Saturday, May 25, 2013
BELGRADE -- Roger and Dawn Bickford had always hoped that their 120-acre farm, which had been with the family for more than a century, would remain intact.
It remained a dairy farm until 1989, when the primary crops became hay and vegetables.
Now, with the help of Maine Farmland Trust, the Bickfords' two sons, Dwayne and Wayne Bickford, have been able to ensure the property will remain intact and forever farmland. The trust purchased the farm from the Bickford family in August 2011.
Since then, the trust has sold the Bickford farm at 514 Smithfield Road, also Route 8, near the North Belgrade Community Center, to Russell and Elizabeth Danner, of Waterville, participants in the trust's FarmLink program.
Russell Danner, 47, a veterinarian who bought the New England Animal Hospital in Waterville in April, said he wants to establish a veterinary clinic at the farm for small and large animals.
He also plans to increase the property's vegetable production and establish community garden plots.
"Right now I have a community garden where people can rent plots for the summer to grow vegetables or whatever they like," Danner said. "My plan is to also lease out some of the land for people to hay. I'm going to start small, do a good job and once I get it going well, then expand. I also would eventually like to get some sheep out there."
Danner, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, said he and his wife will continue to live in Waterville.
Dwayne Bickford, whose family lives near the farm, said he is thankful for the trust's help.
"My family and I are comforted to know that our family farm in Belgrade is now in good hands," Bickford said.
John Piotti, the trust's executive director, said farmland protected by an easement will always be available for agriculture. It cannot be converted legally into house lots or a shopping mall, he said.
Another advantage is that the protected land is more affordable to new farmers.
Piotti said his group has been buying farms -- though never with the intention of owning them for long -- as part of its Buy/Protect/Sell Program. He said the trust buys farmland, permanently protects the land with an agricultural easement, then re-sells the property to a new or young farmer at a more affordable price.
"Sometimes the only option for a family is to sell," Piotti said. "If it is good farmland that is threatened, and we think we can ultimately find a new farmer for it, we will consider buying it."
Since its creation in 1999, the trust has worked with hundreds of Maine farmers and helped permanently protect more than 26,000 acres of Maine farmland, he said. Last year the trust saved Kents Hill Orchard, an 84-acre orchard that has become a vegetable farm with new owners.
Mechele Cooper -- 621-5663