Maine Farmland Trust, a statewide organization that protects agricultural land, celebrated its 20th anniversary at Growing Together, a party Oct. 3 at Broadturn Farm in Scarborough.

“Maine Farmland Trust was founded on the belief that farms are foundational to our future,” said board president Bill Toomey, who spent the summer visiting with farmers around the state. “The majority of Maine farmers are reaching the age of retirement, and many don’t have anyone working alongside them to take over the farm. We’re working to be sure that farmland stays in farming and the land stays accessible and affordable.”

Since 1999, Maine Farmland Trust has protected 60,000 acres of working farmland from being sold for housing or commercial development.

“We’re losing farmland, and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said board chair Taylor Mudge. “Turn it into house lots and big box stores, and that’s the end of it.”

Board member Jon Olson of Mount Vernon explained the solution, “A lot of farmers near retirement age sell their easement to Maine Farmland Trust.”

“We hold the easement, which is a legal thing to say ‘this land cannot be developed,’ ” said board member Bill Bell of Saco. “We’re keeping farmland as farmland.”

“Access to farmland is the first project for any young farmer who wants to be an entrepreneur,” said Stacy Brenner, who co-founded Broadturn Farm with her husband, John Bliss. “Maine Farmland Trust helped us find this property through their FarmLink program in 2005.”

Agricultural easements make it more affordable for younger couples – like Dave Asmussen and Meredith Eilers of Blue Bell Farm in Bowdoinham – to buy farmland.

“I believe really strongly in local food and providing opportunities for small farmers to have sustainable businesses,” said Eilers, who serves on the Maine Farmland Trust board in addition to growing organic vegetables.

On the other side of this equation are older farmers, like 76-year-old Susan Morris, who has grown organic blueberries in Waldoboro for 49 summers and counting.

“I love farming,” said Morris, who was one of the original board members of Maine Farmland Trust. “The only thing I want to do before I die is put an easement on my farm.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].

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