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There are few things harder to find in life than your soulmate.
In this economy, Maine real estate is one of them.
If you’re looking for love, you can head to an online dating site. But if it’s a farm tugging at your heartstrings, the ideal match may well be on Maine FarmLink, the Match.com of the Maine agricultural community.
While the online site — which pairs prospective farm buyers and sellers — has been making matches for more than two decades, the service now finds itself uniquely positioned during 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 run by Maine Farmland Trust, and the group makes it very clear it is not a real estate agency or brokerage. Instead, it’s a way for the nonprofit to address its mission to protect the state’s farmland and support current and future farmers.
Other states have similar farm seller and buyer linking services, but what makes Maine FarmLink unique is that prospective buyers can post profiles describing themselves, their farming experience and what kind of farming they hope to do in Maine, along with as much other personal information as they want.
That, according to Sue Lanpher, allows those wanting to see their farms stay in production after the sale to feel assured the land is going to the right people.
Lanpher is the coordinator of Maine FarmLink and jokingly refers to herself as a matchmaker.
The program began in 2002 as what Lanpher describes as a sort of kitchen table, hand holding process that helped farmers wanting to sell or rent out their land connect with people looking to buy or rent.
“It has really morphed from that into an online matchmaking service so we are able to match farmer to farmer and land owner to land seeker,” Lanpher said.
Landowners can reach out directly to those looking for farms or land on Maine FarmLink or ask Lanpher to act as a go-between to arrange a sort of introductory first date.
“Some sellers are really serious about screening potential buyers,” Lanpher said. “They will have a whole set of questions and ask me to reach out to do a first vetting to see if the buyer’s interests and goals align with their own.”
Once that happens, Maine FarmLink takes no part in any price, deed, lease or any other negotiations that follow after people are linked up.
To date, Maine FarmLink has made 225 successful matches. There are 14 active listings of farms or land for sale or for rent, and between 60 and 75 profiles of people from around the country looking for some form of farmland in Maine, from outright purchase to renting fields for hay production.
The discrepancy between those looking and those selling is reflective of the recent explosion of interest in Maine farmland that has made the current time period one of the most difficult ever to purchase a farm in the state.
The site is open to the public and that means the numbers of potential buyers listed is not reflective of the interest in Maine land, Lanpher said.
“Even people who do not post profiles can look on our site for available farms,” she said. “We have thousands of people who look at those listings.”
Among those are Timothy and Kelly Collins who are living on a farm in Acton but are actively searching for another farm to call home as their current situation has turned sour.
The couple found what was, for them, a perfect farm to raise enough food for their family and to share with their neighbors. They entered into a lease-to-own agreement with the owner but his recent death upended the deal.
“His children decided they were sitting on a gold mine,” Kelly Collins said. “They lowered the amount of land we could buy and tripled the price.”
Given the increase in a sale price coupled with the thousands of dollars they have already spent making improvements to the farm, the Collinses made the decision to look for a less expensive farm to purchase.
Now they are back working with Maine FarmLink to find land on which to grow organic crops, raise foster children and establish a farm learning program for foster children.
Timothy Collins said they have explored some possible farms for sale or lease on Maine FarmLink, but have not yet found the right fit.
“We have met some absolutely wonderful people who are so passionate about farming and food and keeping farmland for farms,” he said. “Either their farm was not right for us or we were not what they were looking for.”
In one case, Timothy Collins said the sellers were put off by the couple’s age.
“We are both in our early 50s and they are looking to hand off the land to people who will still be farming in say 15 years,” he said.
The Collinses will keep looking at Maine FarmLink listings and, if they can’t find anything on the site, they may have a shot at one of the program’s speed dating events.
Those events, which are on hold due to the pandemic, are exactly what they sound like.
“We arrange a space in a grange hall or local brewery and then advertise for land owners and land seekers,” Lanpher said. “Then we simply line up tables and chairs and sellers sit on one side and buyers sit on the other and we ring a cowbell when it’s time to move on.”
It was at one of those events that Lanpher said that more than a land connection was made.
“We had a buyer and seller meet who later got 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 can have stars in their eyes,” she said. “Farming is a hard lifestyle and sometimes you have to have a tough conversation with someone who may be coming to it from a city where they had a desk job for 15 years and simply don’t understand 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 land for future farming generations and know it will be available to grow all the food to sustain our future,” Lanpher said. “We really want to help set these farmers up for success.”