BENEDICTA, Maine — Like many Aroostook County communities, Benedicta was once filled with vibrant farms. Over time, however, the number of farmers and the amount of farmland has diminished, their memory stored away in history books next to black and white photos of hundreds of workers hand picking potatoes.
But officials with the Maine Farmland Trust maintain that the rich agricultural history in this township can be revived, and they are hoping to spark that revival with the preservation of a 344 acre farm in Benedicta.
The Maine Farmland Trust is an award winning organization that works with landowners, who are interested in seeing their land preserved. The trust functions to preserve and protect the farmland in order to keep agricultural lands working. Preservation is accomplished through an agricultural easement that prevents subdivision, but allows for all the flexibility needed for farming.
John Piotti, the executive director of the Belfast-based organization, said late last week he believes that Maine is going to need more farms to satisfy the future demand for food.
“If you take a step back and look at the big picture, Maine has the potential to be doing a lot more farming than it does now,” he said.
The 344-acre farm in Benedicta that is now in the hands of the trust is owned by Grant Brees, a retired veterinarian. Brees grew up on a farm in Ohio, which has since been developed, and a hotel now sits where the old farmhouse, which was built in the 1800’s, once stood.
That background contributed to his decision to donate an easement on his Benedicta farm, according to officials with the trust. He told trust officials that he wanted to preserve his property for both wildlife and for agriculture.
An agricultural easement is a voluntary, legal agreement that permanently restricts use of the land to agricultural production. Maine Farmland Trust preserves farmland through both donated and purchased easements. In a donated easement, the landowner voluntarily gives up the development rights on his property, without compensation. In a purchased easement, the landowner is compensated for the value that he is giving up by placing the easement on the land.
Erin Herbig, outreach coordinator for the Maine Farmland Trust, said Monday that the Benedicta easement is the third donated easement that Maine Farmland Trust has accepted in Aroostook County, protecting a total of 549 acres in that county.
Piotti said that many of the landowners with which Maine Farmland Trust works donate easements, but not all landowners are in a position to do so. In other instances, the trust helps access funds to compensate a landowner for the easement, which is sometimes referred as “selling development rights.”
Brees’ property is an ideal one for preservation, according to Piotti. It contains over 150 acres of “excellent farming soils,” but is not currently being used for agriculture beyond haying.
“If this land was owned by someone other than Brees, it might be very vulnerable to development,” he said. “But beyond this, it is precisely the kind of land that could be actively farmed in the future. With it now preserved, it will be forever available to grow food and fiber.”
Plans for the Brees property have not yet been solidified, according to trust officials.
Herbig said Monday that since its founding, the trust has played a key role in securing agricultural easements on over 90 farms, consisting of over 17,000 acres that are now permanently protected.