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There are few things harder to find in life than your soul mate.
In this economy, Maine real estate is one of them.
If you are looking for love, you can head to an online dating site. But if it’s a farm you care about, the perfect match might just be on Maine FarmLink, the Match.com for the Maine farming community.
While the online site — which matches potential farm buyers and sellers — has been matching for more than two decades, the service now finds itself in a unique position at a time of unprecedented demand for Maine land. Interest in Maine real estate has exploded over the past year, and the number of interested buyers on the site has grown to five times the number of properties for sale.
FarmLink is operated by Maine Farmland Trust, and the group makes it very clear that it is not a real estate agency or brokerage. Instead, it’s a way for the nonprofit organization to accomplish its mission to protect state farmland and support current and future farmers.
Other states have similar services for matching farm sellers and buyers, but what makes Maine FarmLink unique is that potential buyers can post profiles describing themselves, their farming experience and the type of agriculture they hope to do in Maine, as well as as much other personal information as possible. They want.
This, according to Sue Lanpher, allows those who wish to see their farms remain in production after the sale to be assured that the land is going to the right people.
Lanpher is the coordinator of Maine FarmLink and jokingly introduces herself as a matchmaker.
The program began in 2002 as what Lanpher describes as a kind of kitchen table, an outreach process that helped farmers looking to sell or lease their land connect with people looking to buy or lease.
“It’s really turned into an online matching service, which allows us to match farmer to farmer and landowner to land seeker,” Lanpher said.
Landowners can contact those looking for Maine FarmLink farms or land directly or ask Lanpher to act as a go-between to set up some kind of first introductory meeting.
“Some sellers are really serious about selecting potential buyers,” Lanpher said. “They will have a whole series of questions and ask me to do a first check to see if the buyer’s interests and goals match theirs.”
Once this happens, Maine FarmLink takes no part in any price, deed, lease or any other negotiation that follows after people are linked.
To date, Maine FarmLink has completed 225 successful matches. There are 14 active listings of farms or land for sale or rent, and between 60 and 75 profiles of people across the country looking for some form of farmland in Maine, from buying outright to the rental of fields for the production of hay.
The gap between those looking and those selling reflects the recent explosion of interest in Maine farmland that has made the current period one of the toughest times to buy a farm in the state.
The site is open to the public and that means the number of potential buyers listed does not reflect interest in Maine land, Lanpher said.
“Even people who don’t post profiles can search our site for available farms,” she said. “We have thousands of people viewing these listings.”
These include Timothy and Kelly Collins who live on a farm in Acton but are actively looking for another farm to settle in as their current situation has turned sour.
The couple found what was, for them, a perfect farm to produce enough food for their family and to share with their neighbours. They entered into a lease-to-own agreement with the landlord, but his recent death upset the deal.
“His kids decided they were sitting on a gold mine,” Kelly Collins said. “They reduced the amount of land we could buy and tripled the price.”
Given the increased sale price coupled with the thousands of dollars they had already spent improving the farm, the Collins made the decision to look for a cheaper farm to buy.
Now they are working again with Maine FarmLink to find land to grow organic crops, raise foster children and establish an agricultural apprenticeship program for foster children.
Timothy Collins said they’ve explored some possible farms for sale or rent on Maine FarmLink, but haven’t found the right fit yet.
“We’ve met some absolutely wonderful people who are so passionate about farming and food and saving farmland for farms,” he said. “Either their farm didn’t suit us or we weren’t what they were looking for.”
In one instance, Timothy Collins said sellers were put off by the couple’s age.
“We are both in our early 50s and they are looking to turn the land over to people who will still be farming in, say, 15 years,” he said.
The Collins will continue to check Maine FarmLink listings, and if they can’t find anything on the site, they might have a chance at one of the program’s speed dating events.
These events, which are on hold due to the pandemic, are exactly what they sound like.
“We set up a space at a barn hall or local brewery and then advertise to landowners and land seekers,” Lanpher said. “Then we just line up tables and chairs and the sellers sit on one side and the buyers sit on the other and we ring a bell when it’s time to move on.”
It was during one of these events that Lanpher said more than a ground connection was made.
“We met a buyer and a seller who later married,” she said.
Part of what Lanpher does is help manage expectations, especially among people new to farming.
“Some of the people who submit profiles may have stars in their eyes,” she said. “Farming is a tough way of life and sometimes you have to have a tough conversation with someone who may be from a town where they’ve had a desk job for 15 years and they just don’t understand what what it takes to run a farm.”
At the same time, Maine FarmLink and Maine Farmland Trust are ready to help anyone who wants to farm in Maine succeed.
“We need to secure the land for future generations of farmers and know that it will be available to grow all the food we need for our future,” Lanpher said. “We really want to help these farmers succeed.”