In every community, there are places that touch the hearts of local residents and reinforce their sense of home. Rokes Farm, with rolling hayfields offering views to Bald and Ragged mountains, is one such beloved icon. Lying just a mile from the center of Camden, the 40-acre farm is a keystone property in the town's agricultural past--and in its future. By year-end, Maine Coast Heritage Trust expects to complete agreements with landowners that will protect Rokes Farm and two smaller hayfields nearby.
Acting on its long-standing commitment to protect working landscapes, MCHT has helped conserve many farms in coastal communities (particularly on Mount Desert Island). It became more active in sustaining agricultural traditions in Camden and Rockport when Mr. Albert Chatfield donated his 136-acre saltwater farm to the Trust in 1999. MCHT breeds and sells Belted Galloway cattle (and cattle products) for which Aldermere Farm is renowned, and has created many new programs and activities to engage the community both at Aldermere and its 93-acre Erickson Fields Preserve nearby. Aldermere's farm workers cut hay on more than two dozen private hayfields in the midcoast, helping keep many rural properties open and productive.
Aldermere's General Manager Ron Howard knows most farmland owners in the region and has offered many of them information about conservation options. He met with great receptivity in the Melvin Heights neighborhood, a scenic area with many hayfields where MCHT will hold the three new conservation easements.
The Rokes Farm once housed thousands of chickens and a hundred sheep, being managed for more than 60 years by Horace Rokes (who left the property to his son in 2009). Nearing retirement himself, Tom Rokes felt the property was more than he could manage, but says "I didn't want to see it developed: I like to see open spaces preserved." He listed the property for sale in 2011 about the time that an adjoining farm owned by the Spear family (with whom MCHT had begun planning for an agricultural easement) went on the market due to changed family circumstances.
Knowing that both families wanted their properties to remain in farming, MCHT reached out to Maine Farm- land Trust, which has a program to purchase farms and resell them for agricultural use after permanent restrictions are in place. MFT acquired both farms and joined MCHT in a local campaign to raise $300,000 to secure conservation easements that will keep the land available for farming and valued as farmland. MCHT submitted a successful grant application to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, but private contributions are still needed this fall.
Rokes Farm is under contract to be sold in December to Marina Sideris and Cooper Funk, who have been active in sustainable farming of vegetables and poultry. Sideris grew up in Camden within sight of Rokes Farm, and the couple looks forward to helping reinvigorate local agriculture in her hometown.
By year-end, MCHT expects to complete agreements on Rokes Farm and two nearby hayfields. "We're grateful to these landowners for their patience and vision," reflects Ron Howard. "It took real perseverance on all sides, but it's been heartening to find such broad support."
Never is the shift of seasons more evident than in fall with its brilliant colors, cascading leaves and dwindling daylight. The exquisite autumnal light and crisp air invite us outdoors to enjoy whatever warmth the sun still holds. Summer in Maine can be a whirlwind, and it's a welcome relief--as the days grow shorter--to pause and recollect the importance of accommodating ourselves to the seasons that shape our lives and work.
This fall at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, we're looking ahead--shaping a strategic plan to chart our future organizational course, expanding our work to enhance coastal communities, and pursuing new conservation opportunities. We take this visioning process seriously, but experience has taught us that many properties are conserved in their own season with little regard for our best-laid plans. Our lands staff must often wait patiently through long stretches of winter dormancy when a project may remain frozen for years (as was the case with Hickey Island, featured on page 3). Then, sometimes unexpectedly, there's a veritable spring thaw of activity in which the necessary players and pieces align and we're able to conserve a property for all time.
Each property carries a long history woven into the landscape. Some of our preserves, like Witherle Woods in Castine and Treat Island in Eastport, have historical chapters of strife, smuggling and hardscrabble subsistence that are hard to imagine today. We are now bringing to light these fascinating histories in our stewardship work so that past epochs of human use inform the way we see the land today.
In many instances, that historical use is a critical part of the land heritage we strive to protect. Rokes Farm, featured in our cover story, embodies a farming tradition that was nearly lost in Camden, and the farm's protection is helping local residents revitalize the region's agricultural roots and enhance community well-being.
This autumn brought a heartfelt loss to the MCHT community when board member Ned Cabot unexpectedly "crossed the bar" (in Tennyson's words). Ned, the son of MCHT co-founder Thomas Cabot, shared his father's devotion to sailing and to coastal conservation. When Tom passed on, Ned carried the bright torch his father had lit--inspiring others with his breadth of experience and depth of passion. He embraced life to the fullest and encouraged others to do the same. For his many friends and colleagues, that spirit will help guide us in the seasons ahead.
MCHT staff, board and council members were shocked and saddened to learn that long-time conservation advocate Ned Cabot was lost at sea off Newfoundland in early September. He was completing the last part of a seven-summer voyage to Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, Ireland, Norway and the Baltic Sea. Retired from work as a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and from the faculty at Harvard Medical School, Ned was a generous philanthropist and skilled ocean sailor. Ned had newly returned to service on MCHT's board and will be missed greatly by colleagues at the Trust.
When Dyke Messler first moved to the Camden-Rockport area in 1978, Aldermere Farm struck him as "a peaceful haven in an area of great natural beauty." Two decades later, after Mr. Chatfield bequeathed the 136-acre saltwater farm to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Messler was among the first local residents to step forward and offer support for sustaining the farm operation there.
"I've been impressed by how MCHT has kept Aldermere Farm fresh and growing, opening it up to the community," Messler observes. He has continued supporting the farm because he believes in sustaining the natural settings that define Maine. That conviction, he says, traces back to childhood and is fueled by his undiminished sense of wonder: "There is something so amazing about being alive in this incredibly beautiful place."
Dyke's son Tim shares his father's appreciation for natural landscapes. "I only realized after moving away," he notes, "that not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up in such a wonderful place." An active member of a CSA (community supported agriculture farm) in New York, Tim would like to see more people appreciate how food is grown. When his father introduced him to Aldermere Farm, Tim became an MCHT supporter as well. He values the "human scale" of farms like Aldermere and Erickson Fields, and the way they engage young people through programs like the Teen Ag Crew, Kids Can Grow, and 4-H.
Dyke invited Tim to serve on the board of his family's charitable foundation at age 18 so he'd learn to be guided by the aphorism that "to whom much has been given, much shall be expected." "A highlight of working with MCHT," Dyke observes, "has been getting to know others--like Richard Rockefeller [whose mother Peggy co-founded the Trust]--who are so incredible and inspirational in their sharing."
Hearing of MCHT's efforts to secure several new agricultural easements in Camden (see cover story), Tim and Dyke reminisce about buying eggs from the Rokes Farm decades ago at a farm stand decorated with gladioli and hand-knit hats. "It's about so much more than the land or fresh food," they observe. "It's about our shared quality of life."
In its work downeast, Maine Coast Heritage Trust recently conserved a beautiful, 12-acre island off Roque Bluffs that has an easy landing beach, open meadows and high ledges. Historically used to graze sheep, Hickey Island has interesting rock formations and has been a destination for geology students and boy scouts. It lies at the mouth of Little Kennebec Bay, an MCHT "whole place" where focused conservation effort has protected extensive shorefront.
Maine Coast Heritage Trust owns many preserves that are not as wild and untouched as they might at first seem. Nestled in the landscape like hidden picture puzzles are countless clues to past human activities. "Alongside the obvious scenic beauty and natural history of the lands we hold, there is often a fascinating human history that's overlooked," reflects Jane Arbuckle, MCHT's Stewardship Director. "To give our preserve visitors a greater appreciation for place, we've begun researching and writing up the histories of key preserves. Historical perspectives lend flavor and depth to our sense of place, reminding us of a unique land heritage that extends back for generations."
Marina Schauffler, a writer for MCHT, is compiling the preserve histories working closely with stewardship staff, local historical societies, and preserve neighbors. "So many people are helping us assemble these historical puzzles," she says, "contributing key pieces that illuminate a particular period or use."
The research process is different for each property because the extent of written records varies dramatically. Witherle Woods Preserve in Castine, for example, appears in many books because it was center stage in several military operations. Other preserves, like Treat Island in Eastport and Green Island in Stonington, are rarely cited by name but lie in areas with detailed records of the dominant activity (quarrying in the latter case, smuggling and border conflict in the former).
With island preserves, the Trust relies heavily on the voluminous research of Charles B. McLane, the only historian to systematically chronicle the history of individual islands along much of Maine's coast. "In many instances, those historical sketches are mere outlines," Schauffler observes," so we're always grateful when former landowners and their families or neighbors can help complete the picture."
The first three property histories are now posted on the Trust's website, under the preserve descriptions for Witherle Woods, Treat Island and Merchant Row Islands.
We extend thanks to all those who took time to participate in our recent membership survey (conducted in partnership with Critical Insights). This survey is part of ongoing efforts to better serve our members, and is helping guide our strategic planning process. Among the many findings from the survey, we learned that members are highly satisfied with the work of MCHT, especially our actions to protect Maine's coastline. They want to see us maintain our focus on stewarding lands that have been entrusted to our care. In terms of land protection, year-round residents are especially concerned about protecting water quality and recreational access points. Most MCHT members support at least one other conservation or environmental group in Maine (particularly local land trusts) and are balanced in their preference for printed versus electronic communications.
We appreciate all the helpful feedback.