Tag Archives: farmland access

Maine Farmland Trust Launches “Forever Farms” Program!

 

Forever Farms” is a way to celebrate the growing success of farmland protection efforts in Maine.  Over the next several months, signs that read “Forever Farm” will be installed on farmland in Maine that has been preserved through agricultural easements.  Agricultural easements ensure that the land will forever be available for farming.  Through this signage, a new website, and events, MFT and its partner organizations will raise public awareness about what we’ve already achieved in Maine, while generating excitement for future farmland preservation.  We hope to see you at an upcoming Forever Farm event in your area!

Thursday, August 18th Erickson Farm in Rockport

Tuesday, August 23rd Horsepower Farm in Penobscot

Tuesday, August 30th Kelley Farm in Bowdoinham

Thursday, Sept. 8th Broadturn Farm in Scarborough

Tuesday, Sept. 13th Katherine Breton Memorial Preserve in Lisbon

All events will be held from 5 to 8PM

Each event will include Tide Mill’s organic grilled chicken, prepared local produce, wine from Bartlett Maine Estate Winery of Gouldsboro, beer from Andrew’s Brewery of Lincolnville, and ice cream treats provided by Dolcelino’s of Camden.  Farm tours will be available in addition to live music.

Visit www.foreverfarms.org for more information about the Forever Farms program!

Frith Farm

Frith Farm: A FarmLink Retrospective

Daniel Mays realized he wanted to be a farmer while a graduate student in environmental engineering.  As soon as he finished his degree, Daniel began scouring real estate listings all over New England, looking for the right plot of land. He was happy to discover Maine FarmLink.

FarmLink is a program of Maine Farmland Trust that connects prospective farmers to farmland owners wishing to sell or lease their land.  In fall 2010, through FarmLink, Daniel found what has become Frith Farm: 14-acres in Scarborough, nestled among wooded house lots and new developments.

Scarborough is a community that has lost many of its farms. To stem this tide, the town has begun buying agricultural conservation easements that maintain farmland.  In this case, Maine Farmland Trust and the local land trust worked with Daniel to craft an easement that prohibits any future development on the property. The retiring family received market value for their property, but the price Daniel paid was reduced by the value of the easement, paid by the town. In other words, Daniel bought the farm at a far more affordable price—its “farmland value.”

Like many FarmLink success stories, the greatest benefits become evident once the new farm takes shape. Here, Daniel has restored a historic farm to vitality and productivity in just a few short years. He grows all manner of certified organic vegetables, as well as chickens, turkeys, sheep, and pigs—all marketed on-site through a 75-member Community Supported Agriculture program, or “CSA.”

Frith Farm

Daniel likes that his farm serves the local community, and that his customers can come to the farm and see where their food is grown. For Daniel, this proximity and interaction are real advantages of farming in southern Maine. “It’s close to my market. I don’t have to drive three hours to sell my produce, and I really don’t need to do any marketing,” he said.

The demand for local food in greater Portland continues to grow, and Daniel sees room for more farmers, provided that they can find land. In this part of Maine, many formerly open spaces have been eaten up by development. Those that remain are often prohibitively expensive.

That’s where Maine Farmland Trust can help. The Trust helps protect highly vulnerable farmland—often in conjunction with local land trusts—in ways that can lower the cost for incoming farmers.  Then FarmLink can help find the right farmers to work that land.

Without such programs, Daniel would not be farming at Frith Farm today. And the local community would be that much diminished.

For more information about Frith Farm, visit frithfarm.net

Looking for farmland? Ready to sell or lease your farmland? Go to mainefarmlink.org

Photography by Lily Piel

Maine Farmland Trust aims to raise $50 million to help state become New England’s “food basket”

Reposted from the Bangor Daily News
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 07, 2014, at 3:06 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Farmland Trust announced Tuesday that despite tough economic times, it has raised $18 million since 2009 for farmland protection and farmer support programs in Maine on the premise that bolstering the state’s agricultural sector is a proven and effective economic development strategy.

The trust embarked on its Securing a Future for Farming Campaign with a goal of raising $50 million and protecting at least 100,000 acres of farmland and supporting 1,000 farming families. To date, the trust has protected more than 36,000 acres of farmland and supported 395 farmers with a range of services.

John Piotti, Maine Farmland Trust’s president and chief executive officer, said Maine is poised for agricultural boom times.

“We have good land, we have plenty of water, we have better growing conditions than people give us credit for, we have handy access to markets and we have great farmers,” said Piotti. “Maine is incredibly well positioned to have a vibrant agricultural future and some feel that Maine actually could be the food basket for our state and New England. But just because this could happen doesn’t mean it will happen.”

Piotti estimates that as much as 400,000 acres of farmland could change hands in the next decade, most of it because of the age of its current owners. This comes on the heels of at least two decades of slow growth in the amount of farmland in Maine. That growth has come despite challenges, including the fact that land sold for farming is often worth less than land sold for other kinds of development, such as commercial interests or housing subdivisions.

“It was on a downward slide from the Civil War to the 1990s,” he said. “The future of farming depends on the steps we take today.”

Much of the trust’s focus is protecting farmland through conservation easements or, in some cases, helping farmers purchase land. The trust also provides a range of supports for farmers, including business planning and help amassing equipment and access to agricultural infrastructure.

Daniel MacPhee, a produce farmer in Palermo, said he and his young family moved to Maine several years ago for the purpose of eventually becoming farmers, a project they expected would take as much as a decade to launch. Because of help from the Maine Farmland Trust, MacPhee was farming much more quickly than he expected.

“We were here less than nine months before one of our neighbors decided they wanted to leave their farm and move to the city,” said MacPhee. “We had no idea what we were getting into, how to go through that process, how to negotiate and how to decide if this was actually a good decision for us, to take on the debt of a mortgage when we were so new to the community. Now we have about 80 acres that we’re managing organically.”

In addition to helping younger farmers enter the industry, the trust also helps more experienced farmers, such as dairy farmer Walter Fletcher of Pittsfield, expand their businesses. Fletcher said the Maine Farmland Trust helped him acquire use of an adjacent plot, which pushed his farm to a size big enough to pass on to his son.

“We felt we absolutely needed this land for him to grow with, but we couldn’t come to terms with the existing owner,” said Fletcher. “Thanks to [the Maine Farmland Trust’s] efforts and the willingness of the owner to work with them, we were able to secure that land. That was critically important to us and to our son. We started small and have gotten to 200 cows.”

The Maine Farmland Trust hopes to achieve its $50 million goal by the end of 2015.

Daniel MacPhee speaks about Maine Farmland Trust's assistance finding farmland.

Daniel MacPhee spoke at the press conference on Maine Farmland Trust’s assistance with finding farmland and getting beginning farmers started.

 

Food & Water: Notes on the Camden Conference

Food & Water
Sometimes I’m amazed by what happens here in Maine. An event this past weekend made that point clearly—in two distinct ways.
The event was the 27th Annual Camden Conference. The topic this year was “the global politics of food and water.” For those of you who have never attended one of these conferences, they are professionally-run three-day affairs that boast world experts and top-notch speakers. It’s so impressive that an event of this sort occurs right here in our backyard. (The live show is held at the Camden Opera House, with broadcasts to the Hutchinson Center in Belfast and the Strand Theater in Rockland.)
The other reason this year’s Camden Conference reflected well on Maine was because of the topic. Any conversation about food and water soon leads to a discussion about sustainable agriculture—and that’s an area where Maine has been a real leader. Even though the conference focused on global issues, Maine played a key role—as well it should.
Several of the speakers used Maine examples. Kathleen Merrigan, former Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, called attention to recently released figures showing that the number of farms in Maine continues to grow, while the number of young farmers here is soaring. Gus Schumacher, Vice President of Wholesome Wave, spoke about a trip he made to Maine over forty years ago, to visit Eliot Coleman, who had pioneered ways to grow crops in winter—techniques now used by 10,000 farmers across the country. And Maine’s own Chellie Pingree talked about how our small state has led the rebirth of small-scale farming nationally.
Of course, most of the conference dealt with broader issues. There were presentations about population growth and climate change, which both have such a bearing on future food production. There were sessions on what’s happening in the oceans, and in China and Africa. Some of what we heard was scary. All of it was fascinating.
For me, the most moving part of the weekend was Fred Kirschenmann’s keynote address on the first night. Fred is a farmer, philosopher, distinguished academic and activist. He explained how the future will be different from the past, how our current agricultural system is simply unsustainable. Farming today—whether organic or conventional—relies on cheap energy that will not be available for long. Fred articulated how we need to approach farming differently. But despite detailing some somber realities, his speech was full of optimism.
I played a role at the conference I did not expect. Bad weather prevented the invited moderator from leaving the Minneapolis airport, and I was asked to replace him. (I was known to the event’s organizers because I had had given two talks for them the previous fall, as part of the community events that led up to the conference.)
The moderator serves as a master of ceremonies, introducing speakers and facilitating Q&A. But because the man I was replacing, Jonathan Foley, was a well-known academic at the University of Minnesota, he had also been given a fifteen minute slot on the program to offer his own remarks.
An hour before the conference’s opening reception, I came to the Opera House to learn more about my role and was asked whether I wanted Foley’s slot the next morning. If I said no, they would fill the time with a video. So I had an easy out. I didn’t take it.
I’m never one to miss any opportunity to talk about farming in Maine. But this was a particular challenge. The conference organizes didn’t want my usual spiel. This was a conference about global issues, not Maine. I needed another angle.
I thought about what I’d do on my ride home late that night. But with my mind still reeling from Fred’s keynote, it was hard to focus on what I’d say the next morning. At 6 a.m., I sat down at our kitchen table and began scribbling notes. I decided I’d try to tie some of the global issues to Maine. By 8:45 a.m., I was onstage at the Opera House, doing so.
I began talking about energy, building off Fred’s remarks from the night before. When we think about how energy will affect farming in the future, it’s easy to see this as an issue for the plain states or other global breadbaskets—and it is. But the impacts will be felt everywhere. And I believe that great change could occur in Maine, which is positioned to grow far more food and get it to population centers far more efficiently, because of our location.
I then spoke about water. It’s abundant here, which is a blessing. But because of this abundance, we have tended to take it for granted. Maine has no comprehensive policy framework to help manage our water resources—something that needs to be addressed soon.
A key question for the future is how we recruit new farmers, how we inspire and train them, but also how we get them on farmland. These are issues everywhere, but Maine is noteworthy because we have made such progress. I give a lot of the credit to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which has done as much to inspire and train young farmers as any organization in the country. The next hurdle is to get these eager people on the land. That’s a high hurdle, given that the price of most farmland is far greater than what someone can earn from farming it. Maine Farmland Trust addresses this challenge with various programs, and with some success—though we do much less than what’s needed.
One of Fred’s points the previous night was that our current economic tools—which often reward short-term profit above all else—are not up to the task of creating the kind of farming that will be needed to serve the future. This is a BIG issue. To me, it is every bit as big as climate change, exactly because our current economic decisions are what drive climate change.
There are no simple ways to infuse long-term views into certain economic decisions; but some forward-looking folks are experiencing with new tools. One such tool is so-called “Slow Money.” It’s the idea of investing as if the future really mattered. This movement has informed and organized thousands of socially-conscious investors, who are now providing patient capital to help rebuild our farms and food system. The Slow Money group in Maine is among the most active anywhere, having invested over $8 million in support of local agriculture.
The final point I raised is how Maine is also at the forefront of another movement—“Ag Art.” Again, my starting point was Fred’s comments from the previous night. He spoke about how we need a new ecological consciousness around food, and how art—film, photography, drama, and more—can move us in that direction. He cited a few examples of what’s happening around the globe. And I naturally thought of what’s happening in Maine—all the artists who have shown at the Maine Farmland Trust Gallery, the photographs of Bridget Besaw and Lily Piel, the films of Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann, and so much more.
Energy. Water. New farmers. New economic tools. How art can inspire an agricultural renaissance. These are all critical issues on the global stage, which are playing out right here in Maine.
It’s easy to attend an event like the Camden Conference and leave with a greater understanding of global issues, but little feeling of how you can make much of a difference.
Yet on the topic of food and water, there are so many ways for Mainers to engage, whether it be through organizations like Maine Farmland Trust and MOFGA, or through the decisions we make about how to invest our money, where to shop for food, and what we eat.
John Piotti of Unity runs Maine Farmland Trust. His column “Cedar & Pearl” appears every other week.

Gardiner couple faces first hurdle – finding land to farm

More young people aspire to be farmers, especially in Maine.

By Mary Pols mpols@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

First in an occasional series on Maine’s young farmers

On moving day, Michael Dennett and Ryan Fahey had a fairly typical late 20-something, early 30-something collection of belongings to transport: secondhand furniture, a carton of flip flops (party favors left over from their wedding last summer) and a pair of rescue dogs, one relaxed and enjoying the spring day, the other too agitated to be let loose.

Much less typical, the couple was traveling with livestock: 12 pigs (three of them pregnant), 17 sheep and 140 chickens. Amend that – 140 broilers and laying hens left Bremen, where Dennett and Fahey had been living and farming for nearly three years on the shores of Biscay Pond. By the time they arrived at Oaklands Farm in Gardiner, where the couple is entering into a leasing arrangement with older, more experienced farmers, one of the broilers looked profoundly wilted from its journey. Dennett walked off toward the barn to dispatch the ailing chicken while the sheep explored the perimeters of their new pen on lush, green grass. The Cornish Cross birds pecked at the grain Fahey had just poured into the chicken tractor.

Meanwhile Gus, the nervous dog, barked from inside the house. Gus has found his “forever home” with the Dennett-Fahey household, but his owners, like many of Maine’s young farmers, are technically still in search of theirs. It could be Oaklands Farm – and they’d be thrilled if it were – but it might not be. They’ve been in limbo since they decided together to farm, and that’s where the couple will likely remain for at least the first year of this new arrangement.

At 31 and 29 respectively, Dennett and Fahey are representative of Maine’s boomlet of farmers, the 25-to-34 demographic that experienced a 40 percent increase between the United State’s Department of Agriculture 2007 and 2012 Farm Census (nationally the number of young farmers was also on the rise, up 11.3 percent). That jump is good news for Mainers who care about the future of farming – the average age of an American farmer is 58.

But that youthful farming demographic faces a unique set of challenges; they’re often farmers in search of farms. While they browse the listings at real estate companies or postings at Maine Farmland Trust, which helps pair farms for sale with beginning farmers through its FarmLink program, these aspiring farmers lease land, live in borrowed or rented housing and sometimes, as the Dennett-Faheys are doing by sharing property with Logan Johnston, 61, and Phyllis Gardiner, 59, enter into a very intimate kind of internship with mentors from another generation.

The new paradigm in farming is to

give up the old paradigm. “You have to divorce yourself from the romantic notion of owning the land,” says farmer Stacy Brenner. She’s in her 40s now and has been farming for 13 years, eight of them at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, on land she and her partner John Bliss lease through the Scarborough Land Trust.

TEACHERS, LEARNING

When Dennett and Fahey, who went to the same high school in York County, started dating some eight years ago, they were living in Kittery. Fahey floated the idea of a shared future homesteading or farming. “I just remember thinking, ‘No way,’” Dennett said with a laugh. Then he started reading about Helen and Scott Nearing, the original back to the landers, and Eliot Coleman, the Nearing’s protégé. He was seduced.

But in the way of the smart 21st-century farmer, he and Fahey diversified; farming wouldn’t be their only jobs. While Fahey pursued her agricultural training at UMaine, getting a graduate degree in plant and soil science, he worked on his teacher’s degree. That first summer he had off from teaching, “we decided to mess around growing some vegetables,” he said. They started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share program. “That sort of opened the door for us.”

On a partly sunny May day, shortly after the big move, Dennett was lecturing on probability to his class at Thomaston Grammar School, where he teaches four sections of science and one of math. The students were mostly seventh-graders, with a few advanced sixth-graders mixed in. Hanging on the chair behind his desk was a vest emblazoned with the emblem of Crescent Run Farm, the business that ultimately sprang from that first summer of messing around with vegetables. There were a few experiments going on the windowsill, one involving eggs and the matter of permeability, the others plants: sprouting corn and a random radish. The farm theme was even woven into the lesson on area models and calculating probability, which used the example of different colored socks.

“I have farm socks and I have school socks,” Dennett said as he walked around the room. “They’re short and long and they get mixed up. Socks are a pain.” He’s tall. In the parlance of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Dennett would definitely be described as “strapping.” He’s also the guy who Fahey says she has to prod to move along during chores; the animals are that appealing. “Michael loves the lambs,” she said.

The camaraderie with his students was easy, relaxed and resoundingly fond – going both ways. “Can we do partnership?” one of the kids asked, asking if they could all break into smaller groups and work on the problem together. “Why, are you feeling lazy?” Dennett teased.

Maybe he was born to be a teacher. But with Fahey as his original catalyst and partner, he’s also made himself into a farmer.

While his students dispersed, iPads in hand, he admitted to being tired. Blending the careers of farming and teaching is generally a good thing, what with the summers off. But throw a big move in there, heading into finals and end-of-the-school-year projects? Grueling.

“Ryan and I have been working until 9 at night for basically 20 days in a row,” he said. He look tired. But a good sort of tired. Happy, satisfied.

GOING COURTING

Dennett and Fahey explored all avenues in their search for land, including working with a real estate agent, coordinating with the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) and signing up for Maine Farmland Trust’s FarmLink program. Maine Farmland Trust has been connecting farms and beginning farmers, not all of them young, through FarmLink since 2002, and has made 105 matches in that time, some actual sales, others leasing arrangements. Typically there are more seekers than sellers in their database (about half of these properties are also posted commercially). In May, there were 242 individuals or families looking for farms, and 142 Maine farms up for grab, far more of them in central or Southern Maine than say, Aroostook County.

Some people have been in the program for years, looking for just the right match. Like Kathi Langelier, 38, a small-time farmer who specializes in growing herbs for herbal teas. She’s been making do with a one-acre patch on a rental property in Lincolnville for four growing seasons and longs for a 20-acre farm with 10 acres of tillable land and 10 acres of woodlot. But in two years of searching, she’s come close to making an offer only twice. And both times, most recently in April, those dreamy farms were sold to someone else.

“When you have a vision and you can see it all, and you know the part that is missing and you have been looking and looking,” Langelier said. Her voice trailed off. Then she took a breath and continued. “I feel like it has been so painfully challenging.”

Does that sound like your love life? The process is actually so much like dating that Maine Farmland Trust has been known to hold “Speed-Linking” events. Earlier this month the Benton Grange was the site of just such an event, with prospective buyers, leasers and sellers spending three and a half minutes in conversations, then moving along to the next table. Instead of a buzzer alerting everyone it was time to move on to the next candidate, “I rang a cowbell,” said Ellen Sabina, the outreach director for Maine Farmland Trust.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association works in partnership with FarmLink and Land for Good, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, to help pair land with farmers. Wiscasset-based CEI, a nonprofit that specializes in rural development, also offers advice (Langelier has been working with a CEI counselor recently). Sabina said most seekers take advantage of every outlet, including Craig’s List. But bringing people together in a room for a Speed-Linking event attempts to bring back some old ways, when farmers of different generations mingled at Grange suppers and shared information about whose land was available and for what price.

SO MUCH GOOD LAND

When she’s driving around the state, Langelier sees former farmland lying fallow. Maybe it’s owned by summer people. Or maybe one farm failed and the place is in transition. It’s a steady source of temptation. “You just see a lot of land just sitting,” she said.

John Piotti, the president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, is well aware of that paradox. He points out that while the 2012 census shows 1.455 million acres of land in Maine are being farmed, only 700,000 acres are what we technically called cultivated; the rest are simply under farm ownership. At the turn of the century, there were 6.5 million acres of farmland. “What happen to the other 5.8 million?”Piotti asked.

Like Langelier, he sees potential everywhere, although not just for 10 acres to grow herbs on, but for farms enough to match all the young people with plans. And not just in the rolling pasture land so many of us think equate with farms. Piotti wants to see future farms looking to Maine’s woods as well, where pigs like Dennett and Fahey’s might graze, or mushrooms can be cultivated and stone fruit or apple trees could be mixed in with maples and firs.

That’s the big picture. The smaller picture is trying to help people like Michael Dennett and Ryan Fahey, he with his enthusiasm for pigs (“amazing animals!” Dennett says. “Probably the most thrifty animals you can have on a farm”) and she with her unexpected gift with meat birds, figure out a way to be farmers. Piotti knows there are plenty others like them seeking, and in the meantime, making do with temporary arrangements while dreaming big. Langelier wonders, should she put up a greenhouse on that rented acre in Lincolnville. “The tough thing about renting is, how much energy do I keep putting into this property that is not mine?” she says. “It makes me really crazy.”

The lack of affordable land is a big problem. So is being able to finance the purchase of land that will yield slim profit margins of say, 3 to 4 percent. A good business plan is key. But still, it is a struggle.

“For every 10, we might be able to help one of them,” Piotti said.

There are no set answers for beginning farmers, he said. Well maybe a few. “If you live in an area like Scarborough, there’s not really an option to buy unless you win the lottery,” he said.

But there are strategies to get around the high price of real estate. “Leasing is increasingly viewed as a viable option,” he said. And it’s good for a lot of people, as long as it is a longer-term arrangement, like say, a 30 year-lease, he said.

The danger in the short-term lease is that beginning farmers pour their energy and enthusiasm into improving land, with the risk that their landlords might pull the rug out from under them.

“I personally don’t want to live in a world where all the farmers are leasing,” he said. “We don’t want to return to the feudal system.”

But an opportunity like the one Dennett and Fahey have at Oaklands Farm carries with it the promise of long-term stability – provided it works for the four parties involved. It took the animals hours to acclimate; with humans it is a little harder.

STARTER FARM

Dennett and Fahey lived for nearly three years rent-free in a small apartment set on a hilly, rocky piece of property in Bremen owned by philanthropist Eleanor Kinney. Kinney is a member of Slow Money Maine and founder of No Small Potatoes, an investment club that provides loans to farmers and food producers. She was interested in returning her lakeside property, a sheep farm in the 1950s, into agriculture use and found Dennett and Fahey through Maine Farmland Trust. It felt, right away, like “a good fit,” she said. She offered the young couple a debt-free landing pad to gain the business experience they thought might get them a mortgage through the Farm Service Agency. In exchange, they grew produce for the family, raised laying hens, produced meat and gave her three children a close-up look at farming.

Virtually the whole time they lived on Kinney’s property, during the hours when they weren’t taking courses through MOFGA’s Journeyperson program, discovering a love of pigs and lambs or starting a brand new farmers market in nearby Thomaston, Dennett and Fahey were searching for something more permanent.

“We cast a pretty wide net,” Dennett said. “Pretty much everywhere in three counties,” Dennett said. Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties would all work; they wanted a place near enough to Thomaston so Michael could keep working as a science teacher at Thomaston Grammar School. (In the fall, he’ll be teaching at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, closer to Gardiner.) Like most modern farmers, they need a second source of income to survive the vagaries of lives in agriculture. Fahey also works off the farm, with the Maine School Garden network. A place they looked at in Washington, with a farmhouse that dated to 1796, was promising. “Great land,” Dennnett said. “But the house was just kind of a nightmare. It was more than we felt comfortable taking on.” (In this small world of real estate, a couple they know are in all likelihood going to give that property a try next fall.)

Money remained an issue, even living rent-free at the Kinney’s. It turned out that Dennett made too much money to get a Farm Service Agency loan. Brick-and-mortar banks were friendly, but not willing to lend them as much money as they needed. “We have a pretty good financial history,” Dennett said. “But in the current economic climate it wasn’t possible for us to get a loan for anything larger than three acres.”

They’d outgrown Kinney’s place, growing vegetables on a piece of land four miles away, and moving their flock of sheep to a pasture elsewhere. It’s hard not to feel a little on the spot when you’re essentially living with a family who has to walk by your windows to get their mail. “It’s pretty intimate,” Dennett said. “There were some huge adjustments and you have to be flexible. It hasn’t always been a walk in the park, but overall it is has been extremely positive.” They got married on Kinney’s land last summer. Her kids named their pigs. Ringo the boar. Ronnie the sow. The question kept nagging at them all through – what next?

Kinney watched these admirable and innovative young farmers hustle to get into a business that is rarely profitable in any real monetary sense. She felt for them. “The model was that they’d be here two years,” she explained, as she fed the three pigs Dennett and Fahey were leaving behind for her family to raise. There weren’t a lot of options. “These young farmers are not inheriting farms,” she said. “In the Midcoast, it is so hard to find anything affordable.”

Then in January, a new possibility opened up. MOFGA’s New Farmer Programs Coordinator Abby Sadauckas introduced Dennett and Fahey to Johnston and Gardiner, who were looking for something very specific: young farmers willing to invest in something they could never own. Johnston and Gardiner farm a beautiful 110-acres that even they don’t technically own because the land is in trust, in part to protect it from the kind of farming failure that could turn rolling fields into say, a housing development. And the older couple needs help.

The four of them walked Oaklands Farm together. They emailed. They talked. Farming together is a business arrangement, yes, but also an emotional one, and not an easy one to enter into. Jo Barrett, the Maine Field Agent for New Hampshire-based Land for Good, which helps pair farmers with land, served as a mediator, to help them talk through any awkwardness. “It has to work,” Johnston acknowledged. This land, Gardiner land for coming on three centuries, has had many stewards and many chapters in its long history. It needs new ones. A new chapter, Johnston says.

“We are the key to making that happen,” Dennett said. “I feel great about that.”

BUILDING ON THE PAST

On Dennett and Fahey’s big moving day, Johnston stood in a pasture and recounted some of those past chapters.

The first Gardiners arrived in the lush region on the banks of the Kennebec in the mid-18th century, running mills of all varieties (saw, felting, grist); farming has long been part of the family tradition. In the 1980s, Phyllis Gardiner’s father established a family trust for Oaklands Farm. Johnston and Gardiner, whose day job is as an assistant attorney general, took up the farming mantle in 1990, making the decision to shut down a failing dairy. Area farms were disappearing rapidly. They crunched numbers.

“We spent a lot of time wondering, what do we do?” Johnston said. Haying and beef cattle – added in 2000 – seemed the solution to sustaining the 110-acre farm. Johnston grew up in Los Angeles and worked for the publisher Little, Brown and Company in Boston. Now he’s the treasurer of MOFGA, puts up the equivalent of 5,000 square bales of hay a year and can proudly point to the fact that the nearby A 1 Diner, a local mainstay, serves up an Oaklands Farm burger.

But two and a half decades later, Johnston and Gardiner are ready to begin the next transition. For the last five years they’ve been looking for someone to take over the bulk of the farming operation. Their son, a recent college graduate, or one of his many cousins may eventually want to farm, too, and the trust allows for that flexibility. But for now, these farmers, just a few years older than the average Maine farmer (57) according to the last census, could use some help. “We want someone who will love the place as much as we do,” Johnston said. The sticking point is that they can’t transfer ownership; the family trust prevents it. Oaklands Farm can’t be bought or sold, or turned into a development, for which Johnston is deeply grateful. But how to keep the farm going? “A lot of people said, if we can’t own it, we don’t want it,” Johnston said.

But to live on a vast property, stretching almost to the banks of the Kennebec, where the pigs and sheep and cattle and chickens can share the land? It was seriously tempting to Dennett and Fahey. They’ll pay rent on the Victorian farmhouse they just moved into – there are several houses on the property, including the original Robert Gardiner stone building overlooking the river – and if all goes well, they may be able to purchase the house later. They’ll be paid for the labor they do on the farm, including the haying and caring for the beef cattle. They’ll sell the Oaklands Farm branded beef at both the Thomaston and Gardiner farmers markets. They’ll learn new aspects of farming, while growing that flock of sheep, breeding more pigs and expanding the broiler and egg business. They might not be land owners, and maybe never, but they are on the land.

“Nothing is off the table,” Johnston said. “But nothing is on the table yet.”

He watched as Dennett drove the trailer containing the last few pigs down to the pen and negotiated backing it up to the movable fencing.

“Michael just does not know how to back up a trailer,” Johnston said with a laugh. “He’s going to learn, though.”

Contact Mary Pols at 791-6456 or:

mpols@pressherald.com

http://www.pressherald.com/news/Gardiner_couple_faces_first_hurdle_finding_land_to_farm_.html?pagenum=1

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.

Making New Connections

An intro to FarmLink from our Winter 2013 newsletter:

Land access is a particular challenge for beginning farmers. MFT’s FarmLink program helps farmland seekers connect with farmland owners, in an effort to facilitate affordable land transfer. To date, FarmLink has made 90 “links” throughout the state—many helping beginning farmers.

Successful links come in many different forms: sometimes a farmland seeker will buy land outright; sometimes the seeker and owner are more comfortable with a lease; and sometimes the owner and seeker forge an entirely unique arrangement.

Briis and Aaron arrived in Maine as interns at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough, after years of working on small farms on the West Coast and in Europe. The move to Maine was calculated: they had friends here, and land prices seemed remotely affordable compared to the rest of the East Coast. The couple perused newspaper ads and Craigslist. They also heard about FarmLink, and prepared an application.

The couple assumed they would spend years saving money and searching for the right farm. But then they saw the listing on FarmLink of a property owned by Brian Kent and Janet Pence.

Brian came to Maine in 1974, settling on a rolling piece of wooded land in Litchfield, criss-crossed with old stone walls and streams. In the years that followed, Brian and Janet carved out a homestead for their family, growing much of their own food and raising chickens. It was never a commercial farm, but as the couple grew older, they realized they needed new energy to keep the land productive. They didn’t want to sell the land—at least not yet; rather, they wanted to continue living in their house and create a partnership with people who would carry it into the next generation.

Brian and Janet listed the property on FarmLink for two years, and had dozens of phone conversations with aspiring farmers who weren’t quite the right fit. When Aaron and Briis visited for the first time, both parties knew right away that it was a match. They all agreed on a trial year, and now, three years later, Briis and Aaron are building a house on the property, and Brian and Janet are thrilled to see their land coming to life.

It’s not a “typical” arrangement. There’s no formal lease, no written agreement, and no money exchange. More than anything, Brian and Janet want to stay on their property and see their legacy carried on. In Aaron and Briis, they’ve found their ideal insurance: people they trust to reinvest in the land, and to take care of them as they age. Still, sharing land has its challenges. “We all had to change a bit,” said Janet, “to loosen up and learn how to work with each other.” Open communication is key to the relationship, and weekly farm meetings ensure that everyone is aware of changes and plans.

Briis and Aaron are raising vegetables, chickens, and goats. They sell their eggs through a neighboring farm, and hope to one day start a small goat dairy and creamery.

Maine FarmLink event; like speed dating?

One of the organizations we love partnering with is Land For Good, which works to increase farmland access throughout New England. We recently sponsored a FarmLink event that included a panel with Jo Barrett, the Maine Field Agent for Land For Good. Here is a snippet of their piece, written by Lisa Luciani, about the event!

Land seekers and landowners first shared their challenges associated searching for farmland or a farmer. The ‘speed dating’ portion of the event allowed land seekers to connect directly with landowners, share information about their farm, vision and goals, and trade contact information. This mixer enabled farmers and landowners to meet and begin a dialogue that could lead to a future match.

A top problem for beginning farmers especially is access to farmland. And while non-farming landowners already make up 90% of the 20,000 landowners that lease farmland in New England, there are more private and public landowners who want to support farming and food security by making land available. Non-farming owners of farmland need support to be successful farm landlords. 

Read more here!

Land protection project helps grow local ice cream business

There are many reasons to protect farmland, and there is often an added economic benefit to farmland owners. By selling the development rights on a farmland property, land owners can then use those funds to re-invest in their farm business, as was the case with the recent Stone Fox Farm Creamery project.

Bruce and Kathy Chamberlain bought their farm in Monroe in 1998. Historically the property had been a small dairy and then a chicken farm. Under the Chamberlain’s ownership, the property has supported horses, hay,a working woodlot,and large vegetable gardens.

In 2010, they decided to approach local food production in a different way, and started Stone Fox Farm Creamery. They make ice cream with rich Jersey milk from the neighboring Hilltop Farm, swirled with Maine-grown fruits or maple syrup whenever possible. The creamery grew rapidly, and left the Chamberlains with little time to work the land to its full potential.

The Chamberlains first learned about Maine Farmland Trust’s farmland protection work at Maine Fare, where they were selling their ice cream to Fare attendees. They began working with MFT to explore protection options in hopes of finding farmers to cultivate their land while they focused on growing the creamery business off-site. However as they started the protection process, their creamery needs shifted, and the couple decided to keep ice cream production on-farm in their State-permitted milk processing plant, and use the capital from the easement to strengthen and grow their business.

On August 25th, MFT closed on a purchased easement protecting the Chamberlain’s 63 acres of farmland in Monroe. When the Chamberlains are ready to transition their land at some point in the future, they hope to sell their farm to young farmers who will cultivate the land and having an agricultural easement in place should help to make that transition more affordable for the oncoming farmers. And for now, the Chamberlains will continue to build the local food economy with their flourishing ice cream business.

Keeping the land available for farming and supporting a Maine business making delicious ice cream with local milk and ingredients? That’s quite a cherry on top!

Enriching Land and Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultivating land can enrich our lives beyond the basic provision of agricultural products.

Last June, Maine Farmland Trust closed on a purchased easement with Sanna McKim to protect 16 acres in Belfast. Then in mid-August, Sanna transferred the property—and her ambitions for it—to Bennett Konesni and Edith Gawler, a multi-talented young couple with a vision for the future, and an eye to the past.

Only 2 ½ miles from downtown Belfast, the land—an old dairy farm—hadn’t been a working farm for quite some time, and was slated first to become a golf course and then another development project.

But Sanna didn’t want to see a golf course on what used to be farmland, so she purchased the original 170 acres in 2006 with a dream to benefit the local economy, keep farming going, and contribute to the rich cultural—specifically agricultural—heritage of the area. “Smart growth” was the way she described her idea.

Much of that vision came to fruition with the creation of the Belfast Co-Housing and Ecovillage on 40 acres of the land. But since the Co-Housing Community didn’t need to use the whole property, Sanna began talking to Bennett and Edith, and MFT, about how to sustainably manage the rest.

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Belfast Co-Housing, as seen from Duckback Farm

Edith and Bennett are musicians, artists, designers, and farmers. Edith grew up playing with her sisters and parents in the famed Gawler Family Band, and also performs with Bennett under the name “Edith and Bennett.” Bennett co-founded Sylvester Manor, a non-profit educational farm on Shelter Island, NY, and studies, collects, and teaches worksongs throughout New England. ­The couple led a recent “Worksong Hootenany” at North Branch Farm in Monroe, which was captured on video by the Bangor Daily News. They’ve shared their songs and other projects on TEDx and have been featured in many publications, including The New York Times.

Bennett and Edith decided to name the farm “Duckback,” was inspired partly by the names of the local Ducktrap River and Hogback Mountain. It’s also a reminder to let things go when they get too serious, like water off a duck’s back. The name and image they envision representing it—a duck facing his back, perhaps with a berry or garlic clove in his bill—further reflects Sankofa, a West African symbol that means to go forward without forgetting the past. That principal is integral to the couple’s philosophy and future ambitions.

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As farmers, they are thrilled to own this particular property. It’s close to where they’re building their house, the soil is rich and rock-free, and Bennett’s mother and his sister’s family live less than a mile away.

There are other young farming families just down the road, and one of the neighbors recently stopped by and expressed her enthusiasm at having Bennett and Edith farm there; they’ve already arranged to use some manure from her horses on their fields. “Many farmers want to be in a vibrant farming community, and that’s certainly a wish that’s been granted for me,” Bennett voiced.

Bennett pointed out his plans for each section of the land. Judiciously cut, the small copse of locust trees, he says, will be perfect for posts, and he’s even thinking about planting a few of them in another area to keep up a steady supply. He ploughed and seeded into cover crop a tw0-acre section of soil, the beginnings of the garlic patch, and might plant a few experimental bulbs this year. Gesturing towards a possible future pick-your-own strawberry patch, he noted that there aren’t many PYO berry farms in the Belfast area, but people are interested—the market is there. He’s also thinking about growing herbs, especially for tea.

These three crops—garlic, strawberries, and herbs—are low maintenance. That means the couple can continue to pursue their other aspirations while remaining grounded in a specific place. Their goal is to make roughly a third of their income from farming, a third from art and design, and a third from music. But their enterprises are never that separate. Edith incorporated principles of the local sustainable food movement into her architectural thesis at Syracuse University, and Bennett’s passion for worksongs arose largely out of a love of farming and a desire to make the often-arduous labor a little more fun. Both relish the harmony of all their activities, noting that everything is interconnected.

“We take the idea of diversification on farms and apply it to life,” Bennett said. Likewise, design, art, and music enrich the culture of farming. In their view, farmers have always been good designers, as well as fiddlers, singers, and other craftspeople, and the couple wants to weave that culture back into agriculture.

Like farming, their music is very place-based. Edith noted that you can often hear the landscape in the tunes. “We want people to hear place and taste place,” she said. They dream about selling garlic from the stage after a concert, sharing both the flavor and sound of their home.

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Sanna still owns some of the rest of the property she bought in 2006, and with Bennett and Edith is working on a larger vision for the rest. They’ve talked about trying to create a community farm incubator, similar to Vermont’s Intervale, thereby “putting the patchwork quilt back together,” as Bennett put it. Sanna in particular is focused on creating an oil-free future, and sees the benefit of small, manageable plots.

Sharing a vision, building on the past, and creating a sense of place: their story is a perfect illustration of how connection to land through farming can feed culture and enrich community.

Featured image (L-R): Edith Gawler, Bennett Konesni, Sanna McKim on Duckback Farm