CAPE ELIZABETH — Corn and hay fields spread across the brook-fed glen, where cattle graze and birds swoop to catch insects on warm summer evenings.

It’s an idyllic country setting, less than 3 miles as the crow flies from downtown Portland, Maine’s largest city. And soon it will be preserved forever as active farmland.

Maxwell Farm, 76 acres stretching between Sawyer and Spurwink roads, will be conserved in perpetuity under a pending agreement negotiated and funded by the Maine Farmland Trust and the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust.

It’s a deal that will prevent the property from being sold amid growing pressure for residential development in an affluent seaside community, and it will preserve farmland at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for local sustainable food sources.

When the agricultural conservation easement is finalized in November, it will be the largest and closest parcel of preserved farmland near Portland. It also will be the largest of three active farms preserved by the local land trust, which has launched a campaign to raise $1 million to help fund the deal to be announced Friday.

Maxwell Farm is where Nate Maxwell grew up, planting and harvesting vegetables with his late father, Kenneth Maxwell, a fifth-generation farmer. The son learned to operate heavy machinery sitting with his father on a 1964 Ford tractor that’s still on the farm.

“I loved the tractors,” Maxwell said plainly. “When I was 5 I was out in the field working. I learned just about everything I know on the farm.”

Now 67, Maxwell plans to retire in January from a full-time, seven-day work schedule that until recently didn’t allow for summer vacations. In the works for more than a decade, the deal with the land trusts will make it possible for him to slow down and keep the farm.

Nate Maxwell stands next to his father’s 1964 Ford tractor on his land in Cape Elizabeth on Thursday. He learned to operate heavy machinery sitting with his father on the tractor. “I loved the tractors,” he said. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I’m planning to retire from my paying job,” Maxwell said. “But really, this is strictly about preserving farmland.”

The land trusts will purchase the easement for $1.8 million, a figure based on recent appraisals that factored the farm’s potential development value against its value as a single buildable lot, said Charlie Baldwin, a project manager with Maine Farmland Trust.

The easement, which will be held by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, includes an “option to purchase at agricultural value.” That means if the property is ever sold, it must be for agriculture use or the trust may exercise an option to buy the farm at its agricultural value to ensure it remains accessible to farmers.

“I think he’s doing what he can to honor his father’s legacy,” Baldwin said of Maxwell. “He could make much more money selling (the farm) for other uses. It’s a big thing he’s doing and it speaks well of this family.”

Maine Farmland Trust is contributing $854,000 from an anonymous benefactor and the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust must raise the remaining $1 million, said Ted Darling, chairman of the Forever Cape campaign. A fundraising page featuring a video about Maxwell Farm is posted on the local land trust’s website.

Maxwell Farm will add to the local trust’s existing tally of 766 acres of preserved shore land, forests and farms, including 47 acres of Jordan’s Farm on Wells Road and 50 acres of The Old Farm Christmas tree operation on Sawyer Road.

“People are increasingly aware of local food sources and local food sustainability,” said Cindy Krum, executive director of the Cape land trust. “The farms of Cape Elizabeth have been extra busy this year because of the pandemic.”

A future for farming in Cape Elizabeth, from Maine Farmland Trust on Vimeo

The preservation agreement may allow Maxwell to slow down, but it’s hard to imagine him being semi-retired.

For 33 years, Maxwell and his wife, Kathy, operated the retail arm of his family’s farming operations, first at a farm store in Portland, then at a farm store on Spurwink Road that closed in 2006. The farm ceased growing vegetable crops soon after and his father died in 2012 at age 83.

Today, Maxwell cultivates hay on about 40 acres and his brother Dan grows corn on about 10 acres. Maxwell family members are involved in various farming operations in town, including Maxwell’s Farm strawberry fields on Two Lights and Bowery Beach roads.

Maxwell currently works full time for a trucking company, maintains the farm property, mows lawns in the summer and plows driveways in the winter. On Thursday, he drove a truck all day, then came home to a spend a couple hours mowing hay.

“I work seven days a week,” Maxwell said. “Coming home from work and working some more isn’t a lot of fun. I’m very optimistic that I’ll be able to slow down a little and enjoy the farm more.”

The hay Maxwell grows feeds 31 head of cattle being raised on the farm by a neighbor, Nick Tammaro, who runs a local landscaping company by day and works as a “hobby farmer” evenings and weekends.

Nick Tammaro, right, and Nate Maxwell walk on Maxwell’s property Thursday. Tammaro bought the land his farm is on from Maxwell, whose family owned and farmed it for decades. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Tammaro, 37, approached Maxwell more than a decade ago, looking to expand his cattle operation. Tammaro started raising beef as a kid in the 4-H program and had outgrown the space he leased at Shady Oak Farm on Spurwink Road and Route 77.

Maxwell, who has no children, sold Tammaro 3 acres at the edge of the farm, where Tammaro has built a home and five barns and is raising two sons, Ryan, 10, and Ben, 8, with his wife, Nicole. The boys help him run their Down Home Farm, where they raise other livestock as well.

“It’s an excellent way of life and a wonderful way to raise children,” Tammaro said. “My 10-year-old was on a tractor hauling round bales the other day. My 8-year-old helped me deliver a baby calf in April that’s going to be his show animal in 4-H.”

Tammaro said he views Maxwell as a father figure and appreciates the opportunity he’s been given to farm on his land. He’s even more grateful that future generations will benefit from Maxwell’s stewardship.

“It’s staying a working farm. That’s the important thing,” Tammaro said. “The more time you spend on the land, the more you want to preserve it.”


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