Progress continues in the long-running campaign to preserve Randall Orchards in Standish and associated timberland in Gorham. Nearly 500 acres are likely to be preserved and protected from development, continuing the traditions of local farming and working forests.

On Sept. 17, Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, the Gorham-based group drafting the conservation easement, held their annual meeting at the orchard. Walks and tractor rides of the property were conducted and many local citizens learned about the status of the land.

“Dick Randall spoke to folks about why he wanted to preserve the land,” Land trust President Richard Curtis said. “Everyone got a good sense of what the orchard is all about; it was a beautiful day.”

The farm, which dates to the late 1700s, has been in the Randall family for a little over 100 years. Originally a mixed-use operation, Edgar Randall, Dick’s grandfather, bought the property in 1906. Dick’s father, Rufus, operated a milk, butter and egg route, going into Portland each day to sell his products until, and just after, WWII. But continuing with dairy products became problematic. The farm has always had apples, but Dick’s father increased the orchard significantly upon switching from dairy.

While an easement will be purchased on 297 acres, Randall is donating another easement on 185 acres. The easements will be written into his deed; Randall is not selling any of the land.

“My mission is so the land can’t be developed,” Randall said. “I don’t want a lot of restrictions; a future farmer needs options in order to be successful. I don’t know who’s going to own this land 100 years from now. “

Currently focused on apples, the farm is the last commercial-scale farming operation left in Standish. Randall said there were a dozen apple orchards in Standish before the Great Depression. Because of its sizable acreage and status as an operating farm, the Randall effort will be receiving funds from the Land for Maine’s Future Program as well as the USDA Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program.

“It had the highest rating of all the farm projects that applied,” said Don Marean, chairperson of Land for Maine’s Future Board.

Though the LMF money has been approved, there are still conditions PRLT is finalizing in order for the project to receive state support. Many transaction details, including a comprehensive survey, appraisal, title work, baseline documentation, environmental assessment and project management, to name a few, are currently underway. Individual, business and foundation donations have been raised to cover much of these costs, but PRLT is still actively seeking support.

“We have about $30,000 left to raise,” Curtis said. “We’ve applied for some grants. If we get that money, then we’ll be in good shape. But if we don’t, we’ll have to go back to the public. I feel confident we’ll be successful; we’re so far along. I can’t imagine we’re not going to make it.

Curtis said a terrific boost of early fund-raising came from the Town of Gorham, which allocated $20,000 from its open space fund towards the mission.

The Randall project, which began in 2009 and will likely take another year to finalize, is by far the largest conservation deal PRLT has been involved with. Maine Farmland Trust, based in Belfast, partnered early on and continues to advise and support the effort.

“It has a lot of potential because of its location,” said Stacey Gambrel, MFT land projects coordinator. “It’s in the heart of Southern Maine, very close to markets in Portland.”

Because of this proximity to the state’s major population center, Dale Rines, PRLT and Gorham Conservation Commission member, said the project is important not only for preserving the area’s rural character, but also in terms of so-called “food security.” Many who follow modern agriculture recognize the public’s vulnerability should transportation sectors suffer interruptions in providing food.

“Good soils are scarce,” Rines said. “In Maine, unfortunately, we tend to build buildings on them without necessarily realizing we need to keep these productive soils for food.”

For more information on the Randall Orchards campaign, including how to support the effort, visit www.prlt.org. Or call 892-8605.