Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
MOFGA History

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Helen and Scott Nearing

In 1971, Charlie Gould, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension agent in Lewiston,  organized a gathering at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick for  the many people who had been asking him questions about organic farming and gardening. Scott and Helen Nearing, authors of the 1970 back-to-the-land classic “Living the Good Life,” were guest speakers. From that meeting, over the winter, sprang MOFGA.

MOFGA started as a group that brought people together to learn from one another – a model we have continued to follow since. We started with local chapters, pot-luck suppers and garden tours. In 1972, we ran our first organic certification program, following the Rodale Organic Garden certification guidelines. Shortly thereafter came a farm apprenticeship program, Spring Growth Conferences (at the Hinckley School and College of the Atlantic) and MOFGA's first steps into public policy initiatives –­ a No-spray Register, organic food labeling and a campaign focusing on the hazards associated with pesticide drift. By 1972, we had a regular newsletter, which, by 1974, had evolved into a newspaper, ­The Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener. In 1986, MOFGA became the first organic farming organization to hire its own "Extension agent" – Eric Sideman.

MOFGA held its first Common Ground Country Fair at the Litchfield Fairgrounds in 1977. Fair organizers conceived the Fair as a harvest celebration. Roughly 10,000 people came from Maine and beyond. By 1981, the Fair had outgrown Litchfield, so MOFGA began renting the Windsor Fairgrounds, where the fairgoing crowd eventually grew to more than 50,000. Since the earliest days of the Fair, MOFGA had envisioned a home of its own ­– not only for the three days of Common Ground, but also for a year-round agricultural education center. A vision committee searched tirelessly for the perfect place, taking long looks in Wayne, Livermore Falls and elsewhere around the state. The search ended in Unity in 1996 with the purchase of more than 200 acres of fields and forest. We opened our doors to the public on September 25, 1998 –­ opening day of the Common Ground Country Fair.

As of 2018, MOFGA had more than 13,000 members, a staff of almost 40 , an organic certification subsidiary that certifies almost 7 percent of Maine's farms and 32 percent of the state's dairies, a year-round education program offering dozens of conferences, presentations and workshops throughout Maine, a Journeyperson Program providing advanced training for people wanting to become organic farmers, and countless opportunities for more than 2,000 active volunteers.

MOFGA has worked with the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine to conduct oral history interviews with people who have played key roles in the history of the organization. Those interviews are archived at the Folklife Center (https://umaine.edu/folklife/archives/mf-121-mofga-collection/).

Read the complete timeline of MOFGA's history (through 2017)