Cedar and Pearl


By John Piotti | Jun 06, 2016

I had a few different themes in mind for this week’s column.

Two weekends ago, Susan and I varnished our old wooden boat, which we then launched midweek. For us, the scent of varnish is a true spring ritual. I have described in past columns the memory-filled annual awakening of our boat (and our olfactory senses), and could have could have done so again.

And then there is the weather. Summer arrived overnight, it seems. Our house was hot last Saturday for the first time in nine months. I wore shorts and found fans and took my first cold shower. The scent of lilacs is everywhere, and our backyard is bursting with so many shades of green that I can’t walk outside without itching to describe it.

Then this past weekend brought something even more significant: Anna’s graduation from Bowdoin. I could easily write about her growth and blossoming, as I have many times before. It’s a theme that never fails to produce rich material — and here was one of her biggest moments yet. I can’t resist sharing a little parental pride in our accomplished daughter, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. But I’ll hold off writing more, in part because I just wrote about her in my last column, and in part because I really need to address, instead, the news at hand.

Elsewhere in this newspaper is an article describing my own graduation of sorts, as I move into a new position. After 10 years of leading Maine Farmland Trust (MFT), I have accepted a new job as president and CEO of American Farmland Trust (AFT).

In my professional world, AFT is the organization that started it all. Founded in 1980 by Peggy Rockefeller, who was inspired by what Maine had done to protect our islands and coastline, AFT was a true pioneer, developing the agricultural conservation easement and protecting the first farm properties in America. Thirty-five years later, AFT has helped protect over 5 million acres nationally, while helping tens of thousands of farmers adopt environmentally-sound practices.

AFT has also helped form a dozen state-based organizations, including Maine Farmland Trust. Back in 1999, when MFT was created, AFT helped our founders craft a mission and a set of activities that have now done so much to advance farming in Maine. In fact, we liked what AFT’s shared with us so much that we borrowed much of their name.

AFT is an impressive organization, and I’m honored to have been chosen to lead it.

Though I will begin working for AFT this summer, I will continue at the helm of MFT until Oct. 1. This will allow for a smooth and productive transition at MFT, where the plan is to have a new president on board by September. That kind of transition is important to maintain MFT’s current momentum.

There may never be an ideal time to leave an organization, but I do believe that this is just about the best possible moment — given the strength of MFT’s current board, staff, programming, and financial position. I have every confidence in MFT’s continued success.

At this point, the last thing I want to do is get nostalgic about my years at MFT. (There will be time for that later!) Right now, my focus is on the work that needs to be done over the next few months.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to say that I’m so proud of what MFT has accomplished over the last 10 years.

During that time, we’ve protected thousands of acres of Maine’s best farmland and provided substantive support to hundreds of farmers. We’ve elevated public awareness about the enormous potential of farming in Maine, and launched highly creative new programs that have received national acclaim. And given these successes, it’s no surprise that our membership has grown from about 400 to almost 6,000!

I’m passionate about farming. And I fervently believe that farming done right is our future. My new role at American Farmland Trust gives me a chance to impact what I care about on a larger stage. Still, the decision to leave MFT was extremely difficult.

Susan and I finally made the decision by thinking about our two children. We are always pushing Anna and John to learn more, take greater risks, and jump at any opportunity to make a difference. We’re following the same advice we’ve been giving our kids all these years.

As president of AFT, a national organization, I will often be traveling and will spend a great deal of time at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. But Maine is, and will always remain, my home.

I’ll have the flexibility to do some work from Maine. I don’t intend to miss my spring ritual, brushing on varnish. And I hope I never get to the point where my senses are not overwhelmed by the scents and sights that a Maine May brings forth, or by how pleasurable it is — after a Maine winter — to feel truly and deeply warm.

Meanwhile, our children will continue to make us laugh and cry — and from time to time, even teach us a thing or two.

So beyond everything else, I suspect I still have a lot more columns in me.

John Piotti lives in Unity. His column “Cedar and Pearl” appears every other week.

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