CAMDEN, Maine — It was not too many years ago that Rokes Egg Farm on Mechanic Street was a bustle of agricultural activity. And soon the property will be bustling again.
Maine Farmland Trust has sold the property to Cooper Funk and Marina Sideris, who intend to create a vibrant, diversified farm that will grow vegetables and flowers and raise livestock. They also plan to continue the existing storage business that is used by so many local people.
The couple has recently relocated from California, where Funk co-founded a successful organic farm. Sideris was raised in Camden, within sight of Rokes Farm.
“It is a dream to come home to farm this piece of land, and we feel so fortunate to have this opportunity,” said Sideris.
The sale of this property is the next step in a multi-step process that began years ago when Maine Coast Heritage Trust approached Tom and Monica Rokes about selling an easement on their property. Such an easement would allow a wide range of agricultural uses of the property, but prevent subdivision or new building on good farmland.
Though excited about the prospect of protecting their land in this manner, the Rokeses needed to sell, so Maine Coast Heritage Trust needed a new partner. Enter Maine Farmland Trust, which—through one of its programs—purchases farms that will then be protected and re-sold to new farmers at more affordable prices.
“We bought the farm in early 2012,” explained John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust. “Since then, we’ve been working in close partnership with Maine Coast Heritage Trust to help raise funds for the easement, and to find the right buyer,” he added.
In June 2012, Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust launched a joint fundraising campaign, intended to cover the cost of placing agricultural conservation easements not just on Rokes Farm, but also on abutting fields previously owned by the Spear family. These two easements will together protect 55 acres of high quality farmland, ensuring that it will never be developed and will always be available for farming. The two organizations have not yet completed this fundraising campaign, and will ideally raise another $200,000.
The easement on Rokes Farm will be paid in part with federal funds, which have been secured, but will likely not flow for several more months. But all parties agreed that there was no reason to delay selling to Sideris and Funk.
“We’ve found the right people to sell to, and spring is coming,” said Piotti.
Piotti believes that the Camden area is ripe for a rebirth of farming, given local interest in fresh farm products. But he also notes that in communities like Camden with high development pressure, sometimes the only way to expand farming is to protect more land with agricultural easements.
“When a well-structured easement is placed on a good piece of farmland, it can create opportunities for renewed farming,” said Piotti.
Maine Farmland Trust operates statewide to protect farmland and support farmers. Maine Coast Heritage Trust is engaged in conservation work across Maine, and owns and operates Aldermere Farm in Rockport. Donations to their “Saving Camden Farmland for Farming” can be mailed to Maine Farmland Trust at 97 Main Street, Belfast, ME 04988.
• Nina Young at 338-6575 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Cooper Funk and Marina Sideris at 236-2008 or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org