Agreement with land trusts assures survival of Scarborough working farm

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SCARBOROUGH — A farm that pre-dates the town is the newest piece of land to be set aside in Scarborough.

Thanks to a collaboration between the Maine Farmland Trust and the Scarborough Land Trust, Waterhouse Farm will be preserved under a perpetual agricultural easement that protects it from being parceled off and developed.

An agricultural easement differs from a conservation easement in that it protects the use of the land for farming, as opposed to public accessibility.

The 100-acre working farm off Beech Ridge Road is operated by Dick Waterhouse, who boards horses, has more than 60 sheep, a dozen geese, 30 turkeys and about 60 hens. While the land might eventually be accessible to the public with permission from Waterhouse, its primary function will continue to be agrarian.

The farm has been in the Waterhouse family since before 1658, when Scarborough was incorporated as a municipality.

Waterhouse grew up on the farm watching his grandfather and then his father work the land. He sais Wednesday that while his father was a carpenter by trade, he always raised cows.  He also maintained pastures and had a large garden.

“I was always part of it,” Waterhouse said. In the 1950s, “when I was really young, I can remember them using horses (for) mowing the hay.”

Waterhouse went studied horticulture and, in the 1980s, as his father, Lawrence, was getting older, “all of the sudden I noticed that the farm was growing up to bushes because my father was getting old and not mowing the field.”

“It dawned on me – if I didn’t do something, (the farm) wasn’t going to be,” he said.

He has been managing the farm ever since. A few years ago, he decided to contact the Maine Farmland Trust about conserving his family’s land.

The MFT was founded in midcoast Maine in 1999 with an eye to preserve land in that region from development. As development and diminishing open space became more of a threat in southern Maine, the organization broadened its reach.

“We do focus very strongly on areas of the state that are under the highest development pressure,” Charles Baldwin , MFT farmland protection project manager, said. “The goal is to carve out as much farmland out of development as possible.”

But in recent years, the organization started to turn its focus to southern Maine where the “development pressure is the highest,” he said.

The MFT has worked with the Scarborough Land Trust to create agricultural easements on a handful of other farms in town, including Comstock Farm, a 99-acre working farm off Beech Ridge Road; Frith Farm, a working 20-acre farm off Ash Swamp Road; and 280-acre Deering Farm, off County Road.

When deciding whether land meets the parameters for an agricultural easement, Baldwin said, “we look at the amount of open, farmable land (and) farm soils, and then we look at things like development pressure in the area.”

Waterhouse said he wanted an easement because “you don’t know what future generations are going to do, so I figured this way it’s going to guarantee (that) it’s going to stay a farm, even if it isn’t (owned) by one of my kids,” he said.

Preserving Waterhouse Farm in perpetuity, particularly because it’s so old, is what the MFT is all about, Baldwin said.  It’s “history (that’s) being locked in.”

Jeremy Wintersteen, a Scarborough Land Trust board member and chairman of its acquisition committee, said the organization is “thrilled to play a role in conserving” the historic property.

Kathy Mills, executive director of the land trust, agreed. Scarborough has a “rich legacy of farming, and there aren’t many farms left,” she said.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

An agricultural easement will allow Waterhouse Farm in Scarborough to continue to operate and protect it from future development.

Dick Waterhouse, owner of Waterhouse Farm, secured the preservation of his 100-acre farm in a transaction with the Maine Farmland Trust. The farm has been in his family since before Scarborough was incorporated in the late 1650s.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.