping a younger generation take over operation of the farm, and in helping the farm transition the operation from beef to organic dairy. Dostie Farm was a conventional dairy for many years, transitioned to beef for several years, and is now an organic dairy. This is a great example of how farm families in this region and across the state are adapting to the changing market to keep their farms viable, and how easements can help in that process.”

This year, MFT closed on three more conservation easements in Skowhegan. Oster Farm is a 50-acre hay farm adjacent to Hewett Farm. Tim Hewett hays the fields. Grassland Farm, a 280-acre property owned by Dirt Capital Partners, and Santy Dairy, a 208-acre organic dairy owned by farmer Brad Santy were also protected. Santy is a fifth-generation dairy farmer and sells milk to Organic Valley. In addition to his own farm, Santy also leases Grassland Farm, with hopes of purchasing it in the next few years, and works the fields at Brick Farm. Santy says he decided to protect his farmland because “if we don’t, then who will? I would rather grow food than houses.”

Beyond preserving the land base for farming, creating communities of protected farms fosters a strong support system for farming. These farms are interconnected in so many ways– hay and corn grown on one farm are used by a neighboring farm for feed; farmers manage fields on other properties; they support each other through personal relationships and practical help. Other agricultural businesses thrive in communities with more working farms, providing critical services that further increase the viability of the farms and sustain the rural economy.

“Skowhegan and surrounding towns are part of the larger farm belt of central Maine. There are many long-standing, productive family farms that are very active and important to both the local economy in general and agriculture, specifically. By protecting these farms with agricultural conservation easements and by working with these and other farms in the area, we can support the future of agriculture here”, notes Nina Young, Project Development Specialist and Designated Broker for Maine Farms Realty. MFT hopes to build more of these communities of protected farms in other areas throughout the state of Maine.

As dairy farms struggle, organizations and farmers collaborate to find alternate solutions through new feasibility study

At a time when dairy farmers in Maine and across the country are facing numerous challenges affecting the milk market and resulting in low prices to producers, multiple Maine organizations have joined with Maine organic dairy farmers to investigate alternative market opportunities. A Local Foods & Farmers Market Promotion Program (LFPP) grant from the USDA was recently awarded to MFT, written in collaboration with the Maine Organic Milk Producers, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, to execute a feasibility study to determine whether in-state processing could enable better market stability for organic dairy farmers. This successful proposal was also bolstered by support from the Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine Farm Bureau, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, and the Congressional offices of Sen. Collins, Sen. King, Rep. Poliquin, and Rep. Pingree.

“Dairy farms play a keystone role in Maine’s farm and food economy,” said Amanda Beal, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. “This feasibility study has the potential to benefit all dairy farms in Maine, as losing even one dairy farm can have a sizable impact on the agricultural sector and economy, and we know that having multiple market options increases the resiliency of these farm businesses.”

Milk produced by the dairy sector represents Maine’s second most valuable agricultural product; sales value reached nearly $125 million in 2017. All of Maine’s dairy farmers face challenges due to existing political and market forces, which MFT and other partner organizations actively work to address on an ongoing basis through state and federal policy.

However, certified organic farms, which account for nearly one-third of Maine’s dairy farms, face additional challenges as Maine lacks in-state processing infrastructure for their milk.  While the organic market was once relatively resistant to the fluctuating price, supply, and sales of milk and milk products, this is no longer the case.  Adding to the unease for organic producers is the fact that all bulk organic milk produced in Maine is shipped out of state for processing.  This creates a dependence on processors operating in the national milk market, who can get milk elsewhere. This dynamic recently resulted in several organic farmers losing their contracts with an out-of-state processor.

The feasibility study will examine the current needs of Maine organic dairy farms, estimate market-size for in-state processing infrastructure, evaluate various business models and run financial analysis to determine the viability of business models. The study will draw from the experience of MOOMilk, an in-state organic processor that closed in 2014. While many factors contributed to MOOMilk’s closing, the processor’s sales showed strong consumer support for a Maine organic dairy brand.

“Exploring the idea of in-state processing is so exciting for those of us currently in the organic dairy industry,” said Annie Watson, co-owner and farmer at Sheepscot Valley Farm in Whitefield. “This is an opportunity to take an in-depth look at the current landscape of Maine organic dairy. If there is a market for our product on its own label, or in conjunction with a larger processor, we owe it to the future of dairy in our state to seriously consider the possibilities.”

Due to the urgency of the current dairy crisis, partnering organizations plan to finish the study within six to seven months, in hopes to inform some near-term action to expand in-state processing opportunities for our dairy farms.

A chance to join Allagash Brewing for dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm!

Our friends (and MFT business members!) at Allagash Brewing Company are gearing up for A Week in Maine, an entire week dedicated to celebrating our home state, capped with a grand finale farm dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm on August 10th. Food for the farm feast is being donated and prepared by Big Tree Hospitality (also one of our business members), the culinary wizards behind three of Portland’s most well-respected restaurants: Hugo’s, The Honey Paw, and Eventide. The dinner will feature four courses, each containing fresh produce from Bumbleroot Farm, and you can bet each course will be amazing. Various Allagash beers will be available to sample.

MFT protected Bumbleroot Organic Farm in 2015, and the agricultural easement made it possible for young farmers Melissa, Ben, Jeff, and Abby to purchase the property and grow a thriving farm business! The dinner will celebrate the work that we do together to protect farmland and support farmers in Maine.

Here’s the most exciting part: We’d like you to join us! Submit a photo of your favorite Maine farm by Tuesday, August 7, 2018 and we’ll enter your name into a drawing for a pair of seats at the dinner on August 10th.

How it works:

  1. Post a photo of your favorite Maine farm on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
  2. Include the hashtag #aweekinmaine and tag @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing in the caption.
  3. We’ll share some of your photos as we go, and will pick several lucky winners at random on August 7! 

FAQ & Rules

How do I enter?

There are several ways to participate in the drawing. You can post your photo on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) use the the hashtag #aweekinmaine and tag @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing in the caption.

The contest will run from July 27 through August 7.

How do I win? And what happens if I’m chosen?

Winners will be picked at random on August 7. Winners and their guest will be invited to attend a special farm dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham on August 10. If you are picked and are not able to attend we will draw another name.

What will you do with my photos?

This drawing is about sharing your love for Maine farms and highlighting the importance of farmland protection. Thank you for supporting MFT’s mission! Your photos may be used by MFT to increase awareness of the organization and its work. Please read the following Terms and Conditions for more information and please make sure that you have the permission of the farm’s owner to take and submit your photo.

Terms and Conditions

The submitted photographs are called “Content.” By tagging Content created at or associated with MFT with #lovemainefarms2018 through social media or by emailing your photos to MFT, Content creators give MFT the right and permission to publish, republish, or otherwise use Content with or without edits and grant to MFT worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free rights and license to use the Content in media including but not limited to websites, video material, print advertising, online advertising, and collateral and other printed material.

By submitting Content, all Content creators represent and warrant that they own or have all necessary rights, licenses, and permissions to publish and share the Content, and that the Content does not contain third party copyrighted materials or materials that are otherwise subject to third party ownership of rights in any way.

Submitted content may or may not be included in the campaign at the sole discretion of MFT, and MFT reserves the right not to publish any image for any reason.

Should any Content provider wish for submitted Content not to be shared or to be withdrawn from the drawing, they may send this request to ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org and remove the #aweekinmaine and @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing tags from their Content on social media.

Additional Rules

By participating in the drawing, you (i) agree to be bound by these official rules, including all eligibility requirements, and (ii) agree to be bound by the decisions of the drawing organizers, which are final and binding in all matters relating to the drawing. Failure to comply with these official rules may result in disqualification from the drawing.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

PITCH IN for farmland & farmers

A core part of our mission is to protect farmland, and support farmers by helping them find and get on farmland. Every year we protect thousands of acres of farmland across the state.

One recently completed protection project was in partnership with Andrew Ketch of Ketch Organics. Andrew and his wife Meeka own and operate a certified organic diversified vegetable farm in Woodland, up in Aroostook County. They run a popular farm stand and sell their produce at markets throughout the state, from Presque Isle to Portland. Andrew bought his original 76-acre farm from his grandfather, who was a potato farmer for years. Andrew and Meeka worked with MFT to purchase and protect a neighboring piece of farmland, and now Ketch Organics comprises over 204 acres, more than doubling the farm’s original size. With access to additional acreage, Andrew and Meeka can expand on their business’ success and continue growing good food for Maine.

 

Read about a few other farmland protection projects:

If you believe in protecting farmland for farmers, we hope you’ll consider joining us in this work.  We can’t do it without you, pitch in!

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

Over $2 million in federal funds to support comprehensive conservation of farmland and marsh habitat

Farms are often the largest remaining blocks of undeveloped land in Maine’s coastal communities, and they often contain significant wildlife habitat. But development pressure in coastal communities is the highest in the state, and farmland and marsh habitat are disappearing rapidly. A new project led by Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) in partnership with Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), The Nature Conservancy, Downeast Salmon Federation and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, will protect farmland that is adjacent to high value tidal marshes in Maine’s coastal plain, and mark a comprehensive effort to conserve Maine’s marshes.

NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program awarded $1,440,000 to MFT and partners for a project called “Conserving Farmland and Marsh Habitat in Maine.” The project aims to conserve both Maine farms and their associated high-value wetlands.

“Maine Farmland Trust’s focus is to protect farmland with agricultural easements, but agricultural easements on their own do not address other threats to tidal marshes that may occur on farm properties,” said Erica Buswell, MFT’s Vice President of Programs. “Working with our partners on this project will enable us to enhance the value of agricultural easements as a tool for conserving marsh habitat by combining farmland protection with specific conservation practices.”

Project partners will seek to protect agricultural resources and habitat for fish and wildlife and will work with farmers to identify resource concerns and the conservation practices to support the health of marsh habitat on their farms through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The partnership piece of this project is particularly exciting,” said Buswell. “Each partner organization will be working to accomplish its individual conservation objectives, while also contributing to broad, statewide conservation goals. We understand that by remaining singularly focused on our own missions and work, we sometimes miss opportunities to achieve bigger resource conservation impacts that are possible with more intentional, coordinated collaborations like this one.”

Throughout the northeast, farmland accounts for a significant portion of undeveloped land adjacent to tidal marshes that is not already in conservation; among New England states, Maine has the greatest number of agricultural parcels near tidal marshes. Protecting farmland as an upland buffer is crucial to protecting the diverse marsh habitat that so many plants and animal species rely upon.

MFT and MCHT are also the recipients of a related $600,000 Regional Conservation Partnership Program award to protect a specific cluster of farms on the shores of Little Kennebec Bay in Washington County.

“This partnership is part of a coast-wide initiative to protect Maine’s threatened coastal marshes,” said Betsy Ham, Land Protection Director at MCHT. “How and where farming is conducted not only affects the long-term sustainability of a farm property but also affects the health of the marshes associated with that farm and in turn impacts the harvest of fish and shellfish nearby. This partnership will help us ensure that coastal farms, fisheries, and wildlife habitat can continue to coexist and thrive long into the future”

Maine Farmland Trust and partners will use the Regional Conservation Partnership Program awards to fund related farmland protection projects for the next four years, directing over $2 million to owners of coastal farmland.

Let's grow a bright future for farming in Maine, together.

More farmland protected as 2017 comes to a close

In the final weeks of 2017, MFT worked with farmers to protect six more Maine farm properties with agricultural easements:

MFT worked with the farmers at Ecko Farms of Corinna and St. Albans to protect the Cooley Property. The farm property is used to produce hay and corn for Ecko Farms’ large dairy operation and MFT hopes to work with these farmers in the future to protect an additional piece of their large land base.

Young dairy farmers Conor MacDonald and Alexis Gareau closed on a second easement to complete the purchase of Bo Lait Farm in Washington. Bo Lait ships organic milk to Organic Valley. In this tough climate for dairy farming, we are so proud of Alexis and Conor, who have built their herd from 12 to 40 cows in three years! Conor and Alexis got into farming after Conor finished serving 10 years in the US Army, traveling all over the world. Now he’s happy to be rooted in one place and farming: “MFT has done so much for us, and we wouldn’t be milking cows if it wasn’t for MFT.”

Steven and Shannon Lion closed on an easement to protect their 374-acre Sunkhaze Wild Blueberry Farm on Horseback Road in Township 23, Middle Division, in Hancock County. The Lions sell berries to Wyman’s and Bartlett Winery, and hand-rake some for fresh pack sales. Their farm sits at the headwaters of the Sunkhaze Stream. MFT has been working on this project for several years, and everyone is so happy this special piece of farmland will be protected for the future.

MFT and Coastal Mountains Land Trust worked together to craft a multi-purpose easement for the Metcalf-Ferguson farm property in Northport. The easement protects the opportunity for agriculture and forestry as well as the wildlife habitats, ecology, scenic views from public vantage points, and water quality in Knight Pond and the Ducktrap River watershed. The Metcalf family donated the easement, fulfilling the vision of the late matriarchs to conserve the family farm. (Aerial photo by Jacob Gerritsen).

Dan Curran closed on an easement to protect another 166 acres of Curran Farm in Sabattus. This was MFT’s second easement project with Dan and he’s such a great advocate for farmland protection, which he says is important because “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t eat. Maybe this will help some people stop and think about what they can do to support Maine farmers.”

Denise Carpenter closed on an easement to protect 231-acre Chellis Brook Farm in Newfield. Over the years Denise stitched together three old farm properties and restored the pastures for her cattle operation. The easement will ensure that her work to bring back the agricultural viability of the land will not be reversed in the future.

Our work to protect farmland is made possible by our members and supporters. You can pitch in to help ensure a future for farming in Maine by becoming a member or donating HERE

Buxton farmers donate an easement to protect their farm for future generations

John and Martha Charest recently donated an easement to Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) on their 69-acre farm in Buxton.

John Charest acquired the property in the 1974 and began the work of restoring the alder choked fields and rehabilitating the century old farmhouse and barn. The Charests are only the fifth owners of the farm, which was originally awarded to Captain John Elden, a veteran of the French and Indian War, in the mid-1700s.

The Charests began raising Belted Galloway cattle in 1978 and raised sheep and pigs over the years. They continue to raise a small herd of cattle and actively manage the farm’s woodland acreage for silvopasture (woodland pasture for livestock) and tree growth under a forester’s guidance.

John and Martha first reached out to MFT a decade ago. They wanted to make sure their land will remain available for farming. In 2017, after many family discussions, they decided to place an easement on the property. They chose to donate the easement to MFT because they feel the Trust is best situated to ensure that the lands they restored to productivity will protected and available for agricultural use for generations to come.

“Maine Farmland Trust was always upper most in our minds as we looked to the future. They came highly recommended,” said the Charests. “With the help of the MFT we are assured that this land we’ve worked so hard for over the years will remain open and productive fields and woodlands.”

Maine Farmland Trust is pleased to accept this easement and thrilled that these productive lands will be available for future farmers.

Land Trusts, USDA, farmers, and community protect 60 acres of farmland on Route One in Damariscotta

Damariscotta River Association (DRA), Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), and the United States Department of Agriculture collaborated with Brady Hatch and Brendan McQuillen of Morning Dew Farm to finalize the permanent protection of 60 acres of farm fields and woods on Route One just east of downtown Damariscotta.

“This complicated project has been almost seven years in the making, and it is hard to imagine a better outcome,” said Adam Bishop, Farmland Protection Program Director at Maine Farmland Trust.

Maine Farmland Trust, in partnership with Damariscotta River Association, and with generous financial support from many in the local community, purchased this property in 2011 to ensure that the property would remain in agriculture, and remain an important scenic site for the local community.  Area residents will remember that prior to the Trust’s purchase these roadside fields were under consideration as a development site for a Super Walmart.

”I can’t think of a better welcome to Damariscotta than the fields of Morning Dew Farm,” expressed Damariscotta River Association Executive Director Steven Hufnagel. “It speaks of a place that values sustainable economic development, natural resources and the skills and well-being of its people. We at DRA feel grateful to have worked in close partnership with Maine Farmland Trust and the many supporters of this project, including more than 100 DRA members, who in turn learned about the important work of MFT and together made something wonderful happen.”

Hatch and McQuillen, of Newcastle had been leasing the property from Maine Farmland Trust for several years, cultivating a wide variety of vegetables and herbs to supply their customers at the local farmer’s market, farm shares, and at their Midcoast wholesale accounts.  The farmers now own the property, which is protected with a conservation easement that will ensure the land always remains available as farmland.

Farmland protection projects like this one are made possible by our generous members and supporters who care deeply about the future of farming in Maine. Please join us as a member, or donate today!

Chellie Pingree, Walt Whitcomb to speak at 3rd Annual Farmland Access Conference

US Rep. Chellie Pingree, Commissioner Walter Whitcomb will speak to the many challenges of farmland access, farm transfer, and next-generation farmers at the Farmland Access Conference


Augusta.
Maine Farmland Trust and Land For Good will host the third annual Farmland Access Conference on December 4, 2017, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta ME. The day-long conference will delve into some of the stickiest issues facing farming today. Workshops will tackle challenges of how to provide for a farm’s future when a farmer is ready to retire, and how next-generation farmers can take on the stewardship of farmland in transition and shepherd the future of Maine’s food system.

“In the next decade, more than 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will transition in ownership, raising the question: what will happen to that land?” explains Erica Buswell, Vice President of Programs for MFT. “To ensure this farmland stays in production, all of us must find a way to support land transition with programs that help farmland owners and make land available and affordable for farmers.”

Last year’s conference brought together 150 established and beginning farmers, landowners, and providers that help farmers with access and transfer issues. Today’s farmers—both those who are transitioning out of farming and those who are starting new farm enterprises—will have a pivotal role in shaping the future of our regional food system.

“With available farmland, a growing food scene, and a dynamic new farmer population, Maine is an exciting and rewarding place do our innovative land access and transfer work,” says Jim Habana-Hafner, Executive Director for Land For Good (LFG). “We have great partners for land access work in every state – and can’t do our work effectively without them. But there’s no question that some of our most long-standing and innovative are in Maine, and MFT is among our strongest allies anywhere. We’re excited to contribute to this vibrant network of so many great farm support organizations in the state.”

The opening plenary panel at the conference will be a conversation about  Farmland in the Balance: At the Nexus of Access, Transfer, Viability, and Conservation, and include panelists Chellie Pingree (US Congress), Walter Whitcomb (Maine Agriculture Commissioner), Amanda Beal, (President and CEO, Maine Farmland Trust), Jim Hafner (Executive Director, Land For Good). The panelists will share remarks from their own experiences and areas of expertise in farm access, transfer, viability, and conservation; and offer insights into what’s needed in these areas to continue making progress towards a robust and sustainable Maine food system.

The conference is geared toward a diverse audience including retiring farmers interested in transferring land to next-generation farmers; non-farming landowners that have an interest in making land available for farming; service providers and other advocates, including land trusts, conservation commissions, town planners and lenders with an interest in fostering affordable farmland access; and farmers seeking affordable farmland. Workshops will discuss farmland access strategies, impacts that both federal and state-level policies and programs have on farmland access and transfer, tools for enabling farm transfers, using conservation easements as a component of a farm purchase, how to prepare to buy or sell farmland or a farm business, and more. Conference presenters include local farmers and service providers working on the ground in Maine, as well as experts from around New England.

Exhibits and networking opportunities will be available throughout the day. The conference is hosted by Maine Farmland Trust, and Land For Good. Sponsors include American Farmland Trust, The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF), The Greenhorns, Agrarian Trust, Cooperative Development Institute, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

For more information or to register, go to mainefarmlandtrust.org or call 207-338-6575. The deadline to register is Thursday, November 30. Cost of attendance is $15 per person and includes a lunch sourced from local farmers and producers.