Category Archives: Latest MFT News

Staff Profile: Anna Witholt Abaldo

Anna has been with MFT for a full decade now, joining the small team in 2009 to start the MFT Gallery in Belfast. In 2016, her work evolved to encompass the Fiore Art Center at Rolling Acres Farm, where she now co-directs the artist residency program.

Anna grew up on a small diversified farm in the Netherlands where her family raised sheep, horses, chickens, and raspberries, instilling in her a deep love of rural life. She lived in Aruba and traveled in Asia, exploring the intersection of art, nature, and the healing arts as a writer and an artist. Now in Maine, when she’s not facilitating activities for her two active teenagers, you can find her walking, hiking, paddling, dancing, visiting local art walks, or enjoying a sunny moment in her garden.

Q: Why do you work for MFT?

A: I want to do work that matters in the greater scheme of things. I think a lot about the state of our planet, and as one very small human I feel like the best difference I can make is working at a statewide level for an organization that has both a bold vision, and a very practical approach to realizing that vision.

I firmly believe that preserving farmland and supporting farmers will move us closer towards growing our own food in Maine. I see the role of celebrating agriculture through art as a part of our outreach and engagement work, and something that builds our storytelling capacity. Artists have a wonderful way of adding their voice to the importance of farmland preservation and environmental stewardship, engaging with similar themes and helping to draw the community into this conversation and spread awareness about the need for this work.

Q: What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about?

A: I am very excited about this year’s unveiling of the new Fiore Art Wing and the summer dinner at Rolling Acres. I hope to integrate more ag-related and environmental research into programming at the Fiore Art Center, and perhaps even permaculture on a larger scale—with a greater integration between the arts and these other disciplines we might serve as a place where new creative thinking can emerge.

Policy Action Alert: Land for Maine’s Future bond up this week

In order for farms to continue to provide the economic, environmental, pastoral, recreational, and educational benefits to the state, there must be the land base to support and grow Maine’s food and agricultural economy. The Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) Program is an important source of public funding for conservation in Maine. The LMF Program has helped to protect more than 40 farms in Maine, covering nearly 10,000 acres of productive farmland.

MFT supports a bond commitment so that the LMF Program can be an effective source of conservation funding. This funding is necessary because it reflects the rising land prices that have resulted from increased development pressure in the state, particularly in southern and coastal Maine. This public funding will also be used to leverage private support to protect farmland and secure this critical resource for the people of Maine. Moreover, since farmland protection projects often need an extended period of time to be finalized, regular, predictable and complete funding through the multiple-year bond ensures that the most important projects are completed. It is also important that landowners have increased certainty that the public support will be there to successfully complete projects in a timely fashion.

Help push this bond package through the finish line! Call your legislators this week and tell them that LMF works for ME.

Find your Senators

Find your Representatives

Since 1987, LMF has:

  • Conserved more than 150 destinations, encompassing over 600,000 acres with guaranteed access for traditional activities, including hiking, paddling, hunting, birdwatching, snowmobiling, picnicking, and fishing
  • Protected hundreds of miles of four-season trails
  • Secured over 50 recreational water access sites for boaters and anglers
  • Conserved more than 360,000 acres of working forestlands
  • Protected two dozen working waterfront properties, supporting over 1,250 fishing families
  • Conserved more than 40 farms covering nearly 10,000 acres of productive farmland
  • Expanded recreational opportunities at Maine State Parks including: Mount Blue, Camden Hills, Aroostook, Ferry Beach, and Bradbury Mountain
  • Secured permanent public access to unique natural areas in every corner of Maine: Mount Agamenticus, Scarborough Beach, Pleasant Mountain, Cutler Coast, Donnell Pond, Machias River, Mount Kineo, and many more.

Notes from the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge

MFT is part of Food Solutions New England (FSNE), a regional collaborative network with goals to support a New England food system that drives healthy food for all, racial equity, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities. As part of the ongoing work to center conversations about the role of racism in our food system, FSNE hosts a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge every April. Participants in the challenge receive a daily email with readings, videos, and other resources around a topic related to race and equity. Some MFT staff have participated in previous years, and this year a group of eight staff convened a discussion group to talk through the readings and our experiences during the challenge.

Our staff learned a lot through the challenge—both personally and professionally,—and finished the Challenge with lots of thoughts, and many more questions than answers. If you’re interested in learning more about how race intersects with food and farming, we highly recommend signing up for next year’s Challenge (which will be March 30-April 19, 2020), or moving through the prompts from 2019, which can be found here. There are also many other resources on FSNE’s page.

Here are a few of our staff’s favorite, most thought-provoking resources from this year’s Challenge:

We’re hitting the road!

This month, MFT is hitting the road to visit Maine farms!  There’s no better way to celebrate our 20th Anniversary than with an epic road trip and listening tour that will bring us straight to the fields and barns of the farmers we serve.

During this anniversary year, our staff and board are working on strategic planning and setting a course for the coming years. The listening tour will help us to dig into what is happening on the ground in Maine’s farming community and inform our work in the future. From June 10-27 our staff will be visiting 25+ farms from York County to The County. During the final week of the tour we’ll hop in an RV and make our way through Washington, Aroostook, and Piscataquis counties, stopping at farms and camping in dooryards. We’ll be sharing photos and updates from the road on social media throughout the tour, so follow along on Instagram and Facebook.

The tour will end at our  Root Down Farm Viability Party on Ripley Farm in Dover-Foxcroft on June 27. Join us!

Summer Arrives in Full Color at MFT Gallery

 “Boat in Moonlight”, Christina Thwaites, oil on canvas, 40” x 56”

MFT Gallery is exhibiting its annual Summer Stable Show starting June 3rd. This exhibition is a favorite with returning art-lovers and summer visitors alike. This is the gallery’s largest, most vibrant group show that showcases eleven Maine artists this year, whose work connects to agriculture, nature or environment.

André Benoit, Jr. is represented with his whimsical wooden assemblages of animals, while Julie Crane is showing a unique bison monoprint produced at the Tamerind Institute in New Mexico. MJ Viano Crowe is exhibiting works created with the intricate German paper-cutting technique called scherenschnitt. Elizabeth Ostrander is showing three of her painted, contemplative sculptures. Sara Gagan and Petrea Noyes are displaying unique images created with collage and oils or pigment inks respectively. Julie Cyr, Leslie Harris, Sheep Jones, Lou Schellenberg and Christina Thwaites – new to MFT Gallery this year – are exhibiting their vivid oil paintings in colorful hues, each with their own distinct styles.

The 2019 Summer Stable Show runs from June 3rd through August 9th, with artist talks Friday June 28th at 5pm, followed by a reception and the town-wide Belfast Art Walk from 5:30-8pm. There will be a second Art Walk Friday July 26, 5:30-8pm.

MFT Gallery, located at 97 Main Street, Belfast, is open Monday through Friday from 9am-4pm. 

Twenty-five community food grants awarded on Blue Hill Peninsula

MFT recently awarded 25 Blue Hill Peninsula Community Food grants, totaling $61,613. Projects included starting new community gardens, equipment and infrastructure for farm and food businesses, and purchasing of local food for food security programs for students and summer campers.

The Simmering Pot, which provides weekly meals free of charge, regardless of income in the community, received a grant to purchase meat produced by local farmers for their free Monday community supper. Each Monday they cook and serve about 125 meals. “We really appreciate receiving this generous grant.  We know how much it benefits our diners and the local farms we help support,” says Paula Mrozicki, who coordinates the program.

Funds were awarded to the Blue Hill Heritage Trust in order to support their Community Garden Project. Chrissy Beardsley Allen, Development Director for the BHHT explains, “The Community Garden Program is designed to provide a source of fresh organic produce for members of our community facing food security issues and serve as an educational resource for everyone in our community, empowering citizens to learn about leading a healthier life.”

Deborah Joy Corey, of Blue Angel, an organization that distributes food from community and school gardens and greenhouses, states, “we are thrilled to be chosen for this gift of funding. It could not come at a better time as we are building two new gardens this week!” The nonprofit distributes food in the Castine area.

Other grants were awarded to Roaring Lion Farm (a farm in Sedwick with cows, pigs and blueberries), as well as six area businesses who will use the grants for infrastructure equipment. MFT is pleased to facilitate this grant process and in doing so help bolster the local farm and food community on the Blue Hill Peninsula.

Learn more about the Blue Hill Peninsula Food Grants and the grant cycle HERE.

Field season begins for our Stewardship team

Kyle Warren, MFT’s newest stewardship staff member, walks the property at Hanson Farm.

Despite the slow start to spring, MFT’s stewardship field season is in full swing-staffers are visiting farms each week!  Stewardship staff currently monitor 208 conservation easements on nearly 33,600 acres across the state and expect those numbers to rise quickly as MFT plans to protect many more farms this year.  In order to manage this growth, MFT recently hired Kyle Warren as a new Land Steward to cover southern and western Maine. April Costa will now cover central Maine and Lyndsey Marston will continue to cover downeast and northern portions of the state.  Having three staff members covering the state is a big step in making sure we have enough time to meet with each easement landowner, walk each farm, respond to questions, and keep up with MFT’s pace of land protection.

Stewardship takes time: traveling to and from farms each week, walking many miles on farm visits, and sitting around the kitchen table with landowners.  We value these connections with landowners and will continue to take the necessary time to answer questions, respond to requests, and help landowners understand the terms of their easements. Our stewardship team has a responsibility to enforce each easement, and we also have a commitment to working with each landowner for the duration of their ownership.

We hope to see more sunny days as the spring progresses and are looking forward to scheduling more visits over the coming months.  We’d like to thank all of our easement owners in advance for taking the time to meet with us, and for their commitment to protecting farmland.

Stay up to date with the annual Stewardship newsletter HERE.

Why the Northeast Natural Climate Solutions Initiative matters

The recently released National Climate Assessment makes clear that unless global emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced, the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves, heavy downpours, and coastal flooding in the Northeast U.S. will continue to increase. These changes will damage working farms; bring new diseases, pests, and weeds; disrupt pollinators; result in more drought, and increase crop failure. At the same time, compared to other parts of the U.S., the Northeast is projected to have more water and experience less heat stress, which could translate to economic opportunities if farmers have the tools to adapt.

In recent years, farm-based natural climate solutions have emerged as an important strategy to increase climate change resilience on farms and in our communities, while also improving farm profitability.

Natural climate solutions include farmland protection, healthy soils practices, and other land management practices that increase carbon storage, limit greenhouse gas emissions, and improve water quality. Natural climate solutions can be adopted by farmers with operations of all sizes and production methods and can even contribute to the financial viability of a farm, helping to both increase yields and save money over time.

Recognizing the critical role that farmers using natural climate solutions will play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, states throughout the Northeast are considering adopting policies and programs that incentivize and support these practices. At this stage, it is essential to have robust data to inform and support these initiatives. The Northeast Natural Climate Solutions Initiative of the Maine Climate Table is being led by MFT in collaboration with the University of Maine, Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment, American Farmland Trust, and other state and regional partners. The project will analyze the potential regional and state-level benefits of wide-scale adoption of natural climate solutions for improved soil health, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, improved water quality and quantity, increased farmer yields and profits per acre, and enhanced climate change preparedness. This research could inform and support state and regional efforts to incentivize these practices because farmers can and should be an integral part of addressing climate change in our region.

You can support this work to help farmers and Maine communities adapt to climate change through natural climate solutions by becoming a member of MFT!

Veggies For All returns to its roots

MFT and Unity Barn Raisers (UBR) are happy to announce that Veggies For All (VFA) has returned to its roots. As of this spring, VFA is once again a project under Unity Barn Raisers.

VFA was founded in 2007 by young farmers who recognized the potential for local agriculture to relieve hunger. UBR provided vital support to the project when it launched, including fiscal sponsorship and administrative support. For the next seven years, under UBR’s care, the program grew significantly and matured into a food bank farm capable of producing literal tons of local produce for hunger relief. In 2014, VFA became a program of MFT, where it has operated as part of a larger organization, connecting the dots between farm viability and food insecurity. In 2018,VFA held a series of community-based evaluations involving different program stakeholders. “The clear message from these evaluation efforts was that the heart of VFA lies within the Unity community,” said Erica Buswell, VP of Programs at MFT. “The program is most valuable as a vehicle for community-building and engagement around food and farming.”

“UBR was eager to take on a successful, place-based, community-building, hunger-relief program like Veggies For All because our values, service area, and community network is a perfect match to theirs,” said Janis Balda, UBR’s Board Chair. “Unity Barn Raisers’ work focuses on improving the vibrancy, sustainability, and health of our community for all people- so VFA will be a natural extension of our current programs.”

MFT and UBR have been working for the past several months to develop a sustainable and responsible transfer of the program from MFT to UBR. Both partners envision that this transfer brings with it an opportunity to re-think the programming and continue to support the program’s hunger relief and educational objectives in new, exciting, and diversified ways that reflect the Unity community’s interests – such as an integration with UBR’s established gleaning program. During the coming growing season, UBR will focus VFA program activities on maintaining the program’s powerful and effective Gleaning Initiative which connects those in the community that are food insecure with the excess crops that inevitably get left behind in our local farmers fields.

“MFT has been honored to be VFA’s organizational home for the past four growing seasons and we are excited about the prospect of the program’s growth and change under UBR’s care,” said Buswell. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to ensure the transition feels smooth and supported and we look forward to watching how the program will flourish in this next phase of its life.”

For more information about VFA and the Gleaning Initiative, please contact Unity Barn Raisers at 948-9005 or ubr@uninets.net

Toomey chosen to lead MFT

Bill Toomey, a longtime leader in regional environmental conservation, has been chosen to serve as president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. Toomey has worked in non-profit conservation since 1998, most recently as the Trust For Public Land’s New England Area Director, and brings extensive experience in land protection, leadership, management, and fundraising. Previously he was the Director of Forest Health working as part of the Nature Conservancy’s North American Forest Priority and North American and Global Cities Initiatives. Toomey led the Conservancy’s Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities initiative in 15 cities in the US, and co-led the Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Tree Campaign in the US, China, and Brazil.  Toomey currently lives in Cape Elizabeth.

“In the 20 years that Maine Farmland Trust has existed we have benefited from some outstanding leaders,” says Taylor Mudge, MFT’s board chair. “I am pleased that we will continue in this vein with Bill Toomey. His years of experience in land protection as well his knowledge of regional and national land issues will be important attributes for the Trust going forward. Bill has demonstrated incredible skill working with diverse stakeholders in his past positions, at both regional and national organizations.”

“Over the last 20 years Maine Farmland Trust’s accomplishments have been impressive,” says Toomey. “Since 1999, MFT has helped to protect nearly 300 farms and keep over 60,000 acres of farmland in farming while supporting over 800 farm families. I am excited to join the talented and dedicated team to build on the strong foundation of existing work and expand our impact to protect more farmland, create opportunities to connect new farmers to the land, strengthen and diversify farm business while also strengthening local communities and improving the health of our environment.”

Toomey holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Fairfield University and a master’s degree in Soil Science from North Carolina State University.  His background in soil science and experience in serving on the team that created The Nature Conservancy’s national Soil Health program will help inform MFT’s work looking at how healthy soils practices can support farm viability while mitigating the impacts of climate change.  “His experience managing collaborative work regionally, nationally, and internationally, will translate well to MFT’s work in partnership with farmers, agricultural service providers, land trusts, policymakers, and others in Maine and throughout the region,” said Erica Buswell, Vice President of Programs and Interim Co-President at MFT. “As we celebrate our 20th year and are in the midst of strategic planning, we think Bill’s unique set of skills will bolster MFT as we work to implement our vision of a thriving agricultural landscape where farms feed our economy, steward our natural resources and nourish our communities.”

“We are very excited to work with Bill and to welcome him to the MFT family,” says Stacy Brenner, MFT board member, and farmer at Broadturn Farm. “He brings a deep well of thoughtful talent relative to the work of land conservation and familiarity with the Maine landscape that will be valuable to this organization, as our work brings conservation and farming together.”

Toomey will begin work as president and CEO of MFT in early June.