The Maine Farmland Trust’s new book, “From the Land: Maine Farms at Work,” serves several purposes very well.

First, Bridget Besaw’s photographs from seven Maine farms of very different types are stunningly beautiful, showing people and animals working and living on great Maine land. It is the kind of book you want to leave on the coffee table and look at a few minutes at a time.

The book also tells the story of the Maine Farmland Trust, which exists to preserve Maine farmland. Each of the farms in the book has a relationship with the trust, but the trust does not hold easements with all of them.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who studied under farming expert and author Eliot Coleman and once ran a small, 200-acre farm of her own when not in Washington, wrote the preface.

John Piotti, executive director of the Maine Farmland Trust, skillfully weaves the whole thing together, telling the story of each of the farms, farming in Maine and the work of the trust. We recently spoke with Piotti about the book. 

Q: How did this book come about?

A: The idea grew out of the photos. We had a need for the organization to do some basic photography to document some of the work we were doing on different farms. We engaged Bridget for that project, and had no idea that it would develop into something more extensive. We were really impressed with the quality of the photos, and that led to a showing. We have a small gallery at our headquarters, and we have shown the photos there and at a few other places, the Frontier at Brunswick and the statehouse. And that led to the idea of a book. It really was an evolution rather than a plan. 

Q: Looking at the photos, she had to spend a long time at each farm. The photos cover all the seasons, and it looks like she developed a relationship with the farmers.

A: She did. These were all farms that the Maine Farmland Trust has a relationship with. They trusted us and then trusted her. These were long photo sessions. She went back to some of them four or five times and took well over 2,000 photos. I guess that is what photographers do. I think that some of the farmers didn’t realize she would be there so many hours or so many days. 

Q: Have you written any other books? Are you a writer by trade?

A: This is my first book, but I write a lot, and it is something I pride myself with. I have spent most of my professional career running nonprofits, and it is imperative to get the word out and write grant requests. And it was my minor in college, so I enjoyed the opportunity to finally do it. 

Q: You said the trust had a relationship with all these farms, but all of them do not have their land protected by the trust. Was that intentional?

A: We chose farms that would demonstrate a variety of situations. We didn’t want all farms that had donated an easement. We showed farms that had received compensation for easements, who have done easements but not through us but with local land trusts, farms where we have helped them with good business planning and estate planning, and farms being preserved through Farmlink, getting young farmers involved in a farm.

We wanted to show a variety of ways that farmland can be protected and used. 

Q: Have you ever farmed, and are you from Maine?

A: I have been in Maine 24 years, but my family has roots here.

And I’ve never been a farmer. My real interest has been in community development, and I was working for Coastal Enterprises Inc. I was working on a comprehensive planning committee in Unity, where I live, and I was challenged by a local dairy farmer who told me I was always talking about what to do to help rural Maine thrive, but I know nothing about farming. That was the beginning of it 16 years ago. I started a farm program for Coastal Enterprises, and one thing led to another, and I was running a farm program.

I was one of the original founders of the Maine Farmland Trust 11 years ago, although I never intended to work there. But I was on a committee searching for an executive director and, in Maine tradition, while I was out of the room they decided to off the job to me. 

Q: Will there be another book?

A: There aren’t any plans at this time. But the Farmland Trust is interested as an organization of telling our story in any way possible.

Two talented filmmakers, as a part of that, have made eight short films that are being shown around the state.

From an organizational point of view, a lot of people ask us, “Why make books? Why do films?” We are trying to connect with people on multiple levels. We are trying to convince people that farming has a future in this state. Many people think farming is dying, but the truth is very different. There really has been robust growth in farming in recent years, and we want to educate people about that. 

Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at: [email protected]