Tag Archives: Maine

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.

A chance to join Allagash Brewing for dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm!

Our friends (and MFT business members!) at Allagash Brewing Company are gearing up for A Week in Maine, an entire week dedicated to celebrating our home state, capped with a grand finale farm dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm on August 10th. Food for the farm feast is being donated and prepared by Big Tree Hospitality (also one of our business members), the culinary wizards behind three of Portland’s most well-respected restaurants: Hugo’s, The Honey Paw, and Eventide. The dinner will feature four courses, each containing fresh produce from Bumbleroot Farm, and you can bet each course will be amazing. Various Allagash beers will be available to sample.

MFT protected Bumbleroot Organic Farm in 2015, and the agricultural easement made it possible for young farmers Melissa, Ben, Jeff, and Abby to purchase the property and grow a thriving farm business! The dinner will celebrate the work that we do together to protect farmland and support farmers in Maine.

Here’s the most exciting part: We’d like you to join us! Submit a photo of your favorite Maine farm by Tuesday, August 7, 2018 and we’ll enter your name into a drawing for a pair of seats at the dinner on August 10th.

How it works:

  1. Post a photo of your favorite Maine farm on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
  2. Include the hashtag #aweekinmaine and tag @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing in the caption.
  3. We’ll share some of your photos as we go, and will pick several lucky winners at random on August 7! 

FAQ & Rules

How do I enter?

There are several ways to participate in the drawing. You can post your photo on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) use the the hashtag #aweekinmaine and tag @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing in the caption.

The contest will run from July 27 through August 7.

How do I win? And what happens if I’m chosen?

Winners will be picked at random on August 7. Winners and their guest will be invited to attend a special farm dinner at Bumbleroot Organic Farm in Windham on August 10. If you are picked and are not able to attend we will draw another name.

What will you do with my photos?

This drawing is about sharing your love for Maine farms and highlighting the importance of farmland protection. Thank you for supporting MFT’s mission! Your photos may be used by MFT to increase awareness of the organization and its work. Please read the following Terms and Conditions for more information and please make sure that you have the permission of the farm’s owner to take and submit your photo.

Terms and Conditions

The submitted photographs are called “Content.” By tagging Content created at or associated with MFT with #lovemainefarms2018 through social media or by emailing your photos to MFT, Content creators give MFT the right and permission to publish, republish, or otherwise use Content with or without edits and grant to MFT worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free rights and license to use the Content in media including but not limited to websites, video material, print advertising, online advertising, and collateral and other printed material.

By submitting Content, all Content creators represent and warrant that they own or have all necessary rights, licenses, and permissions to publish and share the Content, and that the Content does not contain third party copyrighted materials or materials that are otherwise subject to third party ownership of rights in any way.

Submitted content may or may not be included in the campaign at the sole discretion of MFT, and MFT reserves the right not to publish any image for any reason.

Should any Content provider wish for submitted Content not to be shared or to be withdrawn from the drawing, they may send this request to ellen@mainefarmlandtrust.org and remove the #aweekinmaine and @mainefarms and @allagashbrewing tags from their Content on social media.

Additional Rules

By participating in the drawing, you (i) agree to be bound by these official rules, including all eligibility requirements, and (ii) agree to be bound by the decisions of the drawing organizers, which are final and binding in all matters relating to the drawing. Failure to comply with these official rules may result in disqualification from the drawing.

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

Over $2 million in federal funds to support comprehensive conservation of farmland and marsh habitat

Farms are often the largest remaining blocks of undeveloped land in Maine’s coastal communities, and they often contain significant wildlife habitat. But development pressure in coastal communities is the highest in the state, and farmland and marsh habitat are disappearing rapidly. A new project led by Maine Farmland Trust (MFT) and Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) in partnership with Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS), The Nature Conservancy, Downeast Salmon Federation and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, will protect farmland that is adjacent to high value tidal marshes in Maine’s coastal plain, and mark a comprehensive effort to conserve Maine’s marshes.

NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program awarded $1,440,000 to MFT and partners for a project called “Conserving Farmland and Marsh Habitat in Maine.” The project aims to conserve both Maine farms and their associated high-value wetlands.

“Maine Farmland Trust’s focus is to protect farmland with agricultural easements, but agricultural easements on their own do not address other threats to tidal marshes that may occur on farm properties,” said Erica Buswell, MFT’s Vice President of Programs. “Working with our partners on this project will enable us to enhance the value of agricultural easements as a tool for conserving marsh habitat by combining farmland protection with specific conservation practices.”

Project partners will seek to protect agricultural resources and habitat for fish and wildlife and will work with farmers to identify resource concerns and the conservation practices to support the health of marsh habitat on their farms through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The partnership piece of this project is particularly exciting,” said Buswell. “Each partner organization will be working to accomplish its individual conservation objectives, while also contributing to broad, statewide conservation goals. We understand that by remaining singularly focused on our own missions and work, we sometimes miss opportunities to achieve bigger resource conservation impacts that are possible with more intentional, coordinated collaborations like this one.”

Throughout the northeast, farmland accounts for a significant portion of undeveloped land adjacent to tidal marshes that is not already in conservation; among New England states, Maine has the greatest number of agricultural parcels near tidal marshes. Protecting farmland as an upland buffer is crucial to protecting the diverse marsh habitat that so many plants and animal species rely upon.

MFT and MCHT are also the recipients of a related $600,000 Regional Conservation Partnership Program award to protect a specific cluster of farms on the shores of Little Kennebec Bay in Washington County.

“This partnership is part of a coast-wide initiative to protect Maine’s threatened coastal marshes,” said Betsy Ham, Land Protection Director at MCHT. “How and where farming is conducted not only affects the long-term sustainability of a farm property but also affects the health of the marshes associated with that farm and in turn impacts the harvest of fish and shellfish nearby. This partnership will help us ensure that coastal farms, fisheries, and wildlife habitat can continue to coexist and thrive long into the future”

Maine Farmland Trust and partners will use the Regional Conservation Partnership Program awards to fund related farmland protection projects for the next four years, directing over $2 million to owners of coastal farmland.

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

More farmland protected as 2017 comes to a close

In the final weeks of 2017, MFT worked with farmers to protect six more Maine farm properties with agricultural easements:

MFT worked with the farmers at Ecko Farms of Corinna and St. Albans to protect the Cooley Property. The farm property is used to produce hay and corn for Ecko Farms’ large dairy operation and MFT hopes to work with these farmers in the future to protect an additional piece of their large land base.

Young dairy farmers Conor MacDonald and Alexis Gareau closed on a second easement to complete the purchase of Bo Lait Farm in Washington. Bo Lait ships organic milk to Organic Valley. In this tough climate for dairy farming, we are so proud of Alexis and Conor, who have built their herd from 12 to 40 cows in three years! Conor and Alexis got into farming after Conor finished serving 10 years in the US Army, traveling all over the world. Now he’s happy to be rooted in one place and farming: “MFT has done so much for us, and we wouldn’t be milking cows if it wasn’t for MFT.”

Steven and Shannon Lion closed on an easement to protect their 374-acre Sunkhaze Wild Blueberry Farm on Horseback Road in Township 23, Middle Division, in Hancock County. The Lions sell berries to Wyman’s and Bartlett Winery, and hand-rake some for fresh pack sales. Their farm sits at the headwaters of the Sunkhaze Stream. MFT has been working on this project for several years, and everyone is so happy this special piece of farmland will be protected for the future.

MFT and Coastal Mountains Land Trust worked together to craft a multi-purpose easement for the Metcalf-Ferguson farm property in Northport. The easement protects the opportunity for agriculture and forestry as well as the wildlife habitats, ecology, scenic views from public vantage points, and water quality in Knight Pond and the Ducktrap River watershed. The Metcalf family donated the easement, fulfilling the vision of the late matriarchs to conserve the family farm. (Aerial photo by Jacob Gerritsen).

Dan Curran closed on an easement to protect another 166 acres of Curran Farm in Sabattus. This was MFT’s second easement project with Dan and he’s such a great advocate for farmland protection, which he says is important because “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t eat. Maybe this will help some people stop and think about what they can do to support Maine farmers.”

Denise Carpenter closed on an easement to protect 231-acre Chellis Brook Farm in Newfield. Over the years Denise stitched together three old farm properties and restored the pastures for her cattle operation. The easement will ensure that her work to bring back the agricultural viability of the land will not be reversed in the future.

Our work to protect farmland is made possible by our members and supporters. You can pitch in to help ensure a future for farming in Maine by becoming a member or donating HERE

Young Dairy Farmers: Bo Lait

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 who are 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.

While their decision to become dairy farmers was relatively easy, being dairy farmers is anything but. Without a background in dairy farming, their learning curve has been steep, and making it work is a constant challenge. “There’s so much to know when you’re running a farm. You’re a vet, plumber, carpenter, accountant, manager, electrician, mechanic… the list goes on. Most dairy farmers we know still claim to have only learned the tip of the iceberg, even with decades of experience under their belts. It’s no exaggeration to say we learn something new everyday, whether we want to or not.”

Luckily, Conor is no stranger to intense work, and feels uniquely equipped to take on the challenge. He says his experience in the Special Forces set the standard for the type of work ethic and drive necessary to start a farm from the ground up. “The biggest challenge is finding enough hours in the day to get things done,” said Conor. “Also prioritizing work and realizing that the biggest “fires” are the most important to put out first. Managing cash flow is also a big challenge on a dairy because the expenses are very high and the margins are small.”

Conor and Alexis sell their certified organic fluid milk to Organic Valley, a cooperative based in Wisconsin. “We were very lucky in that Organic Valley was looking to add new farms at the time we started, so we were able to sign our contract with them 6 months prior to our first shipment date.”

Right now they’re milking 38 of their 46 cows. “We’ve grown quite a bit over the last year and we think we’ll stay put at this herd size for a while. It feels manageable without being too crazy.” Their milk pool manager at Organic Valley has been a great resource for them as they’ve grown, and a great advocate as well.

The support network they’ve grown around them helps to temper the challenges  running a dairy farm, and the MacDonalds are thankful for the many people that pitch in, in all kinds of ways: “Between our co-op, other local farmers, family, friends and our wonderful, PATIENT neighbors who come over with a smile when the heifers have gotten out again,” said Conor, “I don’t think we could ask for more.”

Land in Transition: Growing Access for Veterans

Dina-Lee Ford walks her land, describing dreams for the future; dreams she’s quite literally planting in multiple acres of rich soil she can now call her own.  A Master Gardener and disabled veteran who served in the Air Force, Dina-Lee, and her partner Stephen Fleck, are finally realizing their dreams of farming in their hometown of Troy, Maine.

For years, Dina-Lee drove by this particular farm on the Bangor Road, and watched it come on the market several times. She always admired the house, the gigantic barn, and the lay of the land, but it was never quite the right time, or the right price. “Not right now,” Dina-Lee said to herself, every time she saw another “For Sale” sign crop up.

But one day in 2015, the farm came on the market again, and it was the right time for Dina and Stephen. With the help of some savings and an easement from Maine Farmland Trust, they could finally afford the 35-acre property.

Dina-Lee struggles with chronic pain, but as we walked the fields, she said that she plans to farm here no matter what, in spite of the stretches of time when she can hardly move. She told Stephen that she would farm in a wheelchair if she had to, that’s how much she loves this land and the plans they have for it. As a potential silver lining, the benefits that Dina receives as a veteran have gone a long way in helping to create a new farm business. Coupled with the funds from the purchased easement through MFT, Bit by Bit is starting off on solid ground, and is a model for aspiring farmer-veterans struggling to access farmland.
Erica Buswell, MFT’s Farmland Access Program Manager, sees “a lot of potential to use easement purchases at the time of a farm acquisition to help farmer-veterans make the most of their military benefits as they purchase a farm.”

“I see the farmers that FVC works with drawing on their identities as military veterans to create strong networks of support and mentoring among themselves.” Erica Buswell

Dina-Lee is just one of a growing number of farmer-veterans who are looking farm in Maine, thanks in large part to the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Maine, a chapter of a robust national network. Erica Buswell sees the Farmer Veteran Coaltion as a powerful force, “drawing on the deeply ingrained senses of community and connection within a military culture to create and inspire new ties of community and connection within agriculture. I see the farmers that FVC works with drawing on their identities as military veterans to create strong networks of support and mentoring among themselves,” she said. “That kind of organic, community-minded support has the ability to really kick-start the growth and development of new, veteran-owned farm businesses, and energize the growth and development of new farm businesses.

When we consider that so much farmland in Maine will begin to transition over the next decade, it becomes clear that the FVC has a huge role to play in ensuring that land stays in farming. Much of the land in transition may be owned by military veterans, who would love to transfer their farmland to the next generation of military farmers. This is an incredible opportunity to help ensure that Maine’s farmland will remain available and productive into the future by drawing on that military culture of community and mutual support. Veterans like Dina Lee are working hard to connect the incoming wave of farmer-veterans to farmland and support services, and our whole state has an incredible amount to benefit from this effort.

Meet Your Farmers: Villageside Farm

Photos and text by Jenny Nelson

Polly Shyka and Prentice Grassi (and their three young boys) own and operate Villageside Farm in Freedom, Maine. They grow certified organic seedlings, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, as well as raising laying hens and meat chickens. They sell their products through a CSA, to retailers, and Unity Food Hub. I visited Villageside a couple weeks ago, as they were getting ready for their first seedling sale of the season, and we talked about their approach to farming, and what it means to be part of the farm community in Waldo County. 

On working with UFH, Polly said, “We really enjoy the clarity of communication, mutually beneficial marketing and solid professionalism. We are excited to see how UFH’s mission and work in the farming sector expands and grows in the years to come.” 

Villageside uses sustainable growing practices, and they’re certified organic through MOFGA. Polly said they chose organic because, “Organic agriculture is food production, an ancient craft, in service to life processes. Organic farmers work with nature, rather than against nature. We feed the soil microbiology, protect our crops with physical rather than chemical barriers and strive to steward the land  for the next generation. We want to be a part of the necessary return to original, regenerative and respectful agriculture.”

“The best part of raising our boys on the farm is being able to show them the gifts of the natural world. Our boys are in daily contact with feelings of reciprocity, loss, emergence and creativity. They also have ready access to tractor mechanics, bookkeeping, whole foods eating, soil stewardship and animal husbandry. After dinner last night, our middle son asked if one of us would go look for spring peepers. On the walk back, he said, quietly and kind of to himself, “I love being outside.” That about sums it up.” 

Polly and Prentice train 3-5 aspiring farmers each year and love seeding the next generation of farmers. There is a wonderful young energy here, lots of laughter, cooperation, and a laid back vibe, although everyone is always busy.

By raising their family on the farm, training new farmers, growing food for their neighbors and for start-ups like Unity Food Hub, Polly and Prentice are investing in their community, and perpetuating the future that they want to see.

“We support local businesses and craftspeople whenever possible. We love the vibrancy of Waldo County, however small and rural it is in the scheme of things.”

Veggies For All Onion Transplant

photos by Jenny Nelson, text by Sara Trunzo
Spring in Maine is sometimes colder and actually involves more “gathering up” than Fall harvest time. This time of year at Veggies For All, we amass our stock of seeds (thanks, Fedco!), soils, materials, and tools- like other small farms. We call and email our volunteers to rally them for the many transplanting tasks ahead. Our crew members and volunteers lumber out into the fields, not yet limber from gardening or swimming or hiking. We all stand at the weedless field’s edge, zipping our jackets up to our chins.   

Veggies For All (VFA) is food bank farm located in Unity, Maine that works to relieve hunger by growing vegetables for those in need, while collaborating with partners to distribute and increase access to quality and nutritious food.  Founded in 2007 by beginning farmers, VFA is a project of Maine Farmland Trust that has grown and distributed 130,000 pounds of fresh produce to 1,500 people utilizing food pantries in the greater Unity area.

We ask volunteers planting the onions to be sure the delicate roots are completely covered in soil and to make a shallow “well” at the base of each plant. Yes, the slight impression we make with our fingers does catch rain water that helps keep the plant hydrated. But, we also like to think of this step as a little blessing, an extra connection between the transplanter and the transplanted. Volunteers, even very young ones or those who do it differently in their home gardens, are eager to please.

Each year, VFA grows nearly 10,000 onions for eventual distribution to Mainers facing food insecurity. The task of growing and transplanting these onions is not just a sensitive agricultural task, but an apt metaphor for organizing in community, because we aim to pull in many hands at just the right moments. We enlist skilled staff to seed and closely manage the onions through the early Spring, with our student workers supporting the effort by watering, monitoring, trimming, and thinning. Our farm manager cultivates a well-amended field at the proper place in the crop rotation, forming tidy beds. Untrained youth volunteers and longtime gardeners alike step into the field, tiny onion seedlings in hand, to get instruction on just where and just how to “plug them in” to our neat, vast grid.

In a couple months, these slight wisps of green will turn into hearty yellow, white, and purple bulbs to be gathered in heavy black crates. Our small truck beds will overflow with onions on their way to be laid out, cured, and trimmed in the greenhouse before Winter storage. If weather and whim cooperate and if we do our job properly, the crop will make its way to 1,500 of our neighbors utilizing local food pantries.  They’ll sit on kitchen tables, crowd cabinets, and sizzle in sauce pans across central Maine. We can smell it already.   

Three Land Trusts Work Together to Expand Rockport Preserve

(Rockport)–As 2014 wound to a close, three Maine land trusts conducted two land transfers to create one bigger and better preserve. First, the Nature Conservancy in Maine (TNC) transferred its Simonton Corner Quarry Preserve to Coastal Mountains Land Trust. Subsequently, Maine Farmland Trust transferred an adjoining property to the Land Trust. Known locally as the Maple Grove, this six acres has been added to the original preserve.

Conservation of the Simonton Corner Quarry Preserve was initially proposed in the late 1960s by A.H. Chatfield, Jr. of the Chatfield family that conserved Rockport’s Aldermere Farm. It became a TNC preserve in 1972. The 19.5-acre property comprises most of three quarries, including Eells Quarry which is 180 feet deep at its deepest point. Spanning either side of North Main Street, it features frontage on the Goose River. The historic quarries once played a key role in Rockport’s lime-quarrying past, with a train running from the open pits to the kilns on Rockport Harbor. This industrial history is still visible, if softened by the growth of surrounding forest in the many decades since.

As the local land trust, Coastal Mountains Land Trust has been overseeing the preserve’s stewardship for many years, so the ownership transfer won’t change its general management.

“Coastal Mountains Land Trust has done a great job of helping us steward Simonton Corner Quarry over the past 15 years,” affirmed Nancy Sferra, Director of Stewardship and Ecological Management for TNC. “We’re pleased to transfer ownership of the preserve to be used for the Land Trust’s ongoing conservation programs.”

The Maple Grove addition, which was part of a larger farm property recently purchased by Maine Farmland Trust, contains a portion of the back quarry and will thus enable the Land Trust to improve public access to the area.

“Transfer of this property to Coastal Mountains Land Trust is one important piece of a plan to preserve agricultural land and open space associated with the conservation of the former Spear Farm in Camden and Rockport,” said Adam Bishop, Project Manager for Maine Farmland Trust. “The Land Trust just made sense as the logical owner for this part of the property. Their ownership will allow for the preservation of an important historical resource, the quarries, while at the same time enabling continued management of the property’s sugar bush.”

The Nature Conservancy conserves land world-wide, and has protected over a million acres in Maine, including more than 75 preserves. For more information, please visit www.nature.org.

Maine Farmland Trust, a state-wide organization based in Belfast, works to protect farmland, and to keep farming in Maine viable and vital. For more information, please visit www.mainefarmlandtrust.org or call (207) 338-6575.

Coastal Mountains Land Trust has worked to permanently preserve land to benefit the natural and human communities of the western Penobscot Bay region, conserving more than 9,700 acres since 1986. With the addition of the Simonton Corner Quarry Preserve, the Land Trust now has 26 preserves, all open to the public for low-impact recreation. For more information, please visit the Land Trust website at www.coastalmountains.org or call (207) 236-7091