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A Link and Land Protection in Bowdoinham

A snippet of our recent work, from our Spring 2014 newsletter:

David Asmussen of Blue Bell Farm is the latest young farmer “digging in” in Bowdoinham, a community that has become a hub for next generation farmers. He and his wife Meredith recently purchased a 74-acre property, formally Dancing Cricket Farm, and have already begun farming. They could not have purchased the property without a range of services MFT offers—notably, the Beginning Farmer Program, Maine FarmLink, and MFT’s Purchased Easement Program.

Former landowner David Santillo found the property on FarmLink back in 2009. For Santillo, it seemed like the perfect setting for his educational nonprofit to take root. Santillo brought the fields back to production, built hoop houses, sold at farmers markets and ran a small CSA. But while Santillo had built a functional farm, he didn’t feel like he could farm the land to its full potential and decided to sell the property. He wanted to sell to enthusiastic farmers, and so he listed the farm on FarmLink.

About the same time, David Asmussen and his wife landed in Maine. While in graduate school in Vermont, Assmussen says they were always “on the lookout for land, but Vermont seemed saturated—everyone we met had a small farm.” They had been attending MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair for years, and “knew that there was a good agricultural community [in Maine] that [they] wanted to be a part of.” Soon after the couple arrived in Maine, Asmussen started working at a small farm in Cape Elizabeth and joined MOFGA’s Journeyperson program, a two-year educational mentorship program for beginning farmers.

In partnership with MOFGA, MFT provides services for Journey-farmers who are looking for land. Erica Buswell, who manages MFT’s Beginning Farmer Program, got to know Asmussen and the type of farm he was looking for. When Santillo listed Dancing Cricket on FarmLink, Buswell urged Asmussen to check it out. “It seemed like exactly the right fit,” said Buswell.

And it was… except that the price was out of Asmussen’s range. Luckily, two key factors lined up to make the deal work. The first factor was that MFT could lower cost of the property by buying an agricultural easement. In this case, MFT purchased the easement for about $40,000, which brought the price to a reasonable amount for Asmussen. As the incoming farmer, Asmussen could help craft the easement to suit his needs and accommodate his farming dreams.

The second key factor was the landowner’s flexibility and patience. As a biologist, Santillo felt that his property wasn’t just a farm, but part of the larger ecological community—so he embraced the idea of protecting the farm with an easement. Santillo didn’t need to sell quickly, and was willing to work with MFT and Assmussen on what became a longer, more complex deal.

Asmussen’s Blue Bell Farm is now in the middle of its first season in Bowdoinham. He is growing mixed vegetables and culinary herbs for area restaurants and wholesale accounts, and someday plans to build a roadside farm stand.

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