Maine Farmland Trust is moving forward with plans to purchase two abutting properties, totaling 173 acres, which the trust sees as critical to the future of agriculture in the region.

Both Rokes Farm and neighboring property owned by the Spear family are appreciated locally for their open fields and scenic views. But for Maine Farmland Trust and its partner Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the properties are also important for their agricultural value.

Building on the long relationships Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Maine Farmland Trust have established with these landowners, the original plan was to enter into a voluntary conservation agreement with the owners of the Rokes Farm and a portion of the Spear property, rather than to buy the properties outright. A year ago, Maine Coast Heritage Trust submitted an application under the Land for Maine’s Future program seeking funds for these easements. Unfortunately, this project did not receive an LMF award from the latest round of funding, as announced last week.

But the project is still very much alive, in part because prior to the LMF announcement, the owners of both properties decided that it made sense to sell to Maine Farmland Trust.

Through one of the trust’s programs, it purchases farms, then re-sells the properties to new owners after they have been protected with easements. In this way, the cost of the farmland is lowered to reflect its value as farmland, rather than its value as developable land.

“This has become a useful strategy to lower the cost of land for entering farmers,” said John Piotti, executive director of the Maine Farmland Trust, in a news release.

At present, the fields on these properties are cut for hay by Aldermere Farm in Rockport, which is a program of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. This is a crucial service for local farms, explained Tim Glidden, Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s president.

“Many local people could not have livestock if they could not obtain hay through Aldermere,” said Glidden.

Beyond use of these properties for hay production, which Piotti sees continuing, he believes that the good soils on these properties could also be used for vegetable crops, as they once were.

“Permanently protecting this farmland with agricultural easements is another step in ensuring that farming in this region is positioned to grow,” said Piotti.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust remains committed to helping find a solution to permanently protect these critical properties, and has submitted a federal grant application in support of the project through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. Meanwhile, Maine Farmland Trust will purchase the properties as planned, confident that adequate funds will be found to pay for the easements.

“We are not deterred by the recent LMF decision,” said Piotti. “It means that we will need to raise more funds elsewhere, but we’re committed to get the job done.”