Category Archives: Farmland Protection

It takes all of us

“If your goal is to protect the farmland and keep it in the family or have it available to someone who wants to farm it, I don’t think you can beat Maine Farmland Trust,” Dan Curran told us last summer.

 

 

Dan has farmed his family’s land in Sabattus his entire life.

His parents ran a dairy farm on the 91-acre property, and now Dan raises beef and lamb and sells hay.  Dan always knew that he wanted to work as a farmer. He always loved tending animals, describing himself as more of an animal person than a people person, and felt that “being close to the land was important.”

“Other people might make better money but they sacrifice being outside and working with the land.  Being outside makes you feel alive, and that connection to the land makes you feel your humanity.”

In 2016, Daniel Curran protected his farm using MFT’s Purchased Easement Program.  “I believe that farmland needs to be saved, one way or another.”

Farmland protection takes all of us. It takes farmers like Dan Curran who have the vision, patience and determination to see that their land stays in farming and is accessible for the next generation of farmers. And it takes you– the members and supporters of Maine Farmland Trust– to help make it possible for farmers to protect their land.

Maine’s farmland is in transition.  Over the next decade, over 400,000 acres of farmland could change hands as folks like Dan Curran retire.  Purchasing easements to protect farmland, especially in areas with rampant development pressure, can be expensive.  But if we all chip in, we can grow the future of farming in Maine, acre by acre, and ensure that we will have the farmland to feed us for decades to come.

We hope you can join us as a member during our New Member Month this July and help make this vision a reality for Maine.

Two land trusts and the town of Acton rally to protect 243 acres on Goat Hill

Three Rivers Land Trust (3RLT) Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), and the Town of Acton collaborated to protect 243 acres of fields, apple orchards and forestland on Goat Hill in Acton.  The orchards have produced apples for the wholesale market for 80 years, and the hilltop has long been a cherished destination for year-round and seasonal residents of the region.

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

When the former owners of the property decided to sell, many local residents worried that the property, with its expansive views, would be subdivided for residential development. Goat Hill is one of the highest elevations in Acton, and offers stunning 360-degree views of nearby lakes, the Presidential Range and Mt. Washington to the west, and to the ocean to the east. 3RLT, MFT and the Town worked together to ensure that the property would remain in agriculture and remain an important scenic site for the local community.

The majority of the fields and orchards have been divided between two new farm owners. One buyer from the local community will restore the former pick-your-own apple orchard that he worked in every summer as a teenager growing up in the area.  The second buyer will expand the orchards to produce apples for a hard cider operation. Both farm parcels are now protected by conservation easements, which will ensure this productive land remains available for farming and forestry into the future.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have finally completed the purchase phase of this project,” said Jean Noon, President of 3RLT. “Goat Hill is one of those truly spectacular places that take your breath away.  Thank you Acton and Maine Farmland Trust for being such great partners!”

However, the protection of the orchard parcel was dependent on Three Rivers Land Trust, in cooperation with the Town, acquiring the summit of Goat Hill which will become a local park.  The successful purchase of the scenic summit parcel was made possible, in large part by the Town of Acton (pop. 6,000) passing its first-ever bond issue for conservation, and contributing $25,000 from earnings of the Town Forest. Many generous donations from local year round and seasonal residents supported the Land Trust’s contribution.  In addition, the Town expects to receive a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant to assist with the purchase and the construction of a parking area and universally accessible trail to the hilltop.

“The town of Acton is very fortunate that Three Rivers Land Trust (3RLT) has a passion and foresight to preserve special land when the opportunity arises,” said Elise Miller, first select person for the Town of Acton. “When the taxpayers of Acton voted in June of 2016 to approve the purchase of Goat Hill, partnered with 3RLT, it was a win/win result. A spectacular piece of land is now protected and open to the public for mountain and lake views while recreating with family and friends.”

Both MFT and 3RLT look forward to the restoration of the pick your own orchard, a cider tasting room, and the development of the public park and trail, all of which will ensure that, in the future, Goat Hill will remain a popular and agricultural destination in western York County.

427 acres of farmland protected in New Gloucester

On June 30, 2017, MFT purchased a conservation easement on a 427-acre farm on North Pownal Road in New Gloucester. Forrest Waterhouse, was born in the historic farmhouse on the property in 1920 and passed away 96 years later in the same home.  His wife Ruth maintained the iconic fences along the road. By selling an easement, the current generation fulfilled the older generation’s desire for the property to always remain as a farm.

The easement area includes 99 acres of open land, and 190 acres of farmland soils. In addition to the farmhouse, the property includes two large barns and a number of storage buildings.

The Waterhouse Farm was operated for many years as a dairy and transitioned to a beef cattle operation in the 1970s. Much of the beef is currently sold wholesale to the Boston area, and they intend to transition to selling more to local markets in the near future. The farm manager, Larry Peaco, who has been working on the property for over three decades, has a strong forestry background and manages the 328 acres of woods.

The property provides scenic views from North Pownal Road, which bisects the farm. Because of this and its location in a rapidly developing area, the agricultural easement  includes an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV), which is an extra measure intended to ensure the farm remains in the ownership of an active farmer. Funding for the easement came from MFT and local land trust partner Royal River Conservation Trust, who will hold the easement on this farm. “The Waterhouse Farm is an iconic piece of Maine scenery, and lies between two of the Royal River Conservation Trust’s primary focus areas for land conservation — Pisgah Hill in New Gloucester, and Runaround Pond in Durham,” said Alan Stearns, executive director of RRCT.   “We’re working hard to save, and to connect, some of these large unfragmented landscape blocks, to keep woodlots and farms productive while also retaining habitat connections.  It’s encouraging to see the Waterhouse Farm thriving, with significant new investments that will help modernize the operations.”

Historic Berwick farm protected for agriculture

On February 24th, in a simultaneous transaction, Linda and Jerry Covell signed a conservation easement to permanently protect their 70.5 acre farm, and sold the property to young farmers Jeff Benton and Erin Ehlers.

The Covells have thought about protecting their Berwick farm for years. After working through a number of options with Maine Farmland Trust and Great Works Regional Land Trust, the Covells were able to find a way to protect their farm and ensure that the property will continue to be actively farmed.

The farm includes 31 acres of open field and 40 acres of well-stocked forest. In recent years, the farm has produced hay. Historically, the land was owned by the Emery family and has been operated as a farm since at least the mid-1800s.

“Our family felt blessed to be the first to own the farm after several generations of Emery’s stewardship,” said Linda Covell.  “It became increasingly more important for us to honor the legacy of farming the land they had begun in the 1800’s.  Maine Farmland Trust partnered with us to help make that happen and we are truly indebted to them for their contribution in conserving this beautiful piece of land for Jeff and Erin and many future generations of farmers.”

Jeff Benton and Erin Ehlers will eventually move Benton’s Stratham, NH-based organic vegetable farm, Orange Circle Farm, to the Berwick property. Benton currently grows vegetables for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that serves the southern coast. Erin Ehlers is owner/instructor of Yoga on the Hill in Kittery. For the 2017 season, Benton will continue to farm on leased land in Stratham while he and Ehlers build a house and barn and prepare the fields for the 2018 growing season on the new property.

“We’re so grateful that MFT was able to conserve this beautiful piece of land and make it accessible to us,” said Benton. “Farming on leased land has had its benefits over the past few years, but we’re really excited to be able to start making long term investments in the diversity and infrastructure on the farm.”

With the closing of this conservation easement, MFT and Great Works Regional Land Trust have now protected a total of 515 acres on Blackberry Hill Road.

Farmland protected for the future on the Lebanon/Acton town line

Maine Farmland Trust land protection staff Charlie Baldwin with farmland owners Jonathon and Gina Gutman.

A 132-acre farm on the Lebanon/Acton line was recently protected by Maine Farmland Trust, in conjunction with Three River Land Trust, ensuring that the farm will remain available for farming far into the future. The Gutman Farm is a picturesque farm situated on the southern slopes of the rolling hills south of the Presidential Range, on the Lebanon/Acton line.

 

Jonathon and Gina Gutman found the property when looking to relocate from California, and thought it was the right kind of place to raise their two children. Today their daughter and her partner are raising their kids on the property. Jon and Gina still maintain an active rescue farm on the property, and provide a home for sheep, goats, horses, ducks, chickens, geese, and farm dogs that had nowhere else to go.

 

Over the years the goats and sheep helped clear the overgrown fields of invasive bittersweet, while their two big guardian dogs oversee the livestock menagerie. A revolving door of underworked border collies come stay at the farm and learn what it means to be a working dog.

In addition to rescuing farm animals, the Gutmans rehabilitated the old apple orchard and planted pears and nut trees, manage 46 acres of fields for hay production, sell the compost generated by their livestock.

 

While the farm is self-sustaining, the Gutmans recognize that their land has the potential to be much more productive. This understanding led them to work with Maine Farmland Trust to protect their farm, so that the land could be available for food production for future generations. “We found the entire easement process pleasurable and interesting,” said Jon Gutman after the closing. “MFT’s organized approach made the process go smoothly. Answering their questions gave us additional insight into the value of our farm and made us more certain that we were making the right decision.”

 

Local Three Rivers Land Trust was instrumental in connecting the Gutmans to MFT and played a key role securing the easement. Three Rivers Land Trust’s president, Jean Noon, has helped MFT to identify vital farmland in the area, and together the two land trusts have protected several farms and hope to preserve more farmland in the future.

Young Dairy: Dostie Farm

This is another story in our series about young dairy farmers in Maine. In many ways, dairy farms are the cornerstone of Maine’s farming community.  Dairy farmers steward large tracts of farmland for feed and forage, while supporting the feed stores, equipment retailers, and large animal vets that all Maine farms rely upon. Of the 400,000 acres of farmland that will be in transition over the course of the next decade, we anticipate that a large percentage of that land is currently in dairy farming. What will happen to that land, and the infrastructure and communities it supports?

While farming in Maine is growing, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same growth. The younger generation choosing to be dairy farmers are few and far between, often deterred by low milk prices and high start-up costs. Those who have bucked the trend and have decided to become either first-generation dairy farmers or to continue their family’s farm, have an important role to play in ensuring that dairy farms remain the foundation of Maine’s farming landscape.

Egide Dostie Sr. grew up on a dairy farm, and started his own farm in Skowhegan in 1972. Eventually his sons joined him on the farm : Egide II is a partner in the farm business, and Robert works full-time on the farm, and in 2000 they moved the operation to a larger farm property in Fairfield. They sold milk to Oakhurst until 2013, when low milk prices led them to make the tough decision to sell most of their cows and heifers and switch to raising cattle for beef.

This is not an uncommon story. Small dairy farms like Dostie struggle to stay profitable, and across New England many have decided to switch to a different type of farming, or stop farming altogether.

But what is less common is that the story of Dostie Farm doesn’t end there. In fact, the family is in the midst of writing a different chapter:  this spring, Dostie Farm will start milking cows again, producing organic milk for Stonyfield.

When I visited the farm on a cold November morning, the sun was just coming up, but the three Dostie men had already been long at work on skid steers, tractors, and trucks, feeding their steers and heifers. In the barns the heifers were contentedly eating certified organic hay cut from the Dostie’s fields, in preparation for spring milk production.

Edgie II walked me through the barns and showed me their revolving milking parlor, one of only a few of its kind in Maine, and as we talked it was evident that he was anxious to get back to milking. Dairy farming is something you’re stuck with, “like a disease” he joked. When Stonyfield approached them, they couldn’t say no. “We decided to go organic, which was a different route than before, smaller and more manageable,” said Egide II. With organic, “you know what you’re getting paid as long as you can produce the milk.”

Over the past few years the Dosties have been preparing for the future of the farm in other ways, too. The family has worked with Maine Farmland Trust to protect their farm properties with agricultural conservation easements, ensuring that their land will forever be available for agriculture. The Dosties can use the capital from the sale of the easements to reinvest in their farm, and to help transition the farm from one generation to the next as Egide Sr. retires and his sons carry the business into the future.

Between their farm properties in Fairfield and Skowhegan, the Dosties grow hay and corn for feed, and also tap over 4,000 trees for maple syrup. Edgie II said they don’t make money on the syrup, but they don’t lose money either, and “we get to be outside, doing what we love.”

For an hour or so, I watched and took photos as the Dosties worked in a synchronous and almost wordless flow, which, said Egide Sr., is “what happens when you’ve done this together as long as we have.” As I left the farm, the sun was still climbing, rising over a farm that’s entering a new phase. Every dairy farmer I spoke to this year has said the same thing: in towns where even just 10 or 20 years ago there used to be several dairy farms,  now there are one or two…or none. In the Skowhegan and Fairfield area, there are still a handful of active dairy farms, and Dostie Farm will continue to be among them, adapting and re-calibrating to keep farming. 

Staff Spotlight: Lyndsey Marston

Lyndsey Marston//Stewardship Program Manager//Belfast, Maine

Lyndsey has been with MFT since June 2014, and was hired as our first dedicated stewardship staff member. That means she monitors all of the 150 (and counting!) conservation easements held by MFT, and is the point of contact for all landowners that own protected land. She also oversees the property management of the handful of farm properties that MFT owns until a buyer is found for those properties.

Lyndsey grew up in Veazie, near Bangor. When her parents built their home there in the late ’70s, the area where the Bangor Mall now stands was still a dairy farm.

“In my lifetime, I’ve watched surrounding farms and open spaces give way to storefronts and subdivisions. I started working for land trusts in 2005 because I wanted to see these places protected for the future.”

In her stewardship work with MFT, Lyndsey sees the direct benefits of farmland protection. She also gets to spend her workdays walking fields, forests, and trails, and working with the landowners and farmers who care for them.

When she’s not visiting farms and wandering through the woods, Lyndsey splits her time between artwork, home renovations, and outdoor adventures. She creates her own artwork and sell originals, prints, and greeting cards at 3 Legged Dog Ink. She also runs the Bucksport Arts Festival, which she created in 2015 to provide a boost to area artists and showcase the incredible waterfront walkway in Bucksport. Last year, Lyndsey and her husband bought a 200-year-old farmhouse and have been slowly bringing it, and the surrounding land, back to life. Her favorite outdoor activities include running, hiking, kayaking, or just reading a good book in the sun.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your stewardship work?
A: I currently monitor 150 conservation easements annually. That is a big number, and our protected lands are spread far and wide throughout the state. For each one of these easements, I work with at least one landowner as well as with spouses, children, grandchildren, farm managers, and employees. At the end of the day, that adds up to a lot of people. As our easements age, and as farms undergo transitions of ownership or farming operations, my biggest challenge is keeping up with so many landowners.

MFT’s easements are designed to accommodate the ever-changing needs of a working farm. That means the landowners have a great deal of flexibility, but often translates to my needing to review requests, interpret what an easement will allow, and approve certain changes. I do my best to answer requests as quickly as possible so that my work isn’t holding up any aspects of the farming operation. That being said, sometimes a landowner wants to do something that his or her easement simply doesn’t allow. I see these landowners every year, get to know them personally, and want to see them succeed and meet their goals. It is not easy to deny a request, and adds to the challenge of maintaining positive, respectful relationships with so many people.

Q: What are some upcoming goals and projects that you’re excited about?
We’ll be working on protecting many more farms over the coming years, thanks to the generous support of Ram Island Conservation Fund and our members. I’m excited to visit these farms and get to know each new landowner. Visiting these farms is a daily reminder of the impact of MFT’s land protection efforts as well as our farm viability and farm access work.

184 acres of working farmland in Arundel protected for the future

Arundel. On November 10, farmer Mark Pinette and Maine Farmland Trust signed an easement to permanently protect Hardscrabble Farm in the town of Arundel. The easement ensures that 184 acres of working farmland will remain farmland for the future.

Hardscrabble Farm is a productive and growing farm that has been stitched together over the years from several smaller, historic farms – Old Oliver Farm and Highlander Farm. On Hardscrabble, Pinette produces Scottish Highlander beef, pork, lamb, eggs, hay, compost, and lumber products. Pinette also offers farm consulting services.

Pinette says he takes conservation very seriously, his attention to best practices and habitat conservation are as ingrained in his farms operations as his commitment to economic success. The protection of his land is an extension of his conservation values, and “Maine Farmland Trust did a fantastic job helping to put this land into a place that I wanted, protected for generations,” said Pinette.

The protection of Hardscrabble Farm is part of a broader effort by MFT to increase farmland protection in the Southern Maine counties of York and Cumberland, where development pressure is high, and land prices are often prohibitive to farmers. At the same time, Southern Maine boasts some of the best farmland in the state, and towns like Arundel, located slightly inland from the coast, have a strong farming history.

“Protecting farmland in Southern Maine is important for so many reasons,” said Charlie Baldwin, the project manager at MFT who worked with Pinette to protect Hardscrabble. “Projects like this help to ensure that there is a future for farming in these areas that are especially vulnerable to development.”

MFT welcomes Erica Buswell in new leadership position

Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) welcomes Erica Buswell into a new position as Vice President of Programs. Buswell, who lives in Searsport, has worked at MFT for over 6 years, most recently as the Farmland Access Program Manager. Buswell will work closely with the President and CEO, and be responsible for overseeing MFT’s three program areas: Farmland Protection, Farmland Access, and Farm Viability.

Buswell grew up in Montana and has been working in local food systems for the past 13 years. Before joining MFT as a member of the farmland protection staff in 2011, Buswell worked in several positions at the Belfast Food Co-op, including a stint as a member of the General Management Team.

“Erica is a proven manager, and a creative problem-solver who is deeply steeped in farmland conservation and the local food movement,” said Amanda Beal, the Trust’s President & CEO.  “We’re so excited to have her step into this new role.”

In addition to her work with MFT, Buswell has served on boards of various food and farm-related organizations, including Waldo County Extension Association, the Cooperative Development Institute, and the Eat Local Foods Coalition of Maine, as well as provided leadership for the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine. She holds professional certificates in Non-Profit Management, Community Mediation, and Permaculture Design, and is a Wabanaki REACH ally. Buswell keeps her hands in the dirt on her off-the-grid homestead, where she and her husband, Scott, focus on cultivating fruit trees and berries.

“I am excited to have the opportunity to bring the full breadth of my skills and knowledge into the service of our organization,” said Buswell. Buswell will spend the next month transitioning from her current work to her new role at MFT.

Staff Spotlight: Nina Young

Nina Young, Designated Broker for Maine Farms Realty and Lands Projects Prospecting Manager // Belfast, Maine

“Growing up on a farm in a small rural town in Kentucky, I was always very connected to the land and to the farmers who worked it,” says Nina Young.  “Once I discovered the ocean, I became particularly fascinated with it—I studied it in college, working various jobs in marine biology and fresh water biology, and sailing its Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean waters for many years.” But 10 years ago, Nina returned to her agriculture roots and started working at MFT. She still balances her connection to the land with her love of the ocean, and resides in Belfast, within sight of  the sea. At MFT, Nina scouts for new farmland protection projects, but when she’s not working, she’s on the hunt for cool watering holes that have unusual, well-brewed beers on tap, and offer a place to connect with like-minded friends: “Beer gives us hope, and life is too short to drink bad beer.”
Q: What is your role at MFT?
A: I have two roles, at MFT and with Maine Farms Realty. I am the Lands Projects Prospecting Manager, which means I scout for new Purchased Easement projects, Donated Easement projects or Buy/Protect/Sell projects. Once they become bona fide projects I hand them off to other lands staff for completion. This is a new position that began in 2016 as a result of our increased funding for land protection projects and my previous 9 years of doing lands projects statewide.
I am also the Designated Broker for Maine Farms Realty—I manage all the real estate deals that come through MFT/MFR, where I act as the broker for MFT in both purchases and sales. Additionally, I can act as a buyers’ broker for farmers who need a real estate agent to assist them with buying a farm.
Q: Why do you work for MFT? 
I saw John Piotti speak at a Friends of Mid-Coast Maine meeting in maybe 2005 or 2006, and told friends of mine at MCHT that if they ever saw an opportunity at MFT for me to let me know, because I wanted to work for John. That led to John interviewing me in 2006 for a position with FarmLink, but instead of hiring me for that position, he wanted to hire me as the first lands projects staff member. He secured funding for that position in December 2006 and I came to work in January of 2007. John, Kristin, LouAnna, Sue and Esther (she’s retired now) were the sum total of employees at MFT back then.
Q: Biggest challenge you look forward to working on?
There are still a lot of people/farmers in Maine who have never heard of MFT, and who are looking for solutions to the looming question—what will I do with the farm? These are the landowners who lament, “I have to get off the farm and I want it to remain a farm, but how do I do that? The kids don’t want to farm and I don’t want it to become house lots or fields that are no longer worked.” The biggest challenge is to find those farmers and offer them the numerous options MFT uses as its tools for farmland protection.
Q: Projects or goals that you’re continuously excited about?
A: Connecting with farmers to offer them solutions to their generation transfer worries drives my work goals and satisfies my need and desire to work with the farmers who feed us.

new member month!