Stories from the Land
Michael Landgarten’s Long-term Commitment to Delicious Food and a Healthy Environment
For Michael Landgarten, owning restaurants in Maine is not just a business venture — it’s an opportunity to support local farms, maintain clean waterways, and build environmentally friendly infrastructure that serves as a model for businesses elsewhere.
Landgarten owns Kittery’s historic Bob’s Clam Hut and Lil’s Cafe, and previously owned Robert’s Grill. His list of environmental pursuits includes converting Bob’s Clam Hut to run on 100 percent solar power, and building a drainage system in the Robert’s parking lot that protects the abutting Spruce Creek. He did this by partnering with the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center to develop an innovative rainwater drainage system, and was thrilled with its outcome.
“It worked really well, and became sort of a model for how to develop shoreland,” says Landgarten. “Tour buses from New Jersey even came to see what they had done.”
Landgarten has also developed a strong relationship with nearby Greenlaw Gardens at Rustlewood Farm — a farm conserved by the Kittery Land Trust — and regularly buys tomatoes, kale, and other produce from them when those products are in season. He knows that sourcing fresh, nutrient-rich local produce not only supports the farmers, but provides his customers with the quality of food they deserve.
Outside of his restaurant work, Landgarten has been a strong advocate for preserving land in the MtA2C region. When a developer had proposed to turn what is now Kittery Land Trust’s Brave Boat Headwaters preserve into a subdivision, Landgarten went to city hall to speak out in favor of preserving the property for conservation. He applauds KLT’s 2013 success in preserving that property.
“I thought what the land trust did was downright heroic,” Landgarten says. “They are a very creative and determined bunch of folks.”
Landgarten enjoys trail running, and simply having the opportunity to experience the peacefulness of open space. He is especially supportive of the long-term goal MtA2C is working toward to preserve 19,000 acres of land from the Tatnic Hills and around Mt. Agamenticus to the shores of Kittery.
“That kind of big tract of land is so precious,” he says. “It’s so important to maintain it for future generations.”
The Best of Both Worlds: Julia Clough Reflects on Selling Her Property to York Land Trust
When now-retired real estate agent Julia Clough bought 90 acres of land on Cider Hill Road in York in the early 1980s, the property was a dream come true for her. It included an old farmhouse built in the 1700s, 90 acres of fields and woods, and access to the Smelt Brook — though the property listing never advertised this river access, Clough notes.
“They didn’t even mention the river,” says Clough, explaining that it wasn’t viewed as an asset back then the way it would be today. “Nobody had any interest in coming out here in the boondocks. It was fantastic, nobody lived out here.”
Once she moved into the farmhouse, she worked with a friend to build a trail down to the river that she would walk every day. The sprawling open land gave her solace, as well as space to breed and train corgis, which she continues to do today at 80-years-old.
“When I had my real estate business and life was hectic, I used to walk down to the river and back with the dogs every day. You can’t see anything but the river and the woods and it’s just so calming to be with nature in that way,” Clough says. “It just reminds you that, as humans, we are nature. We need to have these areas protected so that we can feel part of it.”
Over the years, more people started discovering and appreciating the beauty of the area. This eventually drove property taxes higher, so Clough had to come up with a new way to afford her property.
Pulling from her experience in real estate, she decided to subdivide her property into lots that she could sell. She ultimately sold about 70 acres to York Land Trust to become incorporated into their Smelt Brook Preserve, in what Clough describes as “the most ideal situation possible.”
“The land trust came along and they wanted to keep it the way it was, and what could be a better dream?” Clough says. “I just have the best of both worlds — I have my original land and it’s just as wild as it was before.”
In December 2016, Clough sold an additional 5 acres of her property along with a cape-style replica house to York Land Trust that is now serving as their headquarters. The presence of the land trust makes the property more accessible to the community, particularly with their new Near Point Trail that has two lookouts on Smelt Brook.
“I just can’t imagine any place better in the world,” Clough says.
Remembering the Start of a Land Trust, 30 Years Later
“We took a walk behind the house and it was this beautiful, wild feeling area,” McDermott remembers. “I said to Nora, ‘if this stays like this, I could live here forever.’”
At the time, there were only four houses on their 2.5-mile-long road. But over the years, McDermott noticed developers increasingly eyeing the land and buying up parcels. “That was the real impetus for a group of us to get together and talk about forming a land trust,” McDermott says.
He and a group of friends banded together as the founding board members of Great Works Regional Land Trust (GWRLT) in 1986. One of MtA2C’s 10 partners today, GWRLT has since conserved more than 6,000 acres spanning 122 projects across six towns (Eliot, South Berwick, Berwick, North Berwick, Wells and Ogunquit). But 30 years ago, McDermott and the other founders started from scratch, without much experience in land conservation.
“You have to picture a bunch of young people at that time, in their 30s and 40s. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing,” McDermott laughs.
Their work paid off. They partnered with the state, towns, other conservation groups, land trusts and water districts to get their project going. “It’s been an incredible success,” he says. “If we hadn’t stepped forward 30 years ago, I think a lot of this could have been lost.”
Soon after GWRLT formed, McDermott left his position as a board member to work on South Berwick’s Town Council and later in social services. Now retired, he has rejoined the GWRLT board and continues to hike, ski, and snowshoe the land around his South Berwick home, particularly on the land surrounding Mt. Agamenticus.
“It’s remarkable and it’s wonderful that that land has been preserved,” he says. “I can’t imagine living without access to wildlife, trees and fresh air.”
Food Writer Kathy Gunst Celebrates Local Food in MtA2C Region
Tomatoes, leeks, shallots, scallions, raspberries, pickling cucumbers. These are just some of the treats Gunst has growing right now. Anything she doesn’t grow herself, she seeks out at farmers markets near her South Berwick home.
“There is nothing like the taste of a warm tomato fresh off the vine or a fresh picked berry,” says Gunst, author of 15 cookbooks and resident chef on NPR’s Here & Now. “I am a big proponent of that in my own life, in trying to get people to understand if you want flavor and you want to eat simply, you have to buy good, fresh food that has not been shipped across the country.”
Gunst’s writing and radio appearances on eating local food may reach audiences nationwide, but her passion for fresh food circles back to supporting farms right here in Maine and in the MtA2C region.
“I am such a huge supporter of any effort to keep Maine looking like Maine,” says Gunst. “The beauty of living here is that open land and the farms and the access to the food that people grow here that is so good.”
When she’s not working in her garden, Gunst also hikes and walks her dog in a number of preserves in the MtA2C region. She remembers with particular joy the first time she explored York Land Trust’s Highland Farm and Smelt Brook Preserves.
“We were walking along the path by the river and I had that kind of moment of ‘wow, I live here and this is so special and this is 15 minutes from my house,’” Gunst recalls. She describes that feeling of waking up in your own neighborhood being full of gratitude to live in such close proximity to so much open space.
Between efforts like MtA2C’s to protect land for farming and recreation, and the growing interest in farming in Maine, Gunst feels optimistic for the future of local food across the state.
“The fact that there is still farmland and there is a whole new generation that is really interested in farming,” Gunst says. “That gives me such hope.”
To learn more about efforts to protect farmland in the MtA2C region, visit Great Works Regional Land Trust’s website.
Childhood Friends Work and Play at Brave Boat Headwaters
Ian Browne and Ian Goering have been playing in Brave Boat Harbor since they were 14 years old, often venturing off with canoes and surfboards in tow. As adults, they continue to venture to their favorite childhood haunt—for pleasure and for work.
The friends serendipitously both got hired by Tributary Brewing Co. in 2015, where they work on the brew crew. Last winter, they were tasked with collecting 31 gallons of saltwater to produce a German-style beer called a Gose. They knew just the spot to collect the water from.
“Oh man, it was cold,” says Goering, laughing. “We had originally planned on taking the canoe and paddling out, and woke up wicked early to go down there. But Ian and I had assessed that morning that we weren’t going to get in a canoe because it was way too windy and way too cold.”
Kittery Land Trust’s new Brave Boat Headwaters Preserve protects 150 acres of waterfront property lining the harbor. That preservation helps limit runoff and pollution into the harbor.
“Beer and local water sources have always been connected,” says Goering. “The kind of water you have has always dictated the kinds of beers you can make, so being able to use a protected water source like that is really exciting, to be able to carry on that tradition.”
But Ian and Ian discovered the magic of the harbor long before taking up brewing. As teenagers, they would often surf a small wave in the harbor.
“There is a little wave that breaks at the mouth of Brave Boat Harbor,” says Browne. “It’s this picture perfect wave, the kind of wave you would draw in your notebook in fifth grade. It’s beautiful, I have surfed it a bunch of times.”
Browne and Goering are both grateful that the area has been preserved.
“The trails I’ve been hiking since I was 14, I can still go hiking on and they haven’t changed that much,” says Goering. “If they have changed, they have changed for the better.”
“Brave Boat Harbor is probably one of my favorite places in the world,” he says. “It’s a really special place.”