May 12, 2012

Turning over a new lease on a farm

Stacy Brenner hopes her family's deal with Scarborough Land Trust can serve as a model.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Stacy Brenner says she wouldn't know what to do with her time if she weren't farming.

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John Bliss and his daughter, Flora, 5, plant peas in a field leased from the Scarborough Land Trust. He covers up most of the planted peas with a wheel hoe and she follows up to make sure they are all covered.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Maggie Akstin, a farmworker with Broadturn Farm, turns over compost using a front-end loader. The farm is permanently protected by an agricultural conservation easement held by Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.

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She won't have to wonder anymore. She and her husband, John Bliss, have leased Broadturn Farm from the Scarborough Land Trust for the next 30 years.

The lease makes it possible for the first-generation farmers to sustain their business, and it could serve as a model for other land trusts and farmers, Brenner said Friday. One of the biggest challenges for new farmers is finding land that is accessible and affordable.

"The lease allows us to have an affordable place to run our business," Brenner said. "We want to see this model repeated as a way to make farm business viable. It really allows for farm business to thrive."

Bliss and Brenner will lease 275 acres of the 434-acre property formerly known as the Keith Meserve Farm. The land trust will build a network of trails on the remaining 159 acres.

The land trust bought the property in 2004 in a partnership with private donors, the town, the Trust for Public Land, the Land for Maine's Future program, and the state and federal departments of agriculture. Scarborough contributed money for the purchase through its land bond program, approved by voters.

Broadturn Farm is permanently protected by an agricultural conservation easement held by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.

Neither Bliss nor Jack Anderson, president of the land trust board, would disclose the financial terms of the lease, but they said it stipulates that the family and the trust will contribute to maintenance of the buildings.

Anderson said the property -- which includes fields, woods and an assortment of buildings -- has great soil and preserves the town's farming tradition and open space.

"It was felt from the beginning it would be good to have it farmed," he said.

The land trust selected Brenner and Bliss in 2006 to farm the land after the previous farmer left.

Since moving to Broadturn from a rented farm in Cape Elizabeth, Brenner and Bliss have expanded their community-supported agriculture program from 17 to 150 members. They also run a farm store, host weddings and offer programs as a way to give back to the community.

"They've clearly set out to make this their career," Anderson said. "They wanted and needed the security of a long-term arrangement."

Anderson said the land trust was comfortable with entering into a long-term lease because it can revisit the arrangement later and all parties involved will help choose a successor when the Brenner-Bliss family decides to move on.

"What we really want to see is the legacy of our work to continue," Brenner said. "The best way to do that is preserve farmland."

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

 

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