Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Protecting Farmlands: A New Land Trust Program

Coming up our mountainside driveway with a handful of mail the other day, I happened to notice on top of a stack of gardening catalogs a newsletter from the Maine Farmland Trust. An article caught my interest and I suddenly found myself coming up short at the steps to the front door. There’s nothing like an interesting read to keep you from knowing where you are. I was astounded by a new program they have started.

Maybe you are not familiar with the Maine Farmland Trust. They are a nonprofit  organization that creates easements on land used for farming in Maine. An easement is a legal means of keeping tracts of land undeveloped while designating specific uses, in this case, farming.

Faster than a trust can write up the documentation to protect land, it seems that acreage is taken over for development, becoming houses, businesses, and even communities almost overnight. And, this is happening not just in Maine, but almost everywhere. It might be a good idea for all of us to wake up and take notice. As families continue to expand, more people need housing. Before you think that new homes might be a good use for repurposed farmland, consider that as population grows, greater and greater amounts of food are needed. Add to this climate change which threatens to drown some areas and turn others into desert, while causing unpredictable storms that have already destroyed crops. It seems that we have a compelling need to keep as much land as possible in food production.

Because land trusts typically operate on a limited budget, it is standard practice for a willing land owner to donate the easement, often paying for the needed surveying and legal work. For a trust to secure easements by waiting for them to be donated had one thing going against it. There are many land owners who simply cannot afford to fund the expenses of an easement. They may be tempted to sell land to a developer as a way of raising cash even if they truly wish to protect the property from development.

What I got excited about in the Farmland Trust's newsletter is their new program for procuring easements. They are now taking on easements funded by the trust’s own fundraising efforts. By raising the needed amounts, they buy an easement, paying the owner a certain price per acre. The price is a set amount, less than market value, but still an adequate amount to attract easements. This is already a known method of doing easements, but few land trusts may be able to attract the needed funding.

Through this program, according to the newsletter, three farms have been granted easements, three more are in the works, and nineteen await consideration. Farm owners who love their lands and believe in the value of farming now have a lasting option to subdivision. Farmland is precious, and once divided for development is gone forever. It will be a relief to owners that their precious lands can continue to produce food. It is good, too for those of us who appreciate local agriculture and want it to continue. For a long, long, time. -jmm

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's Time for Tool Care

It’s white, it’s fluffy, and it’s stacking up. Deepening layers of snow and ice seem to be saying that winter has settled in. And that means it’s time to give our hard-worked tools and equipment some TLC and put them into storage until spring. They do a lot for us, so it seems right to return the favor. I gather a few simple items and get to work.

The saw mill, borrowed from a friend, is already covered with a tarp, but gasoline has a short shelf life and should not be left in equipment that will not be used for three months or more. I empty out the fuel and will be taking it to our town transfer station where they have a depository for such things. I fire up the engine and leave to run dry while moving on to the next thing on the agenda.

The chain saws are next. They get winterized in much the same way; empty the fuel and run them dry to clear fuel lines and carburetor. I do this outdoors away from any containers of fuel. I then take off the bars and chains, clean them and check the spark plugs. I clean the power heads and air filters.

Hand tools are cleaned and ready for spring
And on to the next things: gardening hand tools. These are in need of serious work. A wire brush proves to be the tool of choice to scour off the dirt. I file the edges of shovels and hoes, sharpen axes, hatchets, pruners and loppers, and tackle rust spots with course sand paper. A light coating of oil on metal surfaces will keep them rust free for the winter. Wooden handles are buffed with rubbing alcohol and then get a coating of paste wax.

It is necessary to sort the tools; some are broken or too damaged for further use- a shovel with a split blade and another one with a cracked handle, along with some worn out snow shovels. These will go to the dump along with the used fuels.

It’s a good feeling to know that our tools and equipment are cared for and will be ready for us when spring arrives. -G.H.