“They made me see that the world was beautiful if you were beautiful, and that you couldn’t get unless you gave. And you had to give without wanting to get.”

T.H. White

KENNEBUNKPORT — Every week from his office at the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, Tom Bradbury takes a favorite quote and a photo of one of the trust’s preserves, and emails it to the group’s membership. It’s Bradbury’s way to connect with the volunteers, as he did with customers for decades while standing behind a deli counter at Bradbury Brothers Market.

In 1978 Bradbury was working at his family’s market in Cape Porpoise when the trust’s founders asked him to serve on their board. Bradbury was so taken with the conservation work the all-volunteer group was doing, he became its president the next year.

During the early years that Bradbury led the trust, his grocery store served as a meeting hall, with members sitting on milk crates. With its slanted floors, narrow aisles and antique post office, the market proved vital when Bradbury needed volunteers. When the store swelled with summer residents, Bradbury recruited them.

“People would come for their mail, have something to eat. I’d talk them into buying tickets to an event. I called it ‘meat-counter diplomacy,’ ” he said.

That first year as president, Bradbury got to work protecting one of the harbor’s islands that was in danger of being developed. He negotiated a purchase price of $100,000. The fact the trust had no money didn’t deter him. They’d figure that out later, Bradbury told the board.

“We couldn’t imagine Cape Island being something other than a place you can explore,” said Bradbury, 64. “We only had $16 in the bank. We asked to pay it off over five years. Then the concept of protecting these islands took hold. So we said, ‘Let’s protect the whole harbor.’ ”

For the next 36 years, Bradbury went about conserving parcels of land in Kennebunkport, as many as 93, using this get-it-done approach. The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust has protected 2,400 acres, raised $15.7 million for an endowment and a children’s educational program, and protected 15 miles of a forest trail that runs from farmland to the coast. And the 12 islands in Cape Porpoise harbor? They’re all protected.

So in 2005 when the board decided to build a headquarters and hire its first full-time executive director, Bradbury’s did the only thing he thought made sense. He sold his half of the family business and went to work protecting land full-time as the trust’s first paid employee.

“I never imagined doing this. It was a blessing, really,” Bradbury said.

To the members, the land now protected is a state treasure. For those like Jeani Reagan, 53, volunteering for the trust is a way to offer thanks.

“When I kayak in Cape Porpoise Harbor and paddle to these islands, it says to me they’re not just for rich people,” Reagan said. “Anyone can come here, everyday working families. I feel so lucky I live here.”