Category Archives: Farmland Protection

Maine Farmland Trust will soon be looking for a farmer to purchase 143 acres of land in Windham.

MFT recently bought a portion of the former Clark Farm, which includes 37 acres of open fields and excellent frontage on Swett Road. The farm will be protected with a conservation easement and sold to a farmer at a reduced price.

The property, which does not currently have any infrastructure, is located between Swett Road and Webb Road. There is extensive road frontage that allows good access to the fields along Swett Road and forested land access along Webb Road. Approximately 98 acres (70% of the property) is designated as either Prime Farmland Soils, Farmland Soils of Statewide Importance, or Farmland Soils of Local Importance.

Windham has a strong agricultural past, but given its proximity to Portland, the remaining active farms are threatened.

“Windham has a goal of balancing our relatively rapid growth with preserving the working farms that add so much to the character of the community,” said Ben Smith, Director of Planning for the Town of Windham. “The fields on Swett Road are what many residents consider to be the heart of rural Windham. In all of our planning work, these fields have been singled out for their iconic representation of Windham’s rural character.”

This is MFT’s second Buy/Protect/Sell project on Clark family land. In March 2011, MFT, in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land and the Windham Land Trust (now the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust), purchased, protected, and sold 217 acres to Clayton Haskell, who still currently owns the farm.

Two new Forever Farms: McLaughlin & Meadowsweet

On September 29th, MFT closed on a purchased easement on the McLaughlin Farm in Wilton.  The McLaughlin Farm has operated primarily as a dairy farm for over 100 years.  In the more recent past, the dairy infrastructure was sold off separately from the land and the fields have been leased by local dairy farmer Richard Corey.  The property recently came up for sale and Richard and his wife Michelle decided to partner with Jan Collins and Irving Faunce, who own a neighboring blueberry farm, to purchase the McLaughlin Farm’s 120 acres of fields and forest.    Proceeds from the simultaneous sale of an agricultural conservation easement went towards the purchase of the farm.  The purchase and protection of the McLaughlin Farm ensures that the fields will remain available for Richard’s use, and also increase the likelihood that the fields and forest can be reconnected with the dairy infrastructure sometime in the future.

On September 26th, MFT closed on two purchased easements on the Meadowsweet Farm in Swanville.  Sumner Roberts, a longtime fixture at the Belfast Farmers Market, began raising pastured livestock at Meadowsweet Farm in the early 1990s.   Sumner is in the process of selling a 95-acre portion of the Meadowsweet Farm to an incoming farmer and wanted to ensure that the farm was protected from development as part of that transition.   Sumner will be downsizing his operation and moving to a house he is renovating right down the road from the original farmhouse.  Another easement will protect approximately 43 adjacent acres of fields and forest that Sumner is retaining.   Both pieces of land have highly productive soils and will now remain available for agricultural use forever.

FOREVER FARM: South Paw Farm

BY ANNEMARIE AHEARN     PHOTOGRAPHS BY MEREDITH PERDUE

It had been many months since I’d left the coast. It’s easy to forget that so much of the state is farmland; much of it fallow. Some stretches of road are ghostly with abandoned farmhouses, broken-down tractors and decaying agricultural buildings. Others showcase a commitment to keeping agricultural traditions alive, such as Route 137 running through Waldo County.

When I pulled off Greeley Road in Freedom onto the dirt driveway of South Paw Farm, I was greeted by four dogs, two of them pups and all of them some mix of collie and shepherd. A tall, quiet fellow named Santiago greeted me and shooed the dogs away. He called out for Meg Mitchell, co-owner of the farm, before getting back to work himself.

When Meg and I sat down at a weathered picnic table to begin our chat, a little girl no older than ten approached Meg to ask if she could help on the farm for the day, as she was saving up for something special.

Meg had an entire crew to manage and lots to accomplish, but she explained to the little girl that she could tag along if she kept up and took her job seriously.

Meg is kind and honest by any measure. She is also patient, thoughtful, and passionate. Passion in farming can be fleeting, but in Meg’s case, her commitment to that passion carries her steadily along.

At the age of 18, while in school in Atlanta, Meg attended a semester school reunion in North Carolina. While at a diner, Meg met a man named Daniel Price who had just finished school at College of the Atlantic and gone on to purchase a farm in Freedom with his wife, Ginger Dermott. They had aptly named the new venture, Freedom Farm. Before the reunion was through, Daniel offered Meg the opportunity to move to Maine and work on Freedom Farm. Meg took the job and spent four years familiarizing herself with the land, the soil, the drainage and the potential for growth.

In 2008, armed with her experience at Freedom Farm, Meg set out to own and operate her own business, which had always been her goal. She bought a “squirrely little piece of land” (Meg’s words) in Unity and named it South Paw Farm. As she worked the land, she came to better understand the local market as well as the economic model for the business. Meg quickly realized that while going to farmers markets across the state diversified South Paw Farm’s customer base, she sold the vast majority of her produce at the Portland Farmers Market. It was in Portland’s Deering Oaks Park, selling vegetables, that Meg met her future business and life partner, Ryan Mitchell, who at the time played in a punk band. Then, towards the end of 2014, Daniel and Ginger decided to move to North Carolina and offered to sell their farm to Meg and Ryan.

A few years prior, Meg had enrolled in the Maine Farms for the Future program, where she had written a business plan to grow the vegetable production capabilities of South Paw Farm. When Daniel and Ginger decided to sell Freedom Farm, Meg and Ryan were able to redirect the grant funds Meg received toward securing the land in Freedom. Maine Farmland Trust purchased an easement on the Freedom Farm land, which lowered the purchase price and made ownership possible for the young farmers. For the 2015 season, Meg and Ryan operated under the moniker South Paw at Freedom Farm as they transitioned, taking advantage of the business Daniel and Ginger had built, but giving it their own stamp as they developed a strategy for sustainable growth.

It takes years to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are as a farmer on a particular piece of land. As Meg tells me stories of her challenges over the years running a farm, I pick up on a sense of accomplishment in her voice, despite the struggles. She explains, “One season, cabbage laid to rot in the fields due to an overambitious planting; another there weren’t enough peppers to keep up with demand.” In the past, poor irrigation has led to extremely thirsty crops. But from these mishaps comes wisdom. For example, Meg consulted with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to determine how to prevent leaching with new technology. Now she has more suitable irrigation methods. “Always keep records,” she says with certitude. “You simply can’t improve your farm without them.”

In a state like Maine, running a diversified farm can be critical to long term sustainability.  South Paw is 55 acres of land, much of which is woodlot, and 22 acres of which is either cultivated or pastured. Of that, 18 acres are vegetables. Meg and Ryan recently leased another 8 acres across the road, with an eye toward purchasing that land in the future through a similar arrangement with Maine Farmland Trust.

Seventy percent of South Paw’s business is gener-ated by sales at the Portland Farmers Market, twenty percent is wholesale accounts, such as restaurants and Rosemont Market, and about ten percent is devoted to a small but committed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The farm has a significant hoop house operation, growing a variety of tomatoes and peppers, basil, and ginger. Meg recently acquired a chili roaster, which tends to be a draw to their booth at the Common Ground Fair. The fragrant mix of hot and sweet peppers tosses in an iron cage over an open fire; a conversation starter on cold days. Meg and Ryan have also established a substantial perennial operation, with over ninety heritage apple trees, peaches, elderberries, and raspberries. As another side project, they are on their sixth round of raising dairy cows for calf stock.

I asked Meg if she faces challenges recruiting labor, as this is a common industry struggle. She said that there is a core team that has been there for a while: Santiago (“Santi”) Zamudio Quiroz, Mike Showalter, and Kelly Murray, without whom they couldn’t possibly make the place run. Farmhands are often traveling folks who head south for the winter months to work in agriculture, hospitality, or other seasonal positions.

It’s the kind of job some people quit fast: demanding responsibility, responsiveness, and serious stamina. While farming has romantic undertones, the reality is that many people aren’t cut out for it, physically or mentally. Luckily, this is a quick discovery for most.

But even for farmers who own their land, a second job is often the norm. Meg and Ryan work for Fedco Seeds in the off season: Meg does most of their potato seed purchasing and Ryan helps with bookkeeping.

Meg has a lot of energy, but her journey hasn’t been a race. Her approach has been measured and carefully executed. I asked what advice she has for future farmers. “Stay as organized as possible,” she said, “and take smart risks. Don’t plant 3 acres of potatoes if you don’t have potato digging equipment, for example.”

She adds that new farmers also need to be prepared to broaden their skill set. Being a farmer means being a carpenter, a welder, an electrician, and a bookkeeper, because farmers don’t make enough money to hire special services or pay someone to fix everything that breaks. As a reward, there is the quiet satisfaction in knowing you can do it yourself.

Meg and Ryan were married in October of 2015. The ring bearer was their cow Madeline and the couple still did farm chores the day of the wedding. They asked a friend from the general store who fills their tank with diesel every week to officiate. From time to time, Meg and Ryan go to the local grange to see friends and other community members. There are other competing farms just down the road, but the prevailing sentiment in town is that they are all part of a movement, helping each other further the mission.

It’s a good life, that of a farmer—not just a job. It is a commitment to a greater purpose that pays in the knowledge that all day, every day, you are contributing to the health and happiness of others. You see progress through your physical work, but also through the betterment of your community. And for Meg and Ryan, there is no better work or life, than this. | southpawfarm.net

Lacinato Kale, Avocado, and Cilantro Salad

When I asked Meg what crops were her finest in late spring and early summer, she enthusiastically replied, “lacinato kale, last year’s shallots and cilantro!” In an effort to embrace all three, I’ve written a recipe that celebrates the early summer gems of South Paw Farm.–AA

For 4 servings

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

Juice and zest of a lemon

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 bunch cleaned cilantro leaves and upper stems, roughly chopped

⅓ cup olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Red pepper flakes

1 bunch lacinato kale, cleaned

1 ripe avocado

2 tablespoons pepitas

1 In a blender, buzz the shallot and garlic with a touch
of salt, before adding any liquid. Use a spatula to
scrape the mixture off the sides afterward. Then
add the lemon juice and zest, Dijon mustard, sherry
vinegar, and cilantro and blend to a consistent
texture. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper
flakes and blend once more. Season to taste.

2 If you are using baby kale, there is no need to cut
it. If your kale is adolescent, cut it across the stem
into thin strips. If it is full grown, pull the leaves
backwards off of the stems and then cut it into thin
strips. If it is particularly tough, you can massage
the cut kale between your hands to tenderize it.
It works! Place kale in large wooden bowl.

3 Cut avocado in half, remove pit and slice across the flesh
every ½ inch, without penetrating the skin. Then make
one, long perpendicular cut through the center, without
penetrating the skin. Use a spoon to release the flesh from
the skin into the kale. Do the same for the other half.

4 Spoon about half of the dressing on the kale and avocado
and gently massage it in. Taste for salt and pepper and
add more if necessary. If you like a heavy dressing, which
is often very nice on a kale salad, add the remainder.
Otherwise, save it for another use. Sprinkle the pepitas
on top of the salad. To make a meal out of it, serve with a
fried egg on top and a hunk of crusty bread on the side.

Enjoy.

Annemarie Ahearn is the owner of Salt Water Farm cooking school in Lincolnville. | saltwaterfarm.com

Agrarian Acts 2017: celebrating Maine farms with The Mallett Brothers Band

The 2nd annual Agrarian Acts concert was a beautiful success — over 260 people from near and far came out to Eagle View Ranch in Sebec for an evening of local food and music with The Mallett Brothers Band.

Agrarian Acts is MFT’s annual celebration of agriculture through music. “We believe that art and music are important tools to help cultivate a vibrant culture of farming and food,” said outreach director Ellen Sabina. “Music and art are vehicles that connect us to the past, and help us examine our world in new and creative ways. That’s why MFT has an art gallery and artist residency program, that’s why we create films, books, and photo exhibits, and that’s why we were so excited to present another Agrarian Acts concert this summer.”

A Maine-based band, The Mallett Brothers are a nationally touring country rock and roll and Americana group. Their latest album, The Falling of the Pine, celebrates Maine’s rural history and landscape by re-imagining a collection of 19th century folk songs collected in the 1927 book “The Minstrelsy of Maine”. The Mallett Brothers have a clear connection to the land, and to Sebec specifically. The Malletts grew up just a few miles away from the concert location at Eagle View Ranch. The farm (formerly Varnum Farms) is a 2,000+ acre property that was recently protected by MFT and sold to a farmer who is starting a beef cattle operation on the land. The farm is the largest that MFT has ever protected, and stretches for 6 miles along the Sebec River and the River Road.

The young farmers of Spruce Mill Farm & Kitchen prepared a casual dinner of local food including pulled pork and chicken salad sandwiches, fresh veggie salads, and berry hand pies. Threshers Brewing Company in Searsmont and Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland donated beer for the event, and The Bangor Daily News was the media sponsor. Concert-goers brought picnic blankets and chairs to watch the band play and the sun set behind the pines. By all accounts, the show was a great way to celebrate Maine farms and cap off another brief but abundant summer season! Stay tuned this winter/spring for news about our 2018 Agrarian Acts concert…

380-acre organic dairy farm protected in Jay and Wilton

On August 16, Thayden and Nora Farrington protected their 380-acre dairy farm with an agricultural easement through MFT. Thayben Farm sits on two parcels in Jay and Wilton, and the couple inherited the farm from Thayden’s father. The Farringtons made the decision to protect the farm from development as they prepare to pass the farm on to their granddaughter.

Thayben Farm has always been a dairy farm and Thayden transitioned to organic production 12 years ago, now selling milk to Organic Valley Cooperative. The Farringtons grow hay and balage on the  100 + acres of tillable ground. There was once an orchard on the farm and the family grew corn off and on over the years.  The southern parcel sits on Spruce Mountain and has beautiful views of the surrounding hills and mountains.  The property extends up to the top of Spruce Mountain and was previously used as a ski hill.

We are honored to be part of making sure that this family farm will remain available for farming for future generations!

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.