STETSON, Maine — Dale and Julie Brownie’s 126-acre farm has been in Julie’s family for seven generations, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they realized what they had.
With their emotional connection to the land renewed, they’ve donated a conservation easement to the Maine Farmland Trust that will ensure the farm will always remain a farm.
The Brownies lived outside Maine for many years. When they returned in 2000, the land was deeded to them by Julie’s parents. Walking the property in recent years, Julie’s bond to it has strengthened as she found evidence of her ancestors, such as stone walls from the 1800s. After the stone walls there were split rail fences, then barbed wire, then electric fences, the remains of which are still evident today. There are also century-old apple orchards and orange-colored “blazes” notched in trees in some unknown time to indicate the property lines. The tract hasn’t been farmed since the 1950s and hasn’t had a home on it since Julie’s grandparents’ farmhouse burned in 1934, but evidence of her long-gone ancestors are everywhere.
“I just couldn’t bear to think of the farm being sold off for house lots at some point,” said she said. “I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that might happen some day.”
To protect the farm, the Brownies recently completed an extensive process that led to their donating an agricultural easement on the property to the Maine Farmland Trust. The easement prevents nonfarm development on the property essentially forever.
“This is a great story because it combines so many different stories together,” said Nina Young, land projects manager for the trust. “Not only that, this is great farmland.”
The Maine Farmland Trust has protected more than 16,000 acres of farmland, plus another 5,000 acres through its FarmLink program, which connects farmers and landowners. The trust estimates that one third of Maine’s farmland will become something else within the next 15 years.
“We’ve set a goal to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland within the next five years,” said John Piotti, the trust’s executive director, in a press release. “That’s the scale necessary if we are to make a meaningful impact.” Piotti is the House majority leader of the Maine Legislature.
The Brownies are working with the trust to find people who are interested in leasing the land to operate a farm. The trust has already arranged more than 50 such agreements.
“It’s not the financial part we’re interested in,” said Dale Brownie. “We’d just like to have some kind of farming done on the property. This has been a dream of my wife’s for a very long time.”
Putting an easement on the property eliminates the possibility of ever subdividing the land and selling it for house lots, which means the Brownies have in a sense turned their backs on the parcel’s greatest potential value.
“It’s definitely a financial sacrifice to give that up and we had to think about that,” said Julie. “We just decided the sacrifice was worth it.”