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!
MFT Executive Director John Piotti will be speaking at Wolfe’s Neck Farm Winter Community Forum this Tuesday, March 22nd at 6:30 PM in Freeport. Join us for local food appetizers and great community discussion! Admission is $5. Visit the Wolfe’s Neck Farm’s website (www.wolfesneckfarm.org) to learn more about the Winter Community Forum!
Currently executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, John Piotti has been at the force of agriculture issues in Maine for over 15 years. In 1995, he created and then managed the Maine Farms Project for Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), Maine’s premiere community development organization.
He was appointed to the Millennium Commission on Hunger & Food Security, Maine’s Farm Vitality Task Force, and the Governor’s Dairy Task Force. Beyond Maine, he has served as chair of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and a director of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)
By SETH KOENIG
KENNEBUNK – Maine Farmland Trust officials first approached Tom Chappell about lending some name recognition to their land protection campaign. They got much more than that.
One hundred fifty-four acres more, to be exact. Chappell, best known as the “Tom” of the environmentally friendly soap and toothpaste maker Tom’s of Maine, was so intrigued by the trust’s goals that he donated agricultural easements protecting farmland over two properties in Kennebunk that he owns with his wife, Kate.
Chappell’s latest venture is Rambler’s Way, a producer of environmentally friendly clothing made from the super-fine wool of Rambouillet sheep. He uses the two newly protected farm properties, which include more than a mile of Kennebunk River frontage, for the sheep and for hay harvesting.
He agreed to be the campaign’s honorary chairman, giving the effort much-needed prestige during what Maine Farmland Trust Executive Director John Piotti called a potentially dangerous period of transition for agriculture in Maine.
“Having Tom as an honorary chair makes a huge difference,” Piotti told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday. “We’re well known in the agricultural community, but we’re still a relatively new arrival in the broader public psyche. … We like the connotation of a respected business leader saying, ‘These guys have a good business model.’”
The organization aims to place agricultural easements on 100,000 acres of farmland by the end of 2014, legally protecting the land for farming.
The 100,000-acre goal is ambitious considering that the trust has covered about 26,000 acres over its 12-year existence, but Piotti said it’s necessary to be aggressive because of the increasing uncertainty facing farmers over the next several years.
Piotti reiterated the oft-cited statistic that 400,000 acres — about one-third — of Maine’s best farmland is due to change hands over the next five to 10 years as older farmers retire.
While the generational transfers account for one pressure point in the pursuit of farmland protection, Piotti noted that the stagnant economy promises to complicate the next half-decade further.
Adding to the number of farmers leaving the business because of old age, he said, will be others forced out by poor markets or the sale of the land from underneath them.
Piotti said the trust will announce protection of another 2,000-plus acres in Dover-Foxcroft in the near future.
AUGUSTA — A land trust on Tuesday will reaffirm its commitment to protect 100,000 acres of farmland by 2014 at the 71st Maine Agricultural Trades Show.
The trade show, hosted by the Maine Department of Agriculture Food and Rural Resources, will run Tuesday through Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center.
John Piotti, executive director of the Maine Farmland Trust, will speak, along with Walter Whitcomb, commissioner of agriculture. The presentation will start at 10 a.m.
“Farming in Maine is growing and has the potential to be a major economic engine in the future, but only if Maine takes the right steps in the next few years,” said trust spokesman Erin Herbig. Maine Farm Trust “has long supported farming by protecting farmland. And with so much farmland expected to be in transition in the next few years, MFT is significantly increasing its efforts to protect farmland.”
Herbig said the trust supports farming through multiple programs including Forever Farms, Buy/Protect/Sell, FarmLink and Farm Viability. It also helps farmers with a growing array of services including business planing, market development and access to financing.
Michael Marchetti, director of the department’s division of agriculture resources, said more than 5,000 people are expected to attend the event.
The show will feature more than 100 exhibits and dozens of lectures, demonstrations and meetings involving 40 major agricultural organizations, committees, and agencies, he said.
Whitcomb said Maine agriculture represents a natural resources growth industry that generates $1 billion and employs thousands of people in growing, transporting, processing and marketing fresh produce in the Northeast.
“Whether it’s the local small grower providing fresh herbs to a farmers’ market, or Maine’s nationally renowned potato and blueberry industries, from every corner of our state, both small and large food growers provide healthy, safe produce,” Whitcomb said. “Our annual trades show embodies the concept that all Maine food is local and promotes Maine’s outstanding reputation as the breadbasket of New England.”
He said his department is redirecting existing resources and partnering with other government agencies, producers and promotion groups to market agricultural products in and out of the state of Maine.
“We will also advance the importance of encouraging a focus on healthy Maine foods, support continued innovative production of foods, and push for growth of sourcing foods to schools, restaurants, and farmers’ markets,” he said.
Demonstrations include floral design and food preparation. Presentations include farm energy options, small woodlot issues, nutrient management and how to become a licensed cheese maker.
“A special interest this year will be a presentation on a new law requiring a pesticide applicator’s license for both conventional and organic farmers who grow edible produce and have gross sales of over $1,000 per year,” Marchetti said.
Community workshops hosted by Windependence, the Distributed Wind Energy Association, and the Greater Portland Council of Governments will be held Wednesday and Thursday.
The Maine Board of Pesticides Control will be on hand to discuss basic safety training while the department of agriculture will offer a forum on licensing requirements and testing standards related to the sale of safe raw milk. Mechele Cooper — 621-5663 firstname.lastname@example.org
By David Harry
May 02, 2012 12:00 am
FREEPORT — Ralph and Lisa Turner have owned Laughing Stock Farm on Wardtown Road since 1984, and have sold their produce commercially since 1998.
Less than half a mile away, husband and wife Steve Burger and Sarah Wiederkehr have managed Winter Hill Farm for less than a year, and have expanded the operation from raising Randall cattle to include vegetables, eggs and pigs.
Development beyond the pastures of both farms is evident, and both couples share in the hard, daily labors rewarded by the joys of selling what they have grown or made.
“People who do this are incorrigible optimists,” Lisa Turner said after a North Yarmouth forum at Westcustogo Hall examining methods for preserving farm land and encouraging new farmers to work the land.
Wiederkehr was part of the forum, hosted by the Royal River Conservation Trust. She was joined by Steve Sinisi, owner of Old Crow Ranch in Durham, and Justin Deri, who leases fields in North Yarmouth to operate Deri Farm.
“I got into farming when I was 18, and I was stupidly hooked, Wiederkehr said.
Moderated by John Piotti, a former Maine legislator from Unity who is now executive director of the Belfast-based Maine Farmland Trust, the forum explored what has worked and what could work to expand local farming.
As farming veterans, the Turners said they would like to incorporate a wider scope of discussions about how to keep farmland from becoming subdivisions while allowing local farmers to profit.
“We are trying to challenge the concepts,” Lisa Turner said.
The three farmers sharing the stage represented three methods used locally to develop or keep farms going.
Sinisi bought his farm in 2008 with assistance from the Royal River Conservation Trust and Land for Maine’s Future.
Land for Maine’s Future is part of the State Planning Office and supplies public funding to conserve land.
Sixty-five of the farm’s 70 acres were placed in an agricultural easement to prohibit other development and create the possibility he can pass the farm on to his children.
“I’m taking care of something now so someone can do it later,” Sinisi said.
Deri was once a software engineer in greater Boston. He said he began farming as an apprentice in Maine in 2006. He leases two fields at Skyline Farms in North Yarmouth and a third nearby to grow organic produce.
Before leasing his fields, Deri also worked with Lisa Turner to better understand the commercial and marketing aspects of farming, a component the farmers agreed is critical to success.
Serving as managers of Winter Hill Farm, Burger and Wiederkehr said they also gain equity in the farm and share in its profitability. Land prices in southern Maine are so high they could not have afforded to buy a farm here, they said.
Land for Maine’s Future and the Freeport Conservation Trust are negotiating an easement at the farm, which has been sold to Winter Hill Farm LLC by former owners James Stampone and Katherine P. Leroyer.
The couple, who re-established the dairy farm with the rare breed of Randall cattle, wanted to ensure farming continued there. Freeport Conservation Trust Executive Coordinator Katrina Van Dusen said the trust board hopes the easement will be purchased by the end of the year.
The billing address for Winter Hill Farm is listed in Manhattan, and the Turners wonder if taxpayer funds are going to support a corporate entity instead of independent farming.
The couple said they are wary of lease and rental arrangements leaving young farmers with no real stake and reward from their work, and serious potential liability for medical costs stemming from hard work.
“This is an arrangement that works for us,” Burger said, because the couple and their children are earning equity.
Ralph Turner said he worries that valuing land below potential development values affects his ability to get the financing needed to annually plant crops and buy farm equipment.
“There is a lack of understanding about the need for capital,” he said.
The Turners also suggested the Freeport Conservation Trust should encourage reducing local rural zoning requirements of 2.5-acre lot sizes to reduce sprawl and leave more land available to farm.
The Turners drive as far south as Wells to sell their organic vegetables, and Ralph Turner said discussions about farming need to include assessments of market conditions to ensure profitability.
“We all need to work on increasing the markets,” he said.
At Winter Hill Farm, Burger and Wiederkehr sell raw milk, and farm-made yogurt to markets south to Scarborough, and constantly worry about how to make more money from their land.
“It is fully 50 percent of our time,” Burger said about marketing what they grow and make. “That is the trade-off.”
Burger was raised on a large farm in northeastern Missouri. Wiederkehr grew up in Brunswick and said working on a farm operated at the University of New Hampshire changed her life.
“It gave me a different sense of structure,” she said.
Stephanie Gilbert of the Maine Department of Agriculture said local land trusts are the parties required to apply for Land for Maine’s Future grants to buy land easements.
Piotti said the farmland trust prefers private ownership for farms.
“It gets complicated for a nonprofit to run a farm in a way that works well for the land, the people farming it, and the broader farm community,” he said.
Piotti said the easement model for farming is based on flexibility, instead of a stricter conservation easement that limits land to specific purposes.
“Well-crafted agricultural conservation easements will allow any activity that appropriately supports agriculture on a property, including fencing, land cleaning that follows soil conservation guidelines, and construction of hoop houses, greenhouses, barns, sheds, support buildings, ” he said.
Alan Stearns, Royal River Conservation Trust executive director, said more forums are needed, especially for trust members and its board to determine how the trust can best work with farmers in the future.
“What’s most obvious is policy issues we are trying to get our hands around are very new and very fresh,” he said. “The anxiety in the room was about who will be the farmers in the next 10 or 20 years. We need conservation models that succeed no matter who owns the land.”
By Paul Koenig
BELGRADE — Winterberry Farm on Route 27, with pastures and vegetable fields that stretch back to Great Pond, has been around 1870.
But there’s a new addition representing a change that will keep it a farm: a green and white sign that reads “Forever Farm.”
An agricultural easement was placed on the property last week by Maine Farmland Trust and the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, protecting it from ever becoming anything else.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’m now an owner of a farm that will be here for future generations,” said owner Mary Perry.
The trust and the conservation alliance, the local easement holder, donated money and time to create the easement, which restricts the farm from being subdivided or developed into something besides a farm. The alliance raised its portion of the easement cost with the help of community members.
Perry, 47, who bought the farm 12 years ago, has been learning to grow vegetables, raise poultry and livestock, and do whatever else it took to support herself and her three children. The farm was owned by the same family since it was established, but was dormant for 25 years before Perry bought it.
“I knew from the second I pulled into the driveway that this was where I needed to be,” Perry said. “I don’t know if I needed the farm or if the farm needed me more, but we truly did this together.”
The farm has 50 members in its community supported agriculture program and is certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
Perry isn’t the only full-time farmer in the family. Her children, Kenya, 17, Gil, 12, and Sage, 6, also work on the farm.
Kenya said she does a bit of everything, including training the apprentices who arrive through MOFGA each summer. Perry said Gil works his steers each morning, bringing wood from the forest and Sage helps out around the farm too, sometimes riding around on her pony, Lady Bug.
Winterberry Farm offers the community supported agriculture program, in which people pay for a steady supply of fresh veggies, during the summer and fall. Perry also sells vegetables, preserves, frozen chickens, pies and soup at the farm stand.
During the winter — once there’s snow on the ground — they give horse-drawn sleigh rides and sell cut-your-own Christmas trees. They also grow kale, spinach and other hearty winter vegetables.
Perry has been working to protect the farm with an easement for more than six years. It was a situation made more complicated by the fact the partner she bought the farm with is a co-owner of the property even though they’re no longer together.
Maine Farmland Trust had to buy the land from the ex-partner and put an easement on it with the alliance before selling it back to Perry at a reduced rate. The restrictions in the easement reduced the value by $25,000, which was picked up by the trust and the alliance.
The trust gave $15,000 towards the easement and the alliance gave around $10,000.
Maine Farmland Trust Executive Director John Piotti said such buy-protect-sell deals are less common, and the trust tries to avoid them. Farmers more often donate the easement without property changing hands.
A broader effort
The trust’s Forever Farm program is a way for farms to communicate with the public about the easement, a way of branding, Piotti said.
Farms are given the Forever Farm sign for the property and can be listed on the program’s website. The addition of Winterberry Farm brings the total of Forever Farms to 66, with six in Kennebec County, including Lakeside Orchard in Manchester.
Piotti said many people felt good about protecting their land with easements, but saw their actions in isolation.
“They didn’t really feel they were part of a broader movement,” he said. This movement, Piotti said, can become more significant for farming in Maine when more people know about it.
Perry said her first goal in the process was to protect the property from ever becoming anything besides a farm. She felt it was important to repay the land for everything it has provided her family.
“For me, it was about giving back, and I feel like I’ve done that by protecting it with an easement,” she said.
In order to buy the property back, Perry needed another piece to fall in place — a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. The loan came through in October when the agency could begin using funding for fiscal year 2013.
Farming on the fiscal cliff
As a USDA program, the Farm Service Agency’s loan service is funded by the federal budget the U.S. Congress passes each year.
Besides loans to buy farm property and equipment, the FSA also gives loans out for operating costs and emergencies.
Unable to approve a new federal budget, the U.S. Congress passed a continuing resolution in September to fund the federal government until March 27 of next year. Executive Director of the Maine State FSA Donovan Todd III said the state agency was given around half of its usual budget in the resolution.
Because of the limited money, Perry is the only farmer to be granted a direct ownership loan for fiscal year 2013. The FSA won’t give the names of the farmers approved for loans, but Deborah Dufour, farm loan chief of the state agency, said only one such loan could be granted in 2013 until more funds are approved.
With a couple of people still waiting approval for direct ownership loans from last year, the state needs even more funding for that type of loan, Todd said. The state has averaged almost $1.7 million in direct ownership loans over the last five years, according loan records.
More female farmers
The FSA targets around 60 to 70 percent of its money for socially disadvantaged farmers, including women, African-Americans, Alaska natives, American Indians, Hispanics, Asians, native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, as well as beginning farmers, Dufour said.
Maine isn’t ethnically diverse, but has the fourth highest percentage of female principal farm operators in 2007 with over 25 percent, according to the USDA’s 2007 census. Nationally, only 14 percent of principal farm operators were female in 2007.
In Maine, the number of female farmers as the principal operators increased over 50 percent from 2002 to 2007. Across the country, they increased by 30 percent.
The USDA doesn’t have any more recent demographic information of farmers, but Dufour said she’s seen the largest increase of female farmers trying to buy farms over the last five years. Maine’s office has granted over half the direct loans for ownership to women in that time period, according to Dufour.
“More women are buying farms than ever before,” she said.
Most of the increase has been in coastal and central Maine with mostly vegetable farms, Dufour said, similar to Perry’s operation.
When picking vegetables in the summer, Kenya and her sibling make bets of whether they can get full on the harvested veggies, an easy challenge, she said.
“I love getting my hands in the soil, the dirt. It’s really meditating and relaxing,” Kenya said.
Sage said her favorite part of working on a farm is feeding their 38-year-old, nearly blind pony, Lady Bug.
With the easement, the farm will continue to be a farm even if Perry and her kids someday decide to stop.
“I never felt like an owner of the farm, always a keeper, to make it safe,” Perry said. “The farm is its own life force; and we are here and keeping it safe and enjoying the benefits and making a life out of it. Long after I’m gone this farm will continue to live.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663 email@example.com
By Dennis Hoey firstname.lastname@example.org
Carlton and Ann Comstock bought their 97.9-acre farm in 1965, when there was plenty of open space in western Scarborough.
But now, as their son Chris wants to take over the family’s small cattle farm, the land is much more valuable for house lots.
“We bought that farm because it was on a dead-end road and we wanted to raise our family there,” said Carlton Comstock, who is now retired. “Just drive around and look at all the housing developments that have sprung up.”
Comstock Farm will remain farmland forever under a land conservation deal approved last week by the Scarborough Town Council. Councilors voted to spend $270,000 for a conservation easement that establishes public access across the farmland and ensures that the woods and fields will never be developed for housing.
For Scarborough, it’s another piece of open space preserved by a voter-approved conservation fund. For Chris Comstock and his family, it means another generation will get to raise cattle in Scarborough.
“This is a great opportunity. The farms are disappearing,” Chris Comstock said.
The funds will be drawn from the town’s Land Acquisition Reserve Fund and paid to the farm’s owners, according to Nina Young, who helped broker the deal on behalf of Maine Farmland Trust, an organization based in Belfast. With funding secured, the deal is expected to close in the coming months.
Young said the agreement will allow Carlton and Ann Comstock to sell the farm at 22 Berry Road to 45-year-old Chris Comstock, who plans to invest in the operation and add to the cattle herd.
Without the town’s involvement, the land could have been sold for development for more than $600,000, according to Town Manager Thomas Hall.
Placing an agricultural conservation easement on 90 acres of the property means the Comstocks’ right to develop the land for housing will be permanently extinguished. Maine Farmland Trust will hold the conservation easement on the farm.
The plan also calls for creation of a public walking trail on the farm’s lower field. That trail will connect to the adjacent Grondin property — currently used for gravel and sand extraction — which will eventually be developed as a public park.
The Comstock Farm is an important parcel because it abuts land along the Nonesuch River — one of the major rivers that flow into the Scarborough Marsh ecosystem, according to Suzanne A. Foley-Ferguson, chairwoman of the Scarborough Parks and Conservation Land Board.
“This project has a definite wow factor since its location provides an incredible opportunity to add value to (more than 500 acres) of land already permanently or partially protected,” Foley-Ferguson wrote in a letter of support to the Town Council.
“Today’s reality is that Maine’s farmers are aging and the cost of land for younger farmers is a huge impediment to starting or keeping land in farmland and not selling it for development,” she added.
Since 2000, Scarborough residents have voted in multiple referendums to authorize more than $5 million in land bonds. The fund will have more than $1 million left for future conservation deals after the Comstock Farm deal is completed, the town manager said.
Chris Comstock, who was the youngest of five children and grew up on the farm, is now raising the herd of nine beef cattle, mostly Hereford and Angus.
“Right now it’s a hobby,” he said. The beef feeds the family, but the operation is too small to support beef sales.
“Hopefully in the near future it can be a money producer. That would be so wonderful,” he said.
Comstock works full time in marine construction at Fore River Dock and Dredge in South Portland to support the farm.
He plans to improve the fields to support more cattle. He needs about 20 to 25 head before he can start selling the beef.
“I’d like to be able to have a farm stand where I can sell the beef. That takes a little more to get into. Meat has to be inspected by the state when it’s slaughtered,” he said.
Meanwhile, Comstock said he and his parents are happy that the land will remain a farm — and stay in the family.
“I grew up with farms on both sides of us. Right now there are developments on both sides of it, so it’s important to keep it as farm,” Chris Comstock said. “It’s our family homestead.”
Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this story.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:
Contact: Eileen Mielenhausen, (207) 374-5118 or Richard Boulet, (207) 374-5515
Where: Blue Hill Public Library
When: Thursday, March 21st, 7:00 PM
Cost: Admission is Free
Calendar listing: IS FARMING THE KEY TO MAINE’S FUTURE?: talk and discussion with John Piotti, Maine Farmland Trust, Thurs. Mar. 21, 7:00 pm, Blue Hill Public Library. Info: 374-5515.
Join Maine Farmland Trust’s Executive Director, John Piotti, for a lively presentation and discussion about the state of farming and how—if we are smart about it—farming can become the centerpiece of a sustainable future for Maine.
Piotti will present “The Future of Farming and Value of Protecting Farmland” on Thursday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Howard Room of the Blue Hill Public Library. This talk is co-sponsored by the library and Blue Hill Heritage Trust and is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Karen Wyatt at the library, 374-5155 ext. 10.
John Piotti has been at the fore of agriculture issues in Maine for over 17 years. In 1995, he created and then managed the Maine Farms Project for Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI). He participated in the Millennium Commission on Hunger & Food Security, Maine’s Farm Vitality Task Force, and the Governor’s Dairy Task Force. He also served in the Maine Legislature, where he chaired the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Beyond Maine, he has served as chair of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) and a director of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. In 2005, John was one of only eight Americans awarded a prestigious Eisenhower Fellowship; he studied European models that use agriculture to advance sustainable community development.
Maine Farmland Trust is a statewide nonprofit devoted to farmland protection. Its budget is primarily funded by individual donors and members. For more information, visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org.
Blue Hill Heritage Trust (BHHT) has helped conserve over 2,000 acres of farmland on the peninsula, including 18 agricultural easements. BHHT is a community-based, membership-supported, accredited nonprofit land conservation organization founded by local residents in 1985 to help conserve land resources on the Blue Hill Peninsula that have special scenic, recreational, ecological, agricultural or cultural significance. For more information about the Trust, stop by their office at 258 Mountain Road, Blue Hill, call 374-5118, or visit www.bluehillheritagetrust.org.