KENNEBUNK, Maine –Â Green business entrepreneur Tom Chappell and his wife Kate have recently added another item to their long list of significant community contributions, by donating agricultural easements on two farm properties they own in Kennebunk.
Their actions will ensure that 154 acres of beautiful and productive farmland will remain forever available for farming. The two properties together boast a hundred acres of open fields and over a mile of frontage on the Kennebunk River.
â€śWhen you have a deep regard for the environment, you do what is necessary,â€ť said Chappell, who is perhaps best known as the founder of Tomâ€™s of Maine. After selling that company, Chappell founded Ramblerâ€™s Way, which offers a line of clothing that is sustainably made with the superfine wool of Rambouillet sheep.
About a hundred head of this special breed of sheep grace one of Chappellâ€™s farms, while the other property is used mostly for hay production. With the growth of Ramblerâ€™s Way, Chappell now relies on additional farms for most of his wool.
The Chappellsâ€™ two farms will be protected with agricultural easements held by Maine Farmland Trust. The easements prevent subdivision and non-farm development, but provide the flexibility needed to enable the land to be actively farmed. Since its founding in 1999, Maine Farmland Trust has been part of over 120 easement projects across the state. The Trust has helped protect over 26,000 acres of Maine farmland.
â€śWe were motivated by not just preserving land for the landâ€™s sake or open space, but to keep it in production for future generations,â€ť said Kate Chappell. â€śMaine Farmland Trust is a great asset for this state, doing such important work and doing it so well,â€ť she added.
The Chappellsâ€™ enthusiasm for Maine Farmland Trustâ€™s work has resulted in more than protection of these two farms. Tom Chappell has recently agreed to serve as the honorary chair of the Trustâ€™s campaign to protect 100,000 acres of Maine farmland.
According to John Piotti, executive director of Maine Farmland Trust, the need to protect 100,000 acres of farmland stems from the fact that the ownership of so much of Maineâ€™s best farmland will be in transition in the next five years, due to the age of land owners.
â€śAfter years of decline, Maine agriculture is growing and poised to grow more,â€ť explained Piotti. â€śBut we face a huge challenge in the next few years, with so much farmland potentially going to non-farm uses if we do not take active steps to protect it, â€ť he continued.
Piotti says that Maine is fortunate to have many generous and visionary landowners who, like the Chappells, have donated easements. But he adds that many farmers have very limited resources, and they are not in a position to be so generous. As a result, Maine Farmland Trust needs to purchase land and easements if it is to protect a good chunk of the vulnerable farmland that is in transition.
The cost of protecting 100,000 acres is estimated at $50 million. But according to Piotti, this same amount of land will produce over $50 million in economic benefit each and every year, so protecting this farmland is a smart investment.
â€śDoing the job right will take a lot of money, but Maine will reap the benefits for generations to come,â€ť said Piotti.
Tom Chappell sees a future in which organizations like Maine Farmland Trust are making a real difference.
â€śI donâ€™t have much faith in the politicians in Washington or the bankers in New York,â€ť said Chappell. â€śI think the way change will increasingly happen is through innovative local efforts like what Maine Farmland Trust is doing,â€ť he added.
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