Maine Farmland Trust announced Feb. 26 it has established a new Policy and Research Fellowship program.

Amanda Beal, a sustainable food policy advocate and consultant who grew up on a Maine dairy farm and is widely respected within Maine’s agricultural community, will serve as MFT’s inaugural Fellow.

Beal is a former president of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Cultivating Community, current chairman of the Eat Local Foods Coalition, serves on the boards of Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Friends of the Presumpscot River, and has been a force behind the early work of the Maine Food Strategy.

Beal is also a co-author of "A New England Food Vision," a widely circulated study, released in mid-2014, that shows how New England could grow up to two-thirds of all of its own food by the year 2060.

Beal will take on her new position at Maine Farmland Trust while she completes doctoral research in the natural resources and environmental studies program at the University of New Hampshire. Beal's dissertation will focus on how to reclaim former farmland in ways that prevent environmental degradation, with a particular emphasis on maintaining water quality so that new food production on land does not diminish the potential for food production in Maine waters.

Previously, Beal obtained her M.S. degree while enrolled in the agriculture, food and environment program at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

“Addressing this topic is critical to farming’s future,” said John Piotti, president and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust. “The only way that Maine agriculture will fulfill its promise is if more land is farmed, but we need to do that right — and this research is all about how to do it right.”

Beal expressed her belief that Maine agriculture is extremely well-positioned, provided farmers have the information and support needed to make the right decisions in the next few years.

“We're at an important juncture, where we have the opportunity to plan how to best expand our agricultural footprint in a way that doesn’t mean sacrificing the productivity of another important sector of our food system, our fisheries,” said Beal, who keeps her hand in farming by helping out at her father’s dairy farm in Litchfield most weekends.

In addition to Beal’s focus on research, she will also be helping redefine and expand Maine Farmland Trust’s involvement in public policy.

“We've always had a role in state agricultural policy,” Piotti said, “but we see increasing need and opportunity to do more, and not only at the state level, but nationally and even locally.”