After almost twelve years of leasing farm land, the owners of Morning Dew Farm are ready to put down permanent roots with the purchase of a 68-acre property on Route 1 in Damariscotta that was nearly the site of a Wal-Mart.
Brendan McQuillen and Brady Hatch, of Newcastle, have launched an online fundraiser to assist in their purchase of the property.
Morning Dew Farm is a certified-organic vegetable farm run by the husband-and-wife team. In addition to selling produce at the Damariscotta Farmers Market and offering a community-supported agriculture program, Morning Dew Farm also supplies local food pantries, stores, and restaurants with vegetables, including Rising Tide Community Market, Newcastle Publick House, and the Damariscotta River Grill.
All food grown by Morning Dew Farm is eaten within 30 miles of the farm, Hatch said.
McQuillen and Hatch got their start in farming 12 years ago, when Hatch’s family leased the couple a quarter-acre of property. The couple realized soon after that they would need to expand their operation in order to meet their goals.
“After a few years, we realized that in order to grow the food for the community that we wanted to and that there was a demand for, we would need to find more field space,” Hatch said.
Over the years, the couple has leased space on a year-to-year basis from neighbors. McQuillen and Hatch also looked for space outside of Lincoln County, but they were always drawn back to the area.
“We do truly feel connected to the Damariscotta community,” McQuillen said. “We both worked at the (Damariscotta) River Grill when we moved here and got to know the people. Now we’re working with the businesses here, and we want to be around and be a part of the development of this community over the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
“The community building here has always been part of what motivated us to be farmers in the first place,” Hatch said.
The 68-acre property was purchased by Maine Farmland Trust in June 2011 after the land was targeted by Wal-Mart for the development of an 186,800-square-foot supercenter in 2005. A successful effort by the organization Our Town Damariscotta to pass a 35,000-square-foot retail size cap blocked the development.
Since purchasing the property in 2011, Maine Farmland Trust has been working with the Damariscotta River Association to place agricultural conservation easements on the property.
Once Maine Farmland Trust sells the property, a final easement will be put in place, ensuring that the land will forever remain farmland, Hatch said.
In the three years past three years, the size of Morning Dew Farm’s business has nearly doubled, McQuillen said.
“It’s really been a blessing to be able to try it out for these three years and see if it is right for us,” Hatch said. “You can look at a soil map and see what’s out there, but you won’t know for sure until you dig into the ground.”
Purchasing the property would allow McQuillen and Hatch to invest more in the land and plan for the future, including for crop rotation and soil practices.
“Farming is a multi-year endeavor,” McQuillen said. “If we owned it, we can do be a bit more forward thinking about what we want to do.”
The 68-acre property does pose some unique challenges. The land, which cannot be subdivided, includes 5 acres that can be used for farming and approximately 15 acres of wetland. The rest of the land is wooded, Hatch said.
McQuillen and Hatch hope to raise 25 percent of the $106,000 asking price through the online fundraiser. As of Tuesday, Aug. 23, the online fundraiser has received 87 donations totaling $10,829, 34 percent of the $32,000 goal.
The remaining amount of the purchase price will be financed through a grant and a mortgage, Hatch said.
McQuillen said the online fundraiser has received donations from a number of the farm’s supporters and some of its former employees.
“What’s been really nice with the campaign is to see people from our past coming out and supporting it,” McQuillen said. “There are some people who were 24-year-old kids when they worked for us and now they have a real job and are donating money. It’s nice to hear from these people you crossed paths with in your history.”
The couple will host an open house and barbecue to kick off the final 10 days of the online campaign at Morning Dew Farm’s Newcastle location, at 5 Trails End Road, at 5 p.m., Friday, Aug. 26. The open house is free to attend with donations suggested for the food.
For more information or to donate, go to https://goo.gl/7uUESx. The campaign will close Sept. 5. For more information about Morning Dew Farm, find the farm on Facebook or go to morningdeworganic.com.