Farmland Preservation: Enhancing sustainable development in Maine through civic agriculture

An important shift is taking place in the way people are relating to their food.  With the demand for   organic, locally produced foods and a growing interest in community supported agriculture [2], the reintegration of society and local economics into food production has led to a new agricultural paradigm; civic agriculture.  Defined by Lyson 2000, as “an agriculture and food production system that is grounded in a place, relies on local resources, serves local markets and customers, and is committed to social justice, ecological sustainability and mutually supporting social relations” [5].

Maine, the most Northeastern state of the U.S., has a prominent civic agriculture movement.   Farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and small-scale  farmers are ubiquitous, growing steadily since the 1970’s [5].  Unfortunately the future viability of small to medium scale agriculture is uncertain.   Farmland preservation is threatened; contending with development, urban sprawl and the shifting demographics of aging farmers encountering difficulty transferring their land to the younger generation [5,2].

MFT_cover_2013-950[6]

Maine Farmland Trust is a vibrant not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving farm land [4]. Boasting an array of programs and social efforts to keep farmland in operation, the trust prevents farmland conversion and attracts new farmers to the region. Agricultural conservation easements are one tool used to ensure that farmland remains farmland into perpetuity.  Easements allow farmers to either sell or donate the development rights to their farm thus ensuring that farm land is never developed when acquired by other owners [4]. The land, when sold, is then sold at farmland property value and not at the developable value thereby facilitating purchase by new farmers.  Maine Farmland Trust can also step in to protect farmland at risk of development through their Buy/Protect/Sell program by purchasing the land, applying a conservation easement and re-selling it at farmland value [4].

The Maine FarmLink program matches farmers interested in buying, leasing, or adopting non-traditional tenure arrangements with older farmers who have land and are interested in either selling or mentoring new farmers [4]. This provides opportunities for people with the desire to farm but who have little initial capital and limited experience.  These aspiring farmers are able to acquire farmland more affordably and benefit from knowledge transfer from experienced farmers [5].

The 2012 Census reflects the success of such proactive programmes and efforts. One of the oldest states in the Nation, Maine’s civic agricultural movement is attracting a significant number of young farmers to the region.  The number of farmers under the age of 35 grew by 40% between 2007 and 2012, a far cry from 2000 when farm numbers and acreage were declining [1].  Moreover, between 2007 and 2012, farm numbers have grown by 24% and farmland acreage has increased by 90,000 acres between 2002 and 2012.

Farmland conservation supports the conservation of wildlife, provides protection to forests and hydrological features [3].  Moreover, farmland conservation is paramount to Maine’s way of life and to  the continuation of civic agriculture;an important segment of Maine’s economy.

References

1)Curtis A. (2014). USDA Farming Census: Maine has more young farmers, more land in farms.  Bangor Daily News.  Accessing on March 17th, 2014 http://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/usda-farming-census-maine-has-more-young-farmers-more-land-in-farms/

2)Hamilton, N (1999) Preserving Farmland, Creating Farms, and Feeding Communities: Opportunities to Link Farmland Protection and Community Food Security.  Northern Illinois University Law Review 19: 657-669.

3)Lyson, T.A. 2000. Moving toward civic agriculture. Choices 15(3):42–45.

4)Maine Farmland Trust (2014) Accessed on March 16th, 2014 at  http://www.mainefarmlandtrust.org/

5)Ross N. (2005) How civic is it? Success stories in locally focused agriculture in Maine.  Renewable Agriculture and Food System 21(2) 114-123.

6) Picture by Bridget Besaw. Retrieved from http://bridgetbesaw.com/books-and-exhibits/ on April 12th, 2014.

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