Bowdoinham has a new matchmaking website designed to link landowners with aspiring farmers to help preserve the town’s agricultural character.
Launched earlier this month by the Bowdoinham Community Development Initiative, the website is part of a larger Farmland Inventory Project aimed at mapping available farmland in town and finding landowners interested in opening their land to farming.
“By increasing the land base in production, we support the creation of new jobs, increase access to healthy local food, and strengthen the health of our local economy,” a news release about the initiative states.
Abby Sadauckas, a Bowdoinham farmer and former BCDI member, said people looking for farmland in Bowdoinham have traditionally reached out to David Whittlesey, BCDI’s founder, who would reach out to senior farmers in town who might be looking to step away from the labor-heavy industry.
This new project takes that institutional knowledge and compiles it in a searchable database at bcdimaine.org/farmland-inventory.
The land inventory includes more than 1,000 acres of farmland. The project also used Geographic Information Systems data to identify prime agricultural soil in Bowdoinham, which represented about 72 property owners.
BCDI reached out to the property owners to learn about how the land is currently used. Sadauckas is also supporting the project as a field agent for Land For Good, an organization that works to put more farmers on more land to ensure the future of farming.
“We are optimistic that there are some matches to be made and that’s where Land For Good is backstopping this,” Sadauckas said. “We work with the landowners and farm seekers directly as well as collaborate through Maine Farmland Trust.”
If Bowdoinham landowners want to make their property available for farming, they can set up their own property listing through the website. Likewise, farm seekers can create a profile describing the type of farmland they are seeking. The match-making site can connect needs while preserving farmland.
According to 2017 Census of Agriculture released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Maine lost 146,491 acres or 10% of its farmland between 2012 and 2017. Maine has lost 573 farms in that same timeframe.
Sagadahoc County, which includes Bowdoinham, had 229 farms or 20,090 acres of farmland in 2012 but only 209 farms or 17,687 acres of farmland in 2017, according to the USDA.
“I think across the state and across the country really, we are starting to see this big generational shift as a lot of farmers age and retire and don’t necessarily have a younger farmer working alongside them that is ready to take over the land,” said Ellen Sabina of Maine Farmland Trust. “At the same time in a lot of places like Maine, there is also increasing development pressure and so we’re definitely concerned that as some of those farmers reach a transition point, a lot of that land will fall out of farmland because it will just go to the higher bidder.”
Bowdoinham’s new farmland match-making site makes sense, Sabina said, because local people know what land is available in their community. This can be a powerful tool to make sure farmland stays farmland.
In addition to its location in a strong, year-round market for locally grown food, Bowdoinham also had good agricultural soils, Sadauckas said.
“The best way to protect farmland is to have good farms,” Sadauckas said.