Maine Coast Heritage Trust has launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to make improvements to Aldermere Farm, pictured here, as well as Erickson Fields Preserve. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Maine Coast Heritage Trust has launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to make facility upgrades at two Rockport preserves, including Aldermere Farm, which is home to the oldest continuously operated herd of Belted Galloway cattle in the United States.

Announced Monday, the Topsham-based land trust is aiming to meet its fundraising goal by Dec. 31. The bulk of the money will go towards improvements at Aldermere Farm, including a new dual-purpose barn and visitor center that will allow visitors to have a birds eye view of the barn operations.

“Over and over again, we’ve heard from people that they want to see the cows, especially the baby calves,” Aldermere Farm and Erickson Fields Manager Heidi Baker said in a press release on Monday.  “We’re excited to have an opportunity for people to view them safely from above like I did as a little girl in the hayloft growing up on a farm.”

Aldermere Farm, a Maine Coast Heritage Trust preserve in Rockport, is home to the oldest continuously operated herd of Belted Galloway cattle in the United States.

What is now known as Aldermere Farm, which spans 136 acres off Russell Ave, was first established as a working farm around 1800. In 1950, a herd of Belted Galloways was introduced to the farm and have been raised there ever since. Belted Galloways are a breed of cattle that originated in southwest Scotland and are raised primarily for beef. Their black and white coats give them a unique look, resembling an Oreo-cookie, according to Aldermere Farm’s website.

The property was conserved by Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 1999.

Aldermere Farm continues to operate as a cattle farm and preserve, as well as providing educational programming for youth and professional support for farmers. About 2,000 people visited the farm in 2021, according to Maine Coast Heritage Trust. One of the biggest draws is the farm’s annual calf unveiling event, where the newest members of the Belted Galloway herd can be seen by the public. This year’s calf unveiling day  takes place Saturday May 7.

The proposed new 9,175-square-foot barn ― with additional space for the visitor center ― will replace six of the nine buildings that are currently on the site, many of which are in dire need of repair, according to the release. The new visitor center will also allow for wheelchair access.

The new facility “will consolidate many functions of the farm while increasing accessibility to a broader variety of visitors,” the release states.

Just across town, Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s 164-acre Erickson Fields Preserve is also slated to benefit from the fundraising efforts.

The property, which was a dairy farm operated by the Erickson family for generations, now functions as both a farm and preserve, with active vegetable production and 1.4 miles of trails. The farm donates over 25,000 pounds of produce annually to the local community and provides a teen agriculture program where high school students plant, harvest and distribute food to local organizations, according to Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

If the fundraising campaign is successful, a new 660-square-foot storage barn will be built at Erickson Field to store tools and equipment, replacing a temporary tarp building, according to the release.

The funding would also allow for trail upgrades and new signage at both preserves, as well as a   “essential new equipment, including a solar array, tractor, truck, and transport van,” the release states.

“Over the years, we’ve done as much as possible with what we have, but it’s time to make a significant and meaningful investment in these preserves,” Baker said in the release. “I just know the impact of this campaign, if successful, will be tremendous for everyone in our community.”

The fundraising goal also includes $500,000 to go toward the endowment fund for both properties to ensure their long term sustainability.