Rokes Farm under contract
Camden — Maine Farmland Trust, which bought the former Rokes Egg Farm earlier this year, has announced that it is under contract to sell the property to a young couple, Marina Sideris and Cooper Funk. The property will be sold subject to an agricultural conservation easement which will be held and monitored by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. The easement — which is the focus of an ongoing fundraising campaign — will ensure the land is forever available for farming.
“We’re so pleased to find this dynamic couple to buy this land, as they combine strong community ties with proven farm and business experience” said John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust.
According to Piotti, Sideris grew up in Camden within sight of Rokes Farm, while Funk has been running a successful organic vegetable farm in California for several years.
Finding the right buyers for this farm is just one part of a broader project, designed to protect 55 acres of high-quality farmland and return this land to active agricultural use. The targeted acreage is located on both Rokes Farm and an abutting property formerly owned by the Spear family, which Maine Farmland Trust has also purchased. The plan is to re-sell both properties to new farmers, after the farmland is protected with easements.
Last June, Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust jointly launched a $303,000 fundraising campaign intended to cover the cost of placing agricultural conservation easements on these two properties. These easements will prevent the farmland from being developed, ensuring that it will always be available for farming.
Maine Farmland Trust listed Rokes Farm for sale in late spring. The trust received several offers, but decided to sell to Sideris and Funk after reviewing all applications against its selection criteria. According to Piotti, the trust looks hard at a buyer’s ability to run a viable farm business and uses that and the applicant’s vision for the property, not price, to guide its decision.
“We set a price based on what we believe is the fair value of the land as farmland, assuming that an easement prohibits development on it, and we don’t accept higher offers,” explained Piotti.
The Spear property has not yet been marketed, but Piotti expects to turn attention to that parcel soon, after fundraising progresses further.
Piotti stressed that the pending sale to Sideris and Funk adds urgency to raising the funds needed to cover the value of the easement.
“Though we are thrilled that Rokes will be sold to new farmers, that step alone does not ensure that the land will be permanently protected,” explained Piotti. “Permanent protection requires the kind of easements that we are in the process of raising funds for,” he added.
“There’s been wonderful community support for this project so far,” said Ciona Ulbrich of Maine Coast Heritage Trust, who has been shepherding this project for more than two years. “But now is the time for people to translate their support into dollars.”
Maine Farmland Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust have named their joint fundraising campaign “Saving Camden Farmland for Farming” to stress that the goal is not simply to preserve open space, but to help revitalize local farming.
Piotti believes 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.
To learn more about “Saving Camden Farmland for Farming,” contact campaign director Cate Cronin at 542-2665 or email@example.com. Checks can be mailed to Maine Farmland Trust at 97 Main St., Belfast, ME 04988.