Category Archives: people

This June: Maine Farms Listening Tour!

This June, we’re 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. We want to focus primarily on rural parts of the state, visiting and talking to farmers and friends in their homes, at kitchen tables and in dooryards.

We invite you to join us! Where should we go? Who should we visit? Want to host us? We want to hear from you!

If you’re interested in connecting with us during the tour, send an email to ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org  or call us at 207-338-6575.

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

Winterberry Farm Photo Essay

PHOTO ESSAY BY COLLIN HOWELL

Life at Winterberry Farm is the only life Sage has ever known. When her mother, Mary, moved to the farm it had been dormant for twenty years. Mary’s dream was to revitalize the forty acre farm so she could live there with her family and earn a living from the land. With the help of her oldest daughter, Kenya; her son, Gil; Sage, and farmapprentices, Mary has realized this dream.

The organic farm provides food for 50 local families through its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). It also has a farmstand, equipped with a commercial kitchen, where the family cooks and sells goods from the farm. In December 2012, Winterberry Farm became a “Forever Farm” through an agricultural easement held by Maine Farmland Trust and the Belgrade Conservation Alliance, ensuring that the farm will remain a farm in perpetuity.

Sage spends much of her time outside helping to run the farm, and is intimately connected to the land and animals. She plays and explores with the wonder of a child, but works with the strength and maturity of an adult. What is it like to be this now ten-year-old farmer?

This work looks at the life of a family farm through the eyes of a young girl whose only home has been this land that her mother credits for giving her and her children safety, security, and a living. | collinhowell.com | winterberryfarmstand.com

Member Voices: “Why I support MFT”

We say it all the time: Our members make our work possible.

MFT members are people who recognize the importance of protecting farmland and helping farmers thrive. They care about the resiliency of Maine’s rural economy, and the sustainability of our environment. They are farmers, future-farmers, business owners, eaters, conservationists, advocates, policymakers, artists, community-builders, foodies, and people who love Maine. They are people like YOU.

There are so many reasons to join MFT. Hear from a few of our members why they choose to be part of this work. Continue reading…

Meet our Business Members: Camden Real Estate Company & Big Tree Hospitality

MFT is grateful to have a growing number of Business Members.  Our Business Members are community-minded leaders that represent a range of sectors – real estate, food & beverage, healthcare, banking, shipbuilding, and more. All of our Business Members care deeply about Maine, environmental sustainability, revitalizing our rural economies, and growing the future for farming.

 

Meet some of our Life Business Members:

Camden Real Estate Company: Scott Horty

What does your business do?

We represent buyers and sellers of farms, village homes, waterfront homes and land, businesses and property under conservation consideration in an arc from Friendship to Searsport in mid-coast Maine.

Why do you support MFT and the work we do? 

Preserving land for future generations to grow and raise healthy food is of foremost importance to future generations. When I see farms sold and used for some other purpose I know that they will never return to farming. Farms create sustainable jobs and opportunities that feed the community in many ways.

As a business leader, if another business asked why you joined as a Life Member, what would you tell them?

This is a very inexpensive way to have a huge impact on sustainable jobs, healthy food and the conservation of land in Maine. For most of us living in Maine we came here for the natural beauty and the peaceful lifestyle and what we found, we want to preserve.

Anything else that you’d like MFT members to know?

We like to think of ourselves as the source for anything real estate call with your questions or needs and let’s see if we can help or send you in the direction of someone who can. In addition, my wife, Robin, and I own 24 acres of organic blueberries in Hope.

Big Tree Hospitality: Arlin Smith, Mike Wiley & Andrew Taylor

What’s the mission of your business? 

Guided by a commitment to generosity, hard work, and innovation, Big Tree operates restaurants (Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co., and The Honey Paw) that aim to create and sustain community.

Why do you support MFT and the work we do? 

Many of purveyors have gotten a leg up thanks to MFT, and we know that without a strong agricultural community, Maine restaurants can only be so good. We’re proud to invest in the future of Maine’s farming.

As a business leader, if another business asked why you joined as a Life Member, what would you tell them?

I’d recommend a lifetime membership to any local business, especially to a restaurant who (if they’re doing their job correctly) stand to benefit directly from MFT’s efforts.

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.

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.

Staff Spotlight: Shannon Grimes

Shannon Grimes, Nutrition Incentive Program Manager

Shannon Grimes came to Maine for college, and has stuck around ever since.  She grew up in New Zealand and Montana, both incredibly beautiful, natural places, but Maine tops the list with the ocean, lakes and nearby mountains. In addition to paddling, swimming, and hiking, Shannon loves to cook and bake, and tries to eat as locally as possible (you can read about some of her adventures in cooking on her blog, Dancing Tree Kitchen). The one thing that rivals her love of food is her love of dance, and she would love to see more of a Lindy Hop scene in the Midcoast!
Q: What is your role at MFT? 
A: I manage the nutrition incentive programming here at MFT, expanding access to local food for low-income Mainers. That includes coordinating the Maine Local Foods Access Network, and working with our amazing partner organizations to implement incentives (called Maine Harvest Bucks in our state) at various market types. I also manage MFT’s work focused on bringing incentives to retail stores and food hubs, so I work directly with those types of markets to design, implement, and advertise the program; and am a little involved in some of the policy implications of this work.
Q: Why do you work for MFT?
I want to live in a place where community, land, nature, and people are integrated. MFT is working towards that, both in the way we holistically approach issues, and what we’re doing to harmonize Maine’s food sectors. Not to mention that food itself is a wonderful nexus.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you look forward to working on?
I’m excited to be figuring out what about local food gets people excited, and how to share that enthusiasm.
Q: What are goals you’re psyched about that are important in your role?
I hope to learn how to better represent and engage people we work with or are trying to serve—and not just at the beginning of a project, but continually.

Dairy Farm in Transition: Fletcher Farm

Another in our series about 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 in many ways, Maine’s dairy industry has not seen the same kind of growth. Young 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.
“Make hay while the sun shines” is something everyone says, but it’s a literal reality for dairy farmers. The first time I visited Walter and Austin Fletcher of Fletcher Farm in Pittsfield, Austin was cutting grass in the fields until dark, racing against the disappearing autumn daylight. Because it’s been such a dry summer, dairy farmers who rely on productive pastures that have been struggling to make a second or third cut before fall sets in, and the hustle for hay (and very few rainy rest days) means that it’s rare to catch father and son Walter and Austin in the same place at the same time.
While Austin cut hay, Walter gave me a tour of the farm. The barn is outfitted with the Cabot logo, easily recognizable with the signature red and black checkered background. While walking around the farm and watching the evening milking, I was struck by how orderly and calm the farm is. All the cows were resting or munching contently in their quiet spaces, each one set up specifically for each group of cows, depending on age, health, and milking/fertility stage of life. The Fletchers take good care of their herd, from the calves up through the older cows, the latter of which are housed close to the barn for comfort and accessibility. Everything on the farm is done without fanfare, but with a tremendous amount of respect and care for the animals that produce the farm’s lifeblood: milk.
Walter and his wife Edna bought 500 acres in Pittsfield in 1980 and started Fletcher Farm. Walter grew up on a dairy farm in Massachusetts and he can’t imagine a different path. “I really think that [farming] chose me,” said Walter. “At first it was a dream that we made real. Than a challenge to be successful not just as a business because farming is more than business it’s a way of life.” He and Edna raised three children on the farm. Austin, the youngest son, left for school and worked elsewhere for awhile but has since come back to join the business. Right now, the father and son team work together as partners in the LLC, from before sun up (morning milking starts at 3:30am) to sundown; the plan is for Austin to gradually take over the farm as Walter slowly transitions away from full-time farming.

Though Austin grew up on a dairy farm, he wasn’t always sure it was what he wanted to do for a living. “There was a time in high school when I definitely wanted nothing to do with it,” he said. “I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it.” But after leaving Maine and working other jobs and on other farms, Austin felt the pull pack to his roots. At 33, he’s happy to be back in Pittsfield, working alongside his dad and preparing to continue the family business. “There is a personal satisfaction,” said Walter, “a sense of accomplishment, when your children look at what you have done and see something worthwhile. And when one of them says to you ‘I see what you’ve done and I would like to be a part of it, to build on it and carry it forward,’ it is the greatest compliment that I could receive. It makes me very proud.”

Dairy farming is a tough business. Luckily, Austin isn’t starting from scratch; he’s building on the strong foundation laid by his dad. When he’s not engaged in farm work, Walter is involved in making sure that farming has a future throughout Maine, and is an active board member of Maine Farmland Trust, Agri-Mark and Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Though sitting on various boards means adding a lot of travel and meeting time onto his already full farming schedule, it’s important to him to be involved and work with the wider farming community. As Treasurer for Agri-Mark, Walter represents the concerns and interest of over 1,000 dairy farms and farming families. It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously, evident in his measured, respectful tone when he speaks about everything from the way Agri-Mark works to the way they organize their cows on the farm.
There are challenges ahead for Maine’s dairy industry as farmers retire and land changes hands. Dairy farms like Fletcher Farm that are transferring to the next generation and staying in the family, are increasingly in the minority. But despite an uncertain future, Walter and Austin are hopeful, and doing all that they can to ensure that dairy remains a key part of Maine’s farming landscape.

Staff Spotlight: Chris Cabot

Chris Cabot, Farmland Protection Project Manager // Portland, Maine

Chris Cabot is part of the Farmland Protection staff at MFT, which means he works with landowners, farmers, and land trusts to protect farmland. Chris is based in MFT’s Portland office and focuses on land protection in York and Cumberland counties. Chris grew up in the suburbs of Boston before escaping to Vermont and Oregon for college, where he studied journalism and conservation biology. (Fun Fact: MFT has two former college mascots on staff: Chris was the UVM Catamount, and Erica Buswell appeared as the Holy Cross Crusader!). But Chris says he did his “real growing up traveling, leading wilderness trips and teaching environmental education.” Today Chris lives in North Yarmouth with his wife and two young sons, and they are working toward being able to grow more of their own food. They spend most of their time outside canoeing, hiking, gardening, birding, cutting and stacking firewood, etc., and Chris also plays in the 35+ baseball league in Portland. 
Q: Why do you work for MFT?
A: I came to MFT after working for two local land trusts where I worked on farmland conservation as well as wildlife protection projects. While wetland and woodland conservation remains a passion of mine, I’m excited to be focusing on protecting farms.
Q: Goals/projects you’re psyched about or are important in your role?
A: MFT’s farmland protection efforts along with our Farm Viability and Farmland Access programs are an excellent approach to tackling the complex issue of ensuring the future of Maine’s farms and maintaining the look and feel of Maine that so many of us appreciate.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you look forward to working on?
A: Southern Maine is experiencing very strong development pressure right now, and farms are often the most vulnerable. We can’t possibly conserve every farm, so we have to prioritize carefully while pursuing other ways to support the entire farming community.