A Shared Pursuit: Protecting Maine Land and Supporting Indigenous Freedom

     The Wabanaki nation is comprised of Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot peoples. They have occupied Maine for 12,000 years. Today, Maine land conservation trusts are shaping practices around Indigenous leadership and knowledge. Ethnic needs and environmental preservation goals have come to an intersection.

     French and English colonization introduced ideas of ownership through early settlers. Wabanaki experienced reduction of their ancestral lands and populations. Increasing conflict over divided land threatened Indigenous cultural freedoms and customs. 

     The Wabanaki population across Maine is around 8,700 people these days. They are still facing the effects of history to this day.

     Peter Forbes and Ciona Ulrich formed the First Light Committee in 2017. Its purpose is to merge communication between the Wabanaki community and the 80 recognized land trusts in the state. The committee has worked at

Allied Conservations of the First Light Conservation Delegation Committee.

expanding Indigenous access to land. It has also promoted opportunity for Indigenous leadership in land conservation. The committee takes on difficult, essential conversations and trust building to promote partnership with Indigenous representatives. Admitting and understanding the complex history of the tribes has advanced the long-term goals of land trusts.

Forever Chemicals are Contaminating Maine Land

     Maine farmland calls to mind hoop houses, tall grain crops and cows grazing peacefully out to pasture. But something is happening beneath the surface. Farmers are facing soil and water contamination from Polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAs used in manufacturing. What are these chemicals and where did they come from?

Dairy cows grazing on pasture at Springside Farms in New Vineyard, Maine.

     PFAs are a family of synthetic chemicals that do not break down in the environment. Because they are water, stain and grease resistant, they are used in the production of household products–from the Teflon coating on cookware, to textiles, furniture and carpeting. 

     The state of Maine endorsed farmers’ spreading tainted sludge from wastewater facilities as fertilizer in the 1980s. Farmers felt it was a civic duty. Today, farmers witness the fallout with heavy emotion. 

     Randall Bates is a dairy farmer at Springside Farms in New Vineyard, Maine. His family has occupied this property for over a century. Two maple trees guard the white clapboard farmhouse. On a crisp, peaceful March morning, he strolled his 400-acre organic farm past the bright red barn. Part of this barn doubles as a museum. Black and white photographs line the walls. His grandmother’s original cream separator stands by the door. “It is unfortunate that these people have done nothing wrong. They were told that spreading sludge was safe. Now they are being told that their property and livelihoods are worthless,” he said. 

The Peril Behind a Pulitzer: Through a Human Lens

     The human condition is a perilous, glorious, double-edged sword. Photojournalists across the world capture the human spirit through the powerful attention of their lens. Their work evokes a depth of understanding and emotion that precede major stories. These images stand the test of time in print and in human hearts and minds.  

     “If it makes you laugh. If it makes you cry. It’s a good photo. You look at a film and you see it and it’s over and it goes on the shelf. But a still picture is in front of you all the time…. The most powerful weapon that we have in the world is a still photograph.” -Eddie Adams.

     Photojournalism is frontline work. By nature, the work requires getting out ahead of the story. Anticipating. Wondering. Don Bartletti said, “There’s just something about this business that can catapult you to the highest sense of being or purpose. But when you miss it. They say you’re only as good as your last picture.”

Off the Beaten Path: Alternative Schooling at a Glance

     Classroom alternatives are a popular form of education for modern families. But how do these options actually work?

     Some may think that homeschooling lacks the structure or foundation that sets kids up for the real world. Many homeschool parents would reply that this alternative helps their children gain confidence, connection and sustainability.

Ashley Mitchell’s Chilren Listen to a Guest Speaker and learn about the civil war at the Lincoln public library.

     Ashley Mitchell of Lincoln, Maine, said, “I know it’s controversial, but I really don’t think you have to push kids to learn. I really think you can just be an assistant and let them lead the way.”     

     But without a strict curriculum, will children meet the standards? Mitchell said, “I believe that we are always schooling, at all times.”

     Most homeschoolers identify that they began schooling from the very start. Mitchell’s five children, ranging from 3-years-old to 12, have been cooking, cleaning and learning at home from the get-go. Learning always followed natural curiosity in their household. Mitchell’s son noted a favorite musician who drove him to pursue music deeply.

Cooking Up Corruption: Boiling to the Surface

   What lengths will a journalist go in order to expose fraud? Deliver justice? Equal parts drama, mystery and history, “All the President’s Men” chronicles the chaotic lives of two rookie journalists for the Washington Post. Set in 1976, it is based on real events in American history. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the duo investigating the link between a White House staff member and the failed bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. They go up against formidable corruption disguised by status, power and wealth. They unearth a scandal. Does any of this sound familiar yet? This movie has a warning. It is a testament to the First Amendment. And to American democracy as we know it.  

     “No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just… follow the money.” Woodward and Bernstein obtain valuable information from an informant within the FBI known as “Deep Throat.” He is instrumental in tracing a slush fund to the Nixon Campaign through a chain of prominent men.

     The pair deconstruct the Nixon Administration with the power of the free press. Tenacious journalists have the capacity to hold powerful people accountable. Often when others cannot. No one can rise above the law. Not even the president and all of his men.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: The Impact on Maine Agriculture

     Maine is 13 percent farmland. The rest is heavily forested or rocky coastline. The state recently set sights on clean energy by 2030. Solar development has gathered steam as a means for phasing out fossil fuels. But at what cost?

     Solar power requires a large, open land base. This makes farmland a prime target. Some farmers find appeal in the passive income and reduced energy costs promised by solar. Others consider solar with caution.

Solar Panels on a Sunny Day in Maine. Photo courtesy of ReVision Energy.

     The term “agrivoltaics” is the practice of using land for solar and crops or grazing at the same time. Jeremy Payne is the executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. He held a position on the solar stakeholder group. The stakeholder group sited solar projects that protected and aligned with farming. He said, “Striking that balance between solar growth and traditional farming is an important one to get right.”

     Teresa and Henry Hardy operate a multi-generational organic dairy farm in Farmington, Maine. They received letters in the mail about solar energy contracts. Every agricultural fair they attended had more developers present. The demand for farmland is in as solar projects dot the horizon.

     Hardy said, “The panels aren’t built or installed with green energy. We are told you can graze the ground under the panels. However, I don’t see quality land left. And trimming the weeds and unwanted plants from around those panels is no walk in the park.”

Solar Grazing in the Summer Sunshine. Image courtesy of Crescent Run Farm.

     While Maine seeks clean energy, farmers decide the best course of action. Hardy said, “To me, there is a double-edged sword. What will happen after the contracts are up with this useless land? It will not be good to grow crops. It will take years to get this land back to what it was.” Solar projects may offset energy costs. They may provide passive income. But what happens to the land and the material waste?

     Payne said, “Every single energy source has an environmental impact of some sort. But it is undeniable that renewables have far less of a footprint than fossil fuels. I do believe we will see more efforts take hold in the coming years. Things like solar panel recycling.” 

     Maine has enabled solar projects across the state to meet renewable energy goals. Balancing energy with agriculture remains an ongoing process.  

A Compelling Faith: The Power of the Press

     What length will someone go to bury the truth? What length will someone go to reveal it? The award winning “Spotlight” is based on real events. A team of four journalists at the Boston Globe investigate a history surrounding priests in the Catholic Church accused of pedophilic abuse. They find that the community obscured the abuse under the Catholic Church. What’s more, the press failed the community when it buried the story years ago. The team gives a voice to those who have silently endured their pain. They revolutionized the power of the press through their devotion to the uncomfortable truth. They paved the path for victims to speak out. This movie depicts the extraordinary labor for justice by resolute journalists. From the first dip into the murky waters to the deep plunge into the archives.

     The Spotlight team members are Robby Robinson, Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll. The new managing editor, Marty Baron, encourages them to think beyond the victims. The story is buried deeper in the Catholic Church system. It’s about calling the offenders to justice and the restoration of a community. 

     Carroll stumbles across parish directories revealing a horrid pattern. Each priest who “acted out” with children is listed in the directory as “on sick leave” or some similar designation. The Catholic Church transferred pedophile priests from parish to parish for years. They swept the molestation under the rug. The team builds upon this evidence. They compile the data onto a massive spreadsheet. Suddenly, the story is not about a sole case of abuse. It’s a cover-up spanning decades. Close to 90 priests are involved. And the victims are the gatekeepers of the story.

     “Mark my words. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one, too.” Mitchell Garabedian is the attorney representing clergy abuse victims in Spotlight. He is aware of just how corrupt the church is. He also recognizes that they did not act alone. It takes more than one person to cover up the truth.

      Garabedian’s reluctance to comment for the Globe at first is whole-hearted. He perceives the Globe doesn’t have the resources or talent to publish a story worthy of the victims he deals with. It is due to Rezendes’ persistence and rapport that Garabedian becomes an important source. Rezendes gives up the potential for another shot with his partner and much of his free time to relentlessly pursue the story. It’s personal for him. How can you walk away from the insidious knowledge of something transpiring for years? Or look a victim in the eye without empathy? Trapped beneath adult exteriors are children who deserve to be liberated. Rezendes is haunted by his own notion that he would someday return to the church. You could say he’s lost all faith in this moment. He’s invested in this story at whatever cost. His emotion permeates the screen. 

     Today, the Catholic Church’s involvement in the molestation of those young children is recognized. If not for the courageous efforts of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, the residents of Boston might still be harboring a painful secret. The movie is a tribute to the work of journalists. They can stitch together a community fractured by the past. They can hold the powerful accountable. Even a formidable institution. 

     Each of the team members give up normalcy to make this story at the Globe a reality. They even set down the story when the 9/11 crisis demands their attention. They risk losing steam and credibility with the countless individuals tied up in their story. Retribution from the church is a real concern. It was imperative that they get the story right. In the process, they gain confidence, merit and a deeper understanding of their work. They rise to action. Robinson rises humbly from past mistakes. Rezendes finds vision. Carroll realizes that his work is more than writing a story. It is a moral duty to provide the community with pertinent information. His own children stand at risk. He cannot turn away from the truth. None of them can.  

     Sacha goes door to door seeking out sources. She stumbles blindly into a nonchalant confession of molestation at the door of a former priest. She is caught off guard. The scene is coursing with adrenaline as a woman slams the door in her face. The movie gets investigative journalism right. The adrenaline, the dead ends and the constant failure. These elements make success possible. 

     Robinson goes to the lawyer who initially worked with the church and the victims, Eric MacLeish. MacLeish expresses rage. “I sent a list before. And you buried it.” He also lost faith in the Globe. They failed to investigate a major local institution. The team goes back into the archives and finds an old story from when Robinson was in charge of local coverage. He loses credibility with his team and with himself. But redemption is possible. It is not too late. 

     Things boil to a head as the Globe finally gains access to the sealed church documents. The team is at last in possession of proof that leaders of the church shuffled around pedophile priests for decades. They knew what was happening. Trailing the loose threads of Geoghan’s trial, the team’s breaking story rippled across the United States. “Spotlight” encompasses how great reporters break big stories. With integrity and grit.