A large land conservation effort is afoot in the Lakes Region at the well-known Randall Orchards in Standish.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, with the help of the Maine Farmland Trust, recently submitted a Land for Maine’s Future grant application to protect the 500-acre block.

Recession or not, 500 acres of farmland just minutes from Portland is a highly coveted thing in today’s market. But rather than sell, proprietor Dick Randall is trying to save one of the last commercial farming operations in his hometown.

For many years, Randall conducted aerial advertising and saw parcels all over southern Maine get developed. “It’s gotten downright scary,” said Randall, 71. “It’s not going to be too many years before there isn’t anything of any scale left.”

About a year ago, Randall contacted the Maine Farmland Trust, an independent statewide nonprofit in Belfast that’s protected some 18,000 acres since forming in 1999. The Randall property would be the largest parcel that MFT has been involved with in southern Maine.

Based in Gorham, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust is a group eagerly stretching its wings for the project. PRLT wants to be the easement holder and is glad to have its first chance to work with an active commercial farmer toward its goals of resource protection.

“This type of conservation opportunity doesn’t come along very frequently,” said Will Plumley, PRLT vice president and co-chairman of the Randall Orchard Protection Campaign Steering Committee. “We look forward to residents of Standish and surrounding communities helping us succeed in this effort.”

The final piece of the puzzle, the Land for Maine’s Future bond, Question 3 on next week’s ballot, is an especially timely element — something everyone involved hopes comes to fruition.

“Randall’s is an amazing property,” said Stacey Gambrel, a land projects staffer at MFT. “It’s on a stretch of road that’s basically become strip malls; it’s highly developed. But when you drive down Randall’s long driveway with the trees overhanging and stone walls, it’s like an oasis. If you look at the tax maps, you see the fragmentation of development and house lots all around him.”

Thirty years ago, Randall assumed orchard operations from his father. He still sleeps in the same 1776 home, in the very room he was born in. First with vegetables and then dairy, the Randalls began their lineage here in 1906.

Making a go in agriculture is certainly a struggle for the modern farmer. Unknowns, something businesses cringe over, such as foreign competition, weather, blight, disease, and ever-changing health, labor and insurance regulations, can make the allure of cashing in on your land holdings pretty tempting. But many involved in these generational, long-standing operations feel a sense of duty to continue. Despite this year’s poor apple crop, Randall is no exception in feeling that sense of responsibility.

“I could have retired the week after my father died,” Randall said. “I could have squandered the property for anything I could get. But that’s not what I wanted and that’s not what I’m going to do. I want to leave something behind that people will enjoy.”

This includes activities such as apple picking, cross-country skiing, walking trails and mountain biking, as well as farming. MFT sees the latter as a prime opportunity for young farmers catering to niche markets.

“Southern Maine is a great place for diverse vegetable farms,” Gambrel said. “There’s a large population concentration looking for local food. It’s where young farmers want to be.”

Next week’s ballot question, Question 3, will likely determine the next course of action for Randall. In the meantime, MFT and PRLT are busy getting everything together. “Projects of this magnitude are very expensive,” Gambrel said. “In addition to the Land for Maine’s Future program, we’re also seeking funds from a matching federal program.”

Surveys, appraisals and an environmental site assessment, totaling some $25,000, are costs PRLT is actively campaigning for. If you’d like to help or find out more, visit PRLT’s website at www.prlt.org.