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Partnership preserves 625 acres as farmland

Maine Farmland Trust and Androscoggin Land Trust have partnered to preserve a 625-acre farm that runs along the Androscoggin River in Turner.

Adrian and Jennifer Wadsworth put together River Rise Farm by purchasing multiple parcels of fields and woods over the past 30 years. The property covers approximately 625 acres along nearly two miles of the Androscoggin River at the northern end of Gulf Island Pond. Operated most recently as a dairy farm, River Rise contains great soils that are well suited to a variety of agricultural uses.

The Wadsworths have been great stewards of this land, working the woods in a sustainable manner, maintaining and improving the fields and protecting and improving habitat for waterfowl and upland game. Adrian Wadsworth recently built a park-like area in a spot with large trees for shade above one of the riverfront fields, complete with granite benches and table.

Yet like many farmers, the Wadsworths are at a point in their lives when they need to sell. Their hope is that this property can remain as working farmland.

But large and beautiful farms in fast-growing communities like Turner do not come cheap. The market value of this property is well beyond the reach of most farmers, unless some creativity is used.

Maine Farmland Trust provides that kind of creativity. Through its “Buy/Protect/Sell” program, Maine Farmland Trust will purchase a piece of vulnerable farmland, permanently preserve it through an easement, then re-sell the land—either as a whole or in parts—to a farmer at a more affordable “farmland value.”

In this case, Maine Farmland Trust reconfigured the property into two farms. One farm has been sold to an Auburn family that will use it to raise organic vegetables. The other farm is still being marketed. Both farms have been permanently preserved through easements and are priced at their value as farmland.

“This program responds directly to the most pressing need in Maine agriculture,” said John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust. “Many farmers simply can’t afford to a pay a developer’s price for land they intend to farm. But if we can preserve the land and lower the cost, then we can keep good land like this in farming.”

Selling the development rights filled the gap between the market value of this property and its value as preserved farmland.  Maine Farmland Trust accessed both state funds under Lands for Maine’s Future (LMF) and federal funds under the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP).

Protective easements now prevent the land from being developed, but allow the fields and woods to be actively worked. Maine Farmland Trust will hold easements on the agricultural land, while the Androscoggin Land Trust will hold an easement on a large woodlot and another easement that will ensure public access for recreation.

“As the Androscoggin River continues its renaissance, unique places like this become highly coveted for growing house lots,” said Jonathan LaBonte, executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust, which has also partnered with Maine Farmland Trust on other local projects.

“Fortunately, with the vision of the Wadsworths and the tool kit of Maine Farmland Trust, its highest and best use will remain working farm fields and forests,” he said. “Providing for future recreational access in one of the most scenic sections of the entire river makes this project that much more significant.”

“It’s not uncommon for land trusts to work together on complex projects like this, or for funding to be pooled from a number of sources,” said Alan Stearns of the Maine Department of Conservation, which was instrumental is coordinating funding. “But this project sets a new standard. I’m really impressed.”

“The Land for Maine’s Future program has made many recent investments up and down the Androscoggin River,” he said. “Projects like this one are reconnecting the public to the Androscoggin with hiking trails, riverfront campsites and protected scenery just up river from Maine’s newest State Park and just up river from Lewiston and Auburn.”

Without collaboration between land trusts and funders, this project could not have happened. Another key factor was the Wadsworth’s willingness to sell under favorable terms and to be patient while all the pieces of the deal came together.

“The land will now remain working farmland and forest forever,” said Adrian Wadsworth with clear pride.

Map Highlighting River Rise Farm Property and Nearby ALT and State Conservation Lands, courtesy of ALT

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