Conserving Rustlewood Farm: Farmland & Heritage in Kittery and Eliot
A 300-acre dairy farm straddling the Kittery/Eliot town line is the latest in Great Works' farmland protection projects, assisting Kittery Land Trust.
Rustlewood Farm Photos by Peter E. Randall
A rare opportunity exists for Kittery Land Trust, with the assistance of Great Works Regional Land Trust, to conserve the land that Richard Johnson farms on his family’s historic farmstead. Rustlewood Farm is the last working dairy farm in Kittery.
The Johnson family wishes to continue working the rich soils that have supported their dairy farm since the 1940s, and prevent its development. Rustlewood stems back 65 years when Richard Johnson’s parents, Chester and Elsa, moved from Massachusetts and created a rich, productive dairy farm on a mosaic of extensive open fields and woodlands with rich soils and vital watersheds. They raised a family of nine children and a herd of 100 dairy cows.
Today, Richard and Beth Johnson raise a herd of 170 Holsteins on Rustlewood Farm. It is the largest such herd in York County. The milk is sold to Agri-Mark, the dairy cooperative that provides milk to Cabot Creamery, Garelick, West Lynn Creamery and Hood. The farm has received several awards, such as Maine’s Green Pastures Award for outstanding dairies in 1957 and 1997.
About half the land is used to raise hay and grain for a dairy operation; the rest harbors hemlock, pine, oak, beech and birch. Flowing through the property are Spruce Creek, one of Maine’s most impaired water bodies; and Cutts Ridge Brook, which drains into the York River. To maintain the productivity of this rich farmland in the future, it must be protected.
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"When my parents moved here in the 1940s there were farms all over western Kittery, Eliot and South Berwick. Most of them are gone now; the fields are either fallow and growing back in, or they’ve been turned into subdivisions. We’re the last dairy still operating,” said Richard. “If we protect the town’s best farmland, we know 50 or 100 years down the road there will be some place left in Kittery where we could grow an awful lot of food.” - Richard Johnson
Great Works Regional Land Trust has raised $25,000 towards Kittery Land Trust’s purchase of the Rustlewood Farm conservation easement.
A $12,500 challenge pledge from Bondgarden Farm in Eliot matched contributions up to that amount and our donors stepped up. Thank you!
Kittery Land Trust was successful in obtaining a grant in the full amount requested ($414,500) from the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP). This grant requires a 1:1 match for every dollar awarded and Kittery Land Trust is seeking support for the $1.05 million Rustlewood Farm project from a broad range of other partners including state and federal agencies, private donors and foundations. The town of Kittery has committed $100,000 towards the project, and Eliot has contributed $25,000 from its Landbank Reserve.
The benefits of conserving Rustlewood Farm:
- Protecting 300 acres total, 210 acres in Kittery and 90 acres in Eliot
- Conserving rich agricultural soils:
- 90% of the farm’s soils have national, statewide or local agricultural significance
- Protecting water quality with nearly one mile of Spruce Creek flowing across the property
- Providing habitat for wildlife, including grassland birds and state endangered New England Cottontail
- Preserving rural character in Kittery and Eliot and scenic views off Wilson Road
- Sustaining public access to outdoor recreation, including hunting, trapping, birding, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling
- Giving children educational opportunities about agriculture and conservation