Homestead Legacy Program

Building on more than ten years of listening, visioning, and active learning, Land in Common’s “Homestead Legacy Program” seeks to create a community-based pathway for the protection of some of Maine’s most iconic and important land parcels: the homesteads of the “Back-to-the-Land Movement.” Inspired by the Nearings and others, thousands of young people flocked to Maine in the 1970s to buy land and to seek active re-connection between humans and nature. While some of their experiments were short-lived, many developed into inspiring, place-based models for combining intimate environmental stewardship with the work of meeting human needs.

Today, these homesteads are powerful beacons of hope for another way of living. But what will happen to these places when their long-time stewards pass on? Will they be sold to the highest bidder and lost to development? Will they be unaffordable for less affluent or racially-marginalized members of the next generations who seek to carry on the work of their elders? This is where Land in Common comes in: as a member-run community land trust working at the intersection of environmental protection, sustainable human livelihood, and social equity and inclusion, we are offering a long-term structure—a “commons”—into which these homesteads can be placed and through which they can be cared for and shared over the course of ensuing generations.

The need for this work is clear. Maine’s small, ecologically-diverse and culturally-rich homesteads are crucial elements in the bigger picture of developing and sustaining resilient, place-based, environmentally responsible communities. Yet their smaller-scale and unique mix of residential, agricultural, and wild land often pushes them “between the cracks” of current conservation efforts. Meanwhile, Maine’s elder homesteaders are actively seeking solutions and often coming up short; we hear this consistently in conversations across the state.

How does it work? Through bequest, life estate, or sale (depending on circumstance and need) homesteaders transfer their land to Land in Common. We, in turn, match this land with new long-term stewards who purchase the infrastructure at a discounted rate and lease the land on a 99-year basis, bound by conservation and infrastructure resale-limit covenants. This structure maintains affordability for lower-income land seekers (a key priority for us), generates a modest income stream to support future projects, protects the land from market speculation, and ensures the homestead’s sustainable use and care over time.

Our work in the town of Greene exemplifies this strategy and serves as our proof-of-concept. Over the past ten years, we have worked with elder landowner Jim Nesbitt to protect more than 250 acres of agricultural and wild land—including the entire watershed of the undeveloped 30-acre Berry Pond—and to secure its long-term stewardship by the next-generation homesteaders of the Wild Mountain Cooperative. After this deliberate and focused beginning, we are ready to scale up and launch the statewide Homestead Legacy Project.

Over the next year, we are raising funds to launch a new staff position to anchor this work. Qualified candidates will have experience with land conservation, tenure, and transfer, strong connections with rural Maine, excellent communication and administrative skills, and history with practical homesteading. In the first year of the program, emphasis will be placed on statewide outreach, project intake and management, and on the selection of 1-2 priority parcels to pursue. This will complement work already in progress to build a state-wide Advisory Council made up of a diverse array of Maine conservation, agriculture, social justice, and indigenous leaders, whose task (among other things) will be to help develop principles and systems for identifying appropriate candidates for the stewardship of newly acquired parcels.

Benchmarks of success at the end of the first year will include: a functioning project management system including a priority-ranked database of landowners and seekers; convening of an advisory group of at least 5 “homestead elders” to support program development; substantive statewide outreach, with tables and workshops at 5 key events including the Common Ground Fair, Maine Farmland Access and Transfer Conference, Maine Land Conservation Conference, the FEDCO tree sale, and MOFGA Farm & Homestead Day; at least 10 substantive in-person meetings with possible land donors; at least one land acquisition project in an advanced phase of implementation; and a clear strategy for ongoing financial sustainability of the program.

If you would like to support this new program, if you have ideas, or if you’d like to get involved, please let us know!