Rokes Farm one of two Camden farms to be conserved
CAMDEN — Today, Rokes Farm on Upper Mechanic Street is appreciated mostly for its open fields and scenic views, but it was not so long ago that local people bought eggs and vegetables there.
"This property could be a thriving farm again," said John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, in a news release.
Piotti sees great opportunities for small farms to prosper in the Midcoast, given consumers' growing interest in buying local. "The key is to get good farm properties like Rokes into the hands of the next generation of farmers," said Piotti.
Maine Farmland Trust recently bought the Rokes property, and is now trying to re-sell it to a new farmer. Before doing so, the farmland will be permanently protected with an agricultural conservation easement, ensuring that the land can never be subdivided and will always be available for farming. The easement not only protects the property, but means that the land is more affordable for a buyer.
The easement is the work of another organization, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which has a long-standing relationship with the Rokes family. MCHT operates nearby Aldermere Farm in Rockport, which cuts hay on this property.
"Our interest in conserving Rokes Farm stemmed originally from our interest in maintaining local hay fields, but we'd be thrilled to see a new farmer also raise vegetables or livestock," said MCHT's Ciona Ulbrich.
The full cost of protecting the Rokes farmland with an easement is approximately $250,000, but MCHT has already secured a $125,000 federal grant for this purpose. They are now beginning to reach out to private donors to raise the remainder.
Rokes Farm is one part of a broader effort. An abutting property, formerly owned by the Spear family, contains a wide expanse of beautiful and productive fields visible off Simonton Road.
As with Rokes, MFT recently bought the Spear property with the goal of re-selling the fields to a new farmer after protecting them with an agricultural conservation easement. MFT is now seeking funds to pay for the easement.
Together, the two land trusts aim to raise $303,000 in order to ensure that over 54 acres of farm fields are permanently protected and remain forever available for farming.
"We are reaching out to the local community to raise these funds to help boost local farming," said Piotti.
People that want to learn more about these two projects can attend an open house and information session that MFT and MCHT will hold at Rokes Farm on Monday, July 2 from 3 to 6 p.m. with brief comments about the project at 5 p.m.
MCHT is best known for protecting islands and other coastal properties, but the trust has a long history in protecting farms. MCHT has conserved more than 137,000 acres of land since its inception in 1970.
MFT focuses on supporting farmers and farming in numerous ways, including protecting farmland. Since its founding in 1999, MFT has worked with over 400 farm families and helped protect over 30,000 acres of farmland.
This is not the first partnership between MCHT and MFT. In 2008, the two groups joined forces to permanently protect the Erickson Fields the south side of Route 90 in Rockport. Those fields are now owned and managed by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. They are used for hay and pasture, but also to grow vegetables that are made available to local food pantries and to the local school system.
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