After more than a decade spent as executive director of the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Jennifer Irving is leaving the position to pursue other conservation projects in Maine.

Irving, 43, has worked for the land trust since 2004, starting only a few months after the land and water conservation initiative was founded. Back then, it was a group of “really concerned community members” who wanted to make a difference.

Now, the organization has more than 300 member households and has forever conserved 4,000 acres. It’s a “strong, vital organization,” Irving said.

“I’ve been here for so very long, I felt it was time for the organization to have new leadership,” she said.

Irving also wants to take a step back from the work at land trust, which she said was “all encompassing.”

“I lived and breathed that work,” she said. With two young children at home, she wants time to live “more fully.”

Moving forward, Irving will work on 47 Daisies Farm in Vassalboro as a “community cultivator.” She’ll work to “connect people to place and to their food system.”

That means connecting people more closely to “everything from how we grow our food to how we consume it.” Irving said she plans to host children’s events, as well as activities for adults like yoga and pasta making classes. The farm has already held events like a tomato tasting, where people could come sample the 42 heirloom varieties of tomatoes they grow. Harmony Dillaway, who runs the farm with her husband Dylan, said she’s excited to have someone on the staff engaging with the community full-time.

“A big part of farming is outreach,” she said.

Irving said she is excited to be working outside again and to continue to have the same level of freedom in this position as she did at the land trust, where she was the first full-time employee.

“The more time we spend outdoors — connecting to the world — the more it nourishes our mind, body and soul,” she said.

Irving got her love of the outdoors from her childhood spent in Maine, where her father was a Maine Forester. Growing up, she knew she’d work in a job related to the environment, Irving said.

She went to college at Duke University in North Carolina and majored in environmental science and policy, afterwards working for conservation or environmental agencies in Kenya, Washington, D.C., and Cape Cod. She first worked as an intern for the Union of Concerned Scientists in D.C.

After graduating, Irving worked for Batelle in Massachusetts for two years and was also a science and environmental writer for The Cape Codder. She then served as executive director of the Pemaquid Watershed Association in Damariscotta for three years.

In the end, though, Irving was “called back” to Maine. She remembered her childhood spent outdoors, and knew that “life in the city wasn’t going to mesh with that very well.”

She moved back and became the first full-time staff member of the land trust.

Working for the land trust was the “most rewarding work that I’ve done,” Irving said, because they were able to conserve so much land forever. She also appreciated being able to live and work in the same community.

“I can’t do work that I don’t believe in,” she said.

Dylan Dillaway was on the board of directors of the land trust for three years before becoming chairman four months ago. He said they couldn’t have asked for a better executive director, and that Irving had “visionary leadership.”

“The growth of the land trust over the last three years has just been incredible to watch,” Dillaway said, giving the credit to Irving.

The most rewarding part of working with the land trust was getting to work with the landowners on conserving their property or turning them into easements, as well as working with the volunteers, Irving said.

“It’s tremendously humbling to work with the landowners and know they put their faith in you to keep their land conserved,” she said. “It’s a struggle to leave that.”

The most challenging aspect of the job was the constant fundraising.

“We work in a tremendously beautiful part of the state,” Irving said, “but certainly not the wealthiest part of it.”

Over the years the land trust has come to focus more on community conservation, which are lands maintained by the land trust and its volunteers for public use, like the Rines Wetlands and Wildlife Preserve. The organization has about 2,200 acres conserved for the community.

It was a deliberate choice that Irving and Dillaway made and the board unanimously approved, and one Irving is “very proud of.”

Moving toward community conservation allows the land trust to both fulfill its conservation goals and embrace its community, Dillaway said. It also gives people a clear connection to the land trust so they’re more likely to donate to the cause.

“Why would people want to donate to an organization if they weren’t connected to it in some way?” he said.

Dillaway is confident that the land trust will continue using this approach even as it looks for a new leader.

As for Irving, while he said the land trust is sorry to see her go, he saw her resignation as an opportunity for his farm, 47 Daisies.

The farm is certified naturally grown and was started in spring 2010 in Ruston, Louisiana, before moving to Maine in 2013. It’s now a partner with the land trust, donating a percentage of its profits to the organization each year.

Irving said it’s important to the Dillaways that the people who come to the farm connect to both it and the food they buy.

“Community has always been really, really important to us,” Dillaway said, adding that growing food is just a tool to build community for them.

Irving’s job will be to create community connections through educational programming, seasonal events and just embracing people, Dillaway said.

Forming connections between people and the food they consume is something Irving said she feels strongly about.

“I think it’s important that people understand how their food is produced and affects the ecosystem,” Irving said. “When we buy food in the grocery store we don’t feel that impact.”

For now, Irving is contracted to work for the land trust on special projects. She’s working part-time at 47 Daisies and will begin working full-time in May.

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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