"Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is a survival imperative."
- Vandana Shiva
|| A Timeline of MOFGA's History
Here are some highlights from our four-plus decades.
Back-to-the-landers and others interested in organic growing meet at locations around Maine to share information, visit gardens and make cooperative orders.
Cliff and Helen Parsons host meetings of the Promised Land Organic Club in Poland, Maine.
Organic growers decide to have a statewide organization. Abbie Page (now Abbie McMillen) starts organizing the membership and starts the monthly MOFA News for the Maine Organic Foods Association; the newsletter later becomes the tabloid, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Another original MOFGA member, Mort Mather, gives Abbie credit for starting MOFGA.
The first meeting of the Maine Organic Foods Association occurs at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show.
Ken Horn is the first president, followed by Jim Luthy; Mort Mather is second treasurer.
Charlie Gould, a Cooperative Extension Agent in Lewiston, calls a gathering at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick of the many people who had been calling him with questions about organic gardening and farming. Scott and Helen Nearing were guest speakers, and from that meeting, over the winter, came the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).
Gould offers the space and facilities of the Cooperative Extension office to produce the newsletter.
MOFGA certifies 27 farms as organic, following Rodale Organic Garden certification guidelines. Ken and Roberta Horn, who farmed the 140-acre Ken-Ro Farm in Plymouth, are the first certified-organic farmers in Maine. They work closely with Cooperative Extension to promote organic agriculture.
MOFGA begins its public policy initiatives with a "No-spray Register," organic food labeling, and a campaign focusing on hazards of pesticide drift.
MOFGA becomes incorporated and achieves tax-exempt status.
The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Vol. I, No. 1, is published in August by volunteers Abbie McMillan, Mort Mather and Tim Nason. Nason also serves as editor, solicits articles, writes many himself and sells ads. The paper quickly gains popularity for its thorough, practical articles about farming and homesteading.
MOFGA certifies 47 growers. Its certification program is self-supporting. Certification Standards take up less than one column on one page of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
Even in 1974, Eliot Coleman, in a MOFGA-sponsored address at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, urges growers to go beyond organic. He laments the "aspirin-oriented culture" of organic agriculture, i.e., looking for a cure to a problem instead of understanding the source of the problem and correcting that. Instead he recommended "optimum farming," i.e., growing plants in soils that provide what they need to fend off pests.
Chellie Pingree (then Cheli Johnson), while studying agriculture and land sciences at College of the Atlantic under Eliot Coleman, becomes a MOFGA Board member. She applies to apprentice with Tony Bok for the summer, thus starting MOFGA's apprenticeship program. Pingree helped set up the formal program in 1975 and ran it while serving as treasurer of MOFGA. (Informal apprenticeships had occurred previously; for example, students from Antioch College apprenticed at KEN-RO Farm and earned college credit.) Later apprenticeship program coordinators were Paul and Molly Birdsall, Bill and Cynthia Thayer, Barbara Eggert, Don and Joan Lipfert, Rebecca Stanley, Sue Sargeant and Rosey Guest. Pingree went on to become a state legislator and now is a U.S. Congresswoman.
Déjà vu? In the March-April 1975 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Eliot Coleman reported on his trip to Europe for a conference on biological agriculture, followed by several farm tours. "I consider the European term 'biological' agriculture to be superior to 'organic'," he reported. "If there is going to be an overall term for the concepts of non-chemical farming it must communicate the idea clearly to others and be free from the semantic misunderstanding and commercial associations that plague 'organic.'"
"Secretary Butz says it can't be done. Now read about the people who are doing it!" Rodale's ad for Organic Gardening and Farming in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, May-June 1975.
Rob Johnston advertises Johnny's Selected Seeds' needs in the May-June issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener: "Based upon our projected seed needs for the 1976 season, we cannot possibly raise all of our own seed here at Peacemeal Farm. We have a need for growers…"
Chaitanya York, (later MOFGA's first executive director), throws out the idea of a Fair at various times but is told it can't be done. Ken Horn suggests that MOFGA have a presence at agricultural fairs, but again, MOFGA wasn't ready.
MOFGA's Executive Director, Vice President and Treasurer are standing around a compost heap in Union one day, musing on the fact that MOFGA was broke. "We needed a miracle," recalls then director Chaitanya York. Vice president Nick Lore suggests a fair.
L.C. Goldman of Rodale's Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine calls MOFGA "the most effective group of its kind in the country."
Chaitanya York, Albie Barden and Ron Poitras found Northeast Carry, an appropriate technology enterprise. They get a two-year Kendall Foundation grant for rural community development that funds a central office and paid staff for MOFGA. York is the first salaried Executive Director, working in the same Hallowell office where the first edition of the Farmer's Almanac had been written.
Photos of KEN-RO Farm, MOFGA's first certified organic farm, appear in the USDA Yearbook of Agriculture.
A survey of MOFGA members asks whether MOFGA should buy and manage its own research farm. 43% say yes; 40% say no; 16% don't respond. The same survey asked, "What are the three most important attitudes to have for a successful homestead? Members think of seven:
1. Enjoy hard work.
2. Be patient; go slow. Plan realistic goals.
3. Be persistent and committed.
4. Be willing to learn, be flexible, be open, have a sense of humor.
5. Think in terms of cooperation and of serving others.
6. Understand and accept nature, the land and weather. Live your garden—not just plant it.
7. Have a pioneering spirit and be aware of the value homesteading has in today's world.
Members add two "essential ingredients":
1. A cooperative partner or partners.
2. Good health.
MOFGA holds its first Common Ground Country Fair, a harvest celebration, in Litchfield. "A group of hippies, back-to-the-landers and organic zealots gathered in Litchfield to welcome 2,000 fairgoers and got 10,000 instead!" Bill Whitman later writes. Chaitanya York, founding Fair Director, later calls the Fair "one of the most joyous and satisfying experiences in which I have had the privilege to participate… A unique and warm spirit permeated the grounds and dispelled rain when it was showering all around us."
The first Fair grossed almost $19,000, "and after expenses about $11,000 of right livelihood money is available to pay staff and operating costs for another four months" and to pay back staff who had worked at half salaries for the previous two and one-half months, according to York. Mort Mather credits Allen Powell for raising much of the funding leading for the first Fair.
Paul Chartrand is Assistant Fair Director for two years, then Director for three more years. (Chartrand later serves in the Maine legislature and now runs a business importing organic wines.)
After the Fair, Lloyd Ferriss writes: "…it seemed that everyone who was here felt that something unusual and something good was unfolding in Litchfield. It was a fair that did indeed show the revival of the American country spirit. It also educated people in a lot of fascinating ways and…it was good pagan fun." About the great food, he writes: "How much better than cotton candy and soda and their sickly aftertaste!" About Phillip Johnson's display of grain harvesting tools and machinery, and his sacks of homegrown wheat, Ferriss says: "…he put to rest the notion that Maine people must depend on the West for all their grain. They can grow it in their fields."
After Ferriss won the 10 km foot race (currently the only organic foot race that we're aware of) at the 1977 Fair, he noted that "people make opportunities for such things to happen… MOFGA made it all happen at the Common Ground Country Fair."
Wendell Berry is the keynote speaker at the second Common Ground Country Fair. In a pre-Fair interview, he is asked: Do you see a significant transition to organic methods occurring—over what time frame?" Berry responds:
"The change will come when farmers are convinced that it makes economic sense. When it is clear that farmers can grow food by organic methods cheaper than they can grow it by chemical methods, and when, as a consequence, organic farmers can undersell the chemical farmers… Organic methods will have to prove to be cheaper. I think they will, as the cost of petroleum rises… I am sure that it is wrong for organic farmers to assume that they are entitled to higher prices than chemical farmers. I don't think they can hope for a general success by making themselves dependent on an exclusive market.
"The organic idea, as I understand it, is not just a way of growing crops without chemicals. It has to do with the idea of independence. It proposes to make the farm so far as possible independent of the corporations. It proposes, by correct methods, to make the farm itself the principal source of its own energy and fertility. It proposes to strengthen a farm's economy by lowering the overhead and by practicing economies of thrift and care -- not by buying more land and more machinery according to the so-called 'economy of scale.'
"Food produced by chemical farming is an industrial product, and has to be priced according to the cost of oil, machinery, labor, etc. Organic methods provide at least a start at making food again an agricultural product which can be priced a different way.
"Agriculture is not good if it is not indefinitely good, maintaining the health and fertility of the soil generation after generation. Real agriculture is focused on human centuries, not on man-hours."
After the very successful 1978 Fair (20,000 people in attendance and $22,000 added to MOFGA's coffers), Chaitanya York wrote in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener: "Well, we've already had our first meeting for Common Ground '79, and let me dispel some fears by saying that consensus is, with minor exceptions, not to enlarge the fair but to perfect it." About those minor exceptions... Attendance has since grown to about 50,000 each year, and the event outgrew both Litchfield and Windsor; but in fairness to York, the Fair still being perfected!
MOFGA hires Mark Hineline to redesign MOFGA's newspaper.
Tim Nason asks Jane Lamb to write profiles of small farms for The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, and the reputation of the paper goes up yet another big notch. Lamb's insightful, informative, highly readable farm features formed the backbone of the paper for 23 years. She is now retired in northern California.
- Lamb's first feature, in May-June 1979, was about Hartley Spencer and John and Chris Bly, who grossed $2,500 from the 28,000 square feet of land in Tenants Harbor. Greens, sold mostly to summer people, were their biggest crop.
- Chaitanya York announces that, with great sadness, he will step down as Executive Director of MOFGA at the end of the year because he yearns for a change and wants to spend more time with his family. He credits the Lord, his wife, Werner Erhard (of est – Erhard Seminar Training) and Swami Satchidananda (a Yoga master) for his ability to contribute to MOFGA. He plans to work in government next, toward his commitment "to realize a permanent agriculture on this planet." He also works as a government liaison and legislative advocate for the Maine Consortium for Food Self-Reliance.
In his farewell letter (The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Nov.-Dec. 1979), York notes that for an organization to function in complete service to its purpose, it must stay true to its purpose; be viable in the world (i.e., achieve its goals and get the job done); and nurture the people who participate in it to the degree that they choose to come in contact with it, rather than using or sacrificing people, making them less than they are.
York worries that MOFGA's financial survival is crowding member service for importance; that some older members are no longer participating and others are grumbling about MOFGA; and that top-down decisions have increased because of lesser member participation and input. These problems seem hidden behind MOFGA's successes (the Fair, co-op orders, establishment relations), notes York. Thus MOFGA undertakes a self-assessment that brings greater clarity and order. More members become active participants, especially in the Fair, in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, and with fundraising. The office is restructured. Staff is increased to meet membership needs. Members become happier and sense their joint ownership in MOFGA. York sees a need to serve gardeners more, especially since they form the majority of MOFGA's membership.
York notes that starting the Common Ground Fair took courage and irrational behavior to penetrate the "it can't be done" and "where's the money coming from" attitudes. "Money always has secondary importance to the idea, and that's precisely why money is discovered to make it happen. Quite irrational!"
Noting that the Fair is outgrowing the Litchfield Fairgrounds, he suggests that the fair planning team form a special committee to begin to create a Common Ground Country Fairground. (He notes that others, including Mike Haskell, had proposed this previously.) York's vision for a permanent fairgrounds stems from his knowledge that "in ages past, particularly during the Renaissance, the major (often only) question before building something was, 'Will it be beautiful? Will it uplift the spirit?' I'd like us to proceed in that spirit and begin the process of discovering how to make it happen. Beautiful solar design barns, exhibition hall, children's sculpture, gaming fields, model dwellings…"
MOFGA Solar Greenhouse Project workshops, directed by Ron Poitras, Harvey Lorber and Conrad Heeschen (designer), build nine greenhouses in Maine.
Mort Mather and the Manure Spreading Society of Maine (MSS of M) start the "Grand Pitch-Off" at the Common Ground Country Fair, preceded by manure pitching contests around Maine. Mather, president of MSS of M, makes up the rules for the contest, including one that politicians cannot enter because they might have an unfair advantage in a manure slinging contest. The contest is named after Harry S. Truman, for his down-to-earth style, As Mather explains: A society lady once asked Mrs. Truman if she could get the president to stop using the word 'manure.' Bess replied, "You don't know how long it took me to get him to start using that word." The contest continues to this day.
Arthur Whitman serves as executive director of MOFGA – at the same time as he serves as executive director of the World Affairs Council of the Council of Churches in Biddeford-Saco. In the latter capacity, he works "to raise people's consciousness on world issues: energy; the situation in Iran, the falling of the dollar."
Whitman brings new energy to the idea of a permanent site for the Fair. He and the Fair Steering Committee envision a Rural Education Center to house the Fair and the MOFGA staff; to demonstrate building energy-efficient, solar structures; to educate about rural skills and thus help rebuild the rural agricultural economy and return Maine to a state of food security; to teach about soil and crop health, growing and storing food, marketing, raising livestock…and much more.
Members of the planning team and other interested MOFGA members visit educational farms in the Northeast, including the Coolidge Center for the Advancement of Agriculture (Topsfield, Mass.), Maine Audubon's Gilsland Farm, The Rodale Organic Gardening and Farming Research Center, The Ark (on Prince Edward Island), the New Alchemy Institute and more. They write about these places for the Feb. 1981 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
These visits fill Whitman with program ideas and enthusiasm. "There is evidence of an explosive public interest in organic agriculture," he reports. "We were all dealing with an idea whose time had come. The common thread that motivated the leaders of each program was the growing awareness that many in our society are drifting away from what had been a fundamental characteristic of American rural life: the fine art of caring.
When Whitman steps down in late 1982, MOFGA president Mort Mather praises him for "a much needed focus and continuum, as well as management of the many diverse functions necessary to keep MOFGA on the road and progressing. Art has won respect for himself as well as for MOFGA in its growing stature and influence within the state."
Whitman goes on to work for the Laudholm Trust in Wells. Now approaching his 80th birthday, Whitman serves as treasurer of Maine Veterans for Peace. If you see him at the Veterans' booth at Common Ground, say "Thanks!"
Having outgrown the Litchfield fairgrounds, the Common Ground Country Fair moves to the Windsor Fairgrounds and enjoys a crowd of 25,000.
After his third year as Fair director, Paul Chartrand prepares to hand over the reins at the end of the year to Bill Whitman, who, Chartrand says, has a "capacity for endless work and assistance to others" – perhaps learned when he grew up on a dairy and poultry farm in Turner, Maine.
Regarding the 1981 Fair, Chartrand adds: "The lack of coffee was also widely noted and your feelings on this issue are very welcome."
The news that laboratory scientists are splicing genes from different life forms together (aka recombinant DNA or genetic engineering) is mentioned in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener for the first time. A "sunbean" – a combination of a sunflower and a bean plant, is noted.
Organic Growers Supply, Inc. (OGSI) forms under the direction of Ben Wilcox as part of MOFGA to bring bulk supplies to the state. It later becomes part of Fedco Seeds. Seeing the success of OGSI, farm supply stores start stocking organic goods. (Previous to OGSI, Ken Horn, Ben Wilcox, the Nearings and others cooperatively order the first boxcar loads of organic amendments to come to Maine.)
Eliot Coleman tells Jane Lamb (reporting in the Feb. 1981 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener): "Most intelligent people see agriculture falling in the organic direction. It's going to become the conventional method when it becomes national policy to conserve fossil fuels and chemical resources. Vested interests will only slow the process down temporarily, because they see the handwriting on the wall."
While MOFGA has been engaged in legislative actions from its inception, 1981 marks the beginning of a formal legislative committee, with core members Tony Bok, Beedy Parker and Jeannie Hollingsworth.
MOFGA adopts a "pay as you go" budget philosophy. Chapters are asked to hold bake sales or other fundraisers to help support the organization.
A MOFGA survey finds that 30% of Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener readers meet over 50% of their food needs from their own farms or gardens; another 30% meet 25 to 50 percent; 20% purchase all of their milk directly from a dairy farmer.
The University of Maine studies organic vs. conventional plots of vegetables for the first time, thanks in large part to Dr. Frank Eggert.
Item in the Feb. Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener: To Love, Honor and Radish. Rob Johnston, of Johnny's Selected Seeds, received the following communication from Lora Fanshel of Santa Rosa, California: "My daughter, Lupine, who is five, calls you 'Johnny's Galactic Seeds.' She hasn't seen Star Wars, but she knows plenty about gardening. When some friends decided to get married, we asked her if they knew what getting married meant… 'they're going to have a garden together.' Hope springs eternal."
MOFGA moves its offices from Hallowell to a roomier space in Augusta.
"It is nuclear energy, in its fission and fusion forms, that is at the opposite poles of the energy debates. Those who see the sun as an energy producer are on one side of the table; those who would split and disintegrate the atom in an earthbound replica of the sun's core are on the other." John Cole, in the Oct. 1982 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
"Agriculture is the most dynamic geological event ever to occur," Wes Jackson says at his keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair. "The plowshare may well have destroyed more options for future generations than the sword" through loss of soil – "the greatest danger facing the earth." Jackson was and still is working on a polyculture of perennials at The Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas.
The Organic Farming Act, which would have funded research on organic methods, is voted not to pass by the U.S. Congress. Rep. Olympia Snowe votes against the bill; Rep. David Emery is absent for the vote but had expressed support. Opponents say organic farming has been "studied over and over again to death."
Two "bona fide MOFGA members from Auburn" – Republican Harriet B. Lewis and Democrat John M. Michael – join the Maine House of Representatives.
Steve Cartwright, becomes Publications Director for MOFGA, a job that includes editing The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. Dedicated organic farmer, Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener writer and MOFGA chapter founder Pam Bell becomes Associate Editor. After one issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Cartwright steps down, Bell takes over as editor until 1988, and Tim Nason returns to producing the paper – a job he continues to do (beautifully) today.
Common Ground Fair director Bill Whitman accepts awards for MOFGA from the Annual Meeting of the International Assoc. of Fairs and Expositions – a 1st prize for Advertising Specialties and another 1st for Printed Promotional Materials, for the Fairbook, the Sept. edition of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, posters, brochure, bumper stickers, etc.
By majority vote at the 1983 MOFGA Annual Meeting, a land search for a permanent home for the Common Ground Country Fair is initiated. Again. Common Ground Fairgoers donate $3,000 toward the cause.
The number of paid gate admissions to the Fair is 32,282, another high.
MOFGA proposes and helps pass state legislation requiring that a member of the Board of Pesticides Control must have knowledge and practical experience in Integrated Pest Management.
Scott Nearing dies shortly after reaching his 100th birthday and after inspiring so many to "grab life with both hands," as Tim Nason writes in his eulogy in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
Maine Commissioner of Agriculture Stu Smith, a keynote speaker at the Common Ground Fair, tells MOFGA members what they've been waiting to hear from an agricultural policy maker: that for Maine to be self-reliant in agriculture, we need public support; support from Cooperative Extension; financial credit from the state for small and part-time farmers; marketing assistance; a state policy about what Maine farmers can reasonably be expected to produce for Maine citizens; and assurance that sufficient land will be preserved for agriculture.
Tina Blanchard is hired as Director of Special Events for MOFGA, which includes directing the Common Ground Fair.
Friday becomes MOFGA Day at the Common Ground Fair: MOFGA members get in free.
MOFGA receives the Affiliate of the Year Award from the Natural Resources Council for "outstanding and distinguished service in the field of natural resource management."
Senator George Mitchell co-sponsors the Agricultural Productivity Act, which would fund research on organic practices with $2.1 million from the USDA budget. His testimony comes from letters prepared by MOFGA members Beedy Parker, Pam Bell, Frank Eggert, Rob Johnston and David Vail.
More than 40,000 people attend the Common Ground Fair. Advance ticket sales at 15 Maine outlets significantly reduce the ticket sales waiting lines at the Fair.
As repercussions of Union Carbide's deadly pesticide factory explosion in Bhopal, India, surface, Union Carbide considers changing its motto – "Today, something we do will touch your life" – reports The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
Bonnie Lounsbury, MOFGA member and environmental lawyer, is appointed to Maine's Board of Pesticides Control, despite opposition from Farm Bureau, Lucas Tree, blueberry growers and others.
Kent Whealy of the Seed Savers Exchange tells the audience at his Common Ground keynote speech that 80% of the vegetable varieties available at the turn of the century have disappeared from commerce.
Under direction of MOFGA board president Bonnie Miller, the organization develops its first five-year plan.
MOFGA becomes the first organic farming organization to hire its own "Extension Agent," Eric Sideman (currently our Organic Crops Specialist). With a B.S. in agriculture from Cornell, an M.S. in biology from Northeastern Univ., and a Ph.D. in plant ecology from the Univ. of N.H., Sideman brings just what MOFGA wants: an ecological approach to agriculture. This move earns MOFGA wide recognition as a serious farming and gardening organization. Sideman is still on the job.
Stirling Kendall becomes MOFGA's Director of Special Events.
Lynn Miller, an Oregon farmer and publisher of The Small Farmer's Journal, is the keynote speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair. He says, "Without exception farming is the noblest and grandest vocation -- one which affords countless opportunities for humankind's best qualities and skills to contribute to the endurance and betterment of our fragile world. Farming must not be 'evolved' out of a humanly guided, spirit-filled process of creativity and nurturing into an abstract, corporately-controlled industry."
The Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs presents MOFGA's Common Ground Country Fair with an award for excellence in demonstrations and educational exhibits.
Jay Adams resigns his position of Executive Director. Paul Volckhausen, MOFGA's Board President, serves as acting Executive Director. MOFGA hires a consultant to help assess its structure and needs. Bylaws are revised, the organization becomes more centralized, and chapters have less to do with day-to-day operations.
Beedy Parker and Jeanne Hollingsworth receive the Natural Resources Council of Maine's Conservation Award for their work on pesticides. They attend meetings of the Board of Pesticides Control; establish the MOFGA No-Spray Registry to protect landowners from spray drift; and force the issue of pesticide drift, which led to a pesticide drift conference in Portland in 1984.
Nancy Ross is Executive Director of MOFGA. Her planning and analytical background, and her expertise in communications are just what MOFGA needs now. She doubles membership to 3000 by 1995. Ross also serves on the national Organic Farmers Association Council (OFAC) and on the Agricultural Council of Maine, which she helped found. While on OFAC, Ross and Maine farmer Dave Colson lobby for the federal Organic Food Production Act. Ross leaves MOFGA in 1995 to earn a Ph.D. in Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts University. She is now a professor at Unity College.
Susan Pierce leaves her jobs as a consultant with the Univ. of Santa Cruz Agroecology Program's farm conference and as coordinator of the large farmers' market in Santa Cruz to move to Maine and become MOFGA's Director of Special Events. "…an organization that runs very much on volunteers and has been around for 15 years is pretty fascinating," she says.
Pam Bell leaves her position as editor of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener to pursue a degree in International Affairs and Spanish at the University of Maine, "to learn about the people who inhabit and cultivate other lands." Her parting words to Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener readers are "to keep your love for the land and its people, and for your own self, always alive in your heart." Jean English becomes editor of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
The University of Maine starts its degree program in sustainable agriculture. MOFGA's Eric Sideman and Jay Adams participate in the hiring process that fills three vacancies at UM in the past two years with faculty who could meet the needs of the program.
MOFGA hires Janice Clark as Office Manager.
MOFGA begins composting leftover resources at the Common Ground Country Fair. Less than 3% of materials thrown into recycling and composting bags go to a transfer station.
Hurricane Hugo devastates the Fair on Friday night, destroying wooden stalls, sending signs flying, downing tents and flooding walkways. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, 500 volunteers show up to pump water, hammer nails, erect tents. Miraculously (meaning, with lots of volunteer help), the Fair opens just an hour and a half late on Saturday.
At his keynote speech at the Common Ground Fair, Texas populist Jim Hightower says that solutions to the farm crisis are diversification, direct marketing and local processing of foods.
MOFGA members Jill and Charlie Agnew of Willow Pond Farm and Orchard in Sabbatus start the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in Maine.
At MOFGA's initiation, Maine passes two laws requiring that produce be labeled regarding country of origin and postharvest chemical treatment.
In Washington, D.C., Nancy Ross accepts the National Environmental Achievement Award in Food Safety for MOFGA's work on Maine produce labeling laws (work done by Ross, Beedy Parker, Jeannie Hollingsworth and others). Ross shakes hands with the first President Bush. MOFGA also receives the Maine Nutrition Council's Public Service Award this year, "in recognition of [MOFGA's] contribution in nutrition and health to Maine people."
More than 200 people travel to New Leaf Farm in Durham, Maine, to view trials of hairy vetch as a winter cover crop – work supported by a USDA-LISA (Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture) grant to MOFGA, the New Alchemy Institute and the University of Massachusetts. The trials result in specific recommendations for using hairy vetch and winter rye, published in the Sept.-Oct. Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
MOFGA holds its first Farmer to Farmer Conference, enabling growers from our bioregion to exchange information in a relaxed, comfortable setting. The conference attracts 82 attendants. Russell Libby tells the audience that sales from Maine's organic farms are close to $2 million per year. One grower calls the event "a real shot in the arm." The highly successful event was supported by a USDA-LISA grant in its second and third years, and continues today, now cosponsored by MOFGA and Maine Cooperative Extension and held at Atlantic Oakes-by-the-Sea in Bar Harbor. While this is an unmatched opportunity to learn, many of us are not-so-secretly there for the delicious Maine-grown food that is so beautifully prepared by Atlantic Oakes' chefs.
MOFGA starts its "Grow Your Own" program to encourage and support home gardeners to produce more of their own food. Workshops, community gardens, a "Grow Your Own" column in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, other publications, and a Seed to Table demonstration at the Fair, support this effort.
98.3% of the Common Ground Fair waste is recycled.
Fourth graders in Pownal, Maine, raise $50 for reading over 50,000 pages. They give the money to MOFGA, because, "We are concerned about how many pesticides are going in and on the food that we grow. We would just like to say, Good luck and Thank you for caring."
Prof. Matt Liebman, from the University of Maine Sustainable Agriculture Program, tells Common Ground Fairgoers in his keynote speech that the [first] Gulf War highlighted some "important realities"—that oil is going to eventually run out and/or become very expensive. He says that 17% of the national energy budget is used for agriculture, and that 80% of that is for irrigation, transportation, packaging and distribution. "If the price of energy goes up, it's going to be more expensive to irrigate, ship, refrigerate…so growers in Maine might have the opportunity to be more competitive with growers in the West."
Chellie Pingree is elected to the Maine Legislature, where she serves on the agriculture committee and is lobbied by MOFGA.
Maine becomes the only state with a moratorium on recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) after MOFGA members and others speak against the genetically engineered hormone before a legislative committee. The genetically engineered hormone is later approved for use in the state.
Eliot Coleman tells Common Ground Fairgoers about 18 crops that were available to him on Jan. 15 of 1991 from his coldframes inside a hoop house.
In an interview for The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Tim Nason tells Jane Lamb: "People don't join an organization for what they can get out of it. It's what they feel they belong to. I've always thought of MOFGA as home, that I belonged there…"
The search for a permanent site continues… A Permanent Site Committee, chaired by Ellis Percy, investigates possible sites, while a Fundraising Committee, coordinated by Anu Dudley, seeks funding.
The Maine Legislature defeats An Act to Require Labeling on Genetically Engineered Foods, despite a noble fight by Rep. Conrad Heeschen. Rep. Bob Tardy counters, "You feel a lot better about your food if you are not reading a lot while you are eating it." The Legislature calls for a Commission to Study Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. Rob Johnston and MOFGA board member Sharon Tisher are appointed to the Commission. To this date, after repeated attempts at labeling legislation, Maine consumers are not told what is in their non-organic food.
Russell Libby becomes Executive Director of MOFGA, now the largest organization of its kind in the country. He starts his campaign to get Maine families to buy $10/week worth of Maine-grown food in order to keep $100 million more in the state economy each year.
MOFGA wins the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award for its involvement in Augusta's new farmers' market, its community garden program for low-income families, for free advice for farmers and gardeners, for the Common Ground Country Fair and the income it brings to the area, and other work.
Helen Nearing dies on Sept. 17, when her car leaves the road and hits a tree. A memorial for her at the Common Ground Fair is attended by hundreds of people, as two gorgeous red damselflies -- Helen and Scott, some wonder -- flit about. At the Fair, Eliot Coleman calls Helen and Scott the "life parents as opposed to the birth parents of those of us who came to Maine." He encourages people who have extra land to sell it to new farmers at the price they originally paid, as the Nearings did for Coleman, and Coleman later did for others.
Using good Ailsa Craig onion seeds, attention to weeding and watering, and "killer compost," Jason Kafka turns 1-1/2 ounces of seed into "over 5,000 pounds of nice, marketable onions" that are famous at the Fair, both served from various food booths and shown in the Exhibition Hall.
After years of having a Vision Committee looking for a permanent site for the Fair and for a year-round agricultural education center, MOFGA purchases more than 200 acres in Unity and Thorndike from Donald and Bertha Maxim. Dozens of MOFGA members gather there on March 22 to celebrate. The next year involves site planning and town and state permitting.
Two new areas come to the Fair: The Youth Enterprise Zone, coordinated by Bob Egan, gives young people a chance to show and sell their arts, crafts, foods, seedlings and more; the Native American Arts and Education Area serves to address concerns raised by Native Americans about representation of their culture at earlier fairs. The new area benefits from input by Richard Silliboy, Theresa Hoffman, and the Fair Steering Committee and Planning Team.
MOFGA certifies 126 organic farms.
MOFGA receives the national Harry Chapin Self Reliance Award.
Despite being overly influenced by industry, Maine's Biotech Commission, formed in 1994, recommends labeling of genetically engineered foods—but at the federal level. We're still waiting, which is why labeling legislation continues to be proposed at the state level.
Beedy Parker, founder of the highly spirited and successful Children's Garden Parade at the Common Ground Fair, produces a costume coloring/instruction book for people who want to make costumes seen in the parade. Volunteer artists who work on the book include Parker, Leane Boynton, Sheila Carter, Genny Keller, Toki Oshima and Kristen Salvatore.
Ellis Percy, Susan Pierce and Russell Libby stake out a preliminary plan for MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center. Everyone's impression: "It's big!" Among those helping plan the site are David Neufeld, Conrad Heeschen, Tom Hepp, Brian Kent, Rick Kipp, Ellis Percy, Keith Whitaker, Bob Lamontagne, CR Lawn, Russell Libby, Susan Pierce, Steve Plumb, Bob Sewall and Matthew Strong. Mort Mather begins coordinating a capital campaign to help fund the site and its development. Cynthia Hamlin makes a "Twenty Years of Common Ground" quilt from 20 Fair T-shirts for MOFGA to raffle to raise money for the Unity site. Sarah Holland and David Foley are hired to design MOFGA's main office building and Exhibition Hall. Rene Burdet is hired as project manager.
Russell Libby continues his $10/week campaign, urging consumers to buy more Maine-grown foods. "I continue to think that the most important market for any farmer is right at home, starting with the household economy (feed yourself first) and moving out to friends and neighbors. I listened to Governor King's State of the State speech, emphasizing the need for rapid transitions to a global economy. If that's the economy we want to be joining, then I'm in the wrong place. Every dollar we keep in Maine is just as important as the dollars that we bring in through exports."
The economics of organic farming start to look good to many Maine dairy farmers. The Organic Cow and Stonyfield Farm meet with farmers in Maine to discuss conversion, and MOFGA's certification committee reviews livestock standards with growers to make sure they're workable and appropriate. Jack Lazor of Butterworks Farm in Vermont tells farmers at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show: "Organic is not about Rule A, B or C, but about life" – about putting minerals back into the land and building soil life. Almost 10% of Maine dairy farmers attend this MOFGA-sponsored talk.
Rep. Paul Chartrand submits MOFGA's bill to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.
In response to a proposal by MOFGA, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) considers revising its mission statement to target pesticide use reduction as a goal. Jo D. Saffeir of the BPC calls MOFGA's proposal the "most extensive" and "concrete" proposal received after the Board asked for input on addressing citizens' concerns regarding aerial spraying. Eventually the Board rejects the proposal and decides to have a public information campaign to reduce cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns. On MOFGA's behalf, Sens. Marge Kilkelly and John Nutting then propose "An Act to Reduce Reliance on Pesticides" to the Maine Legislature, which passes it. So Maine now has a policy requiring that reliance on pesticides be minimized in the state, but the BPC has had difficulty collecting and synthesizing pesticide sales data that would make the policy a reality.
Heather Spalding is hired as MOFGA's Assistant Special Events Coordinator, following her graduation from Dartmouth College, internship with the National Wildlife Federation, and jobs with the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
Several MOFGA members join the "trip of a lifetime"—the Sustainable Agriculture & Community In Cuba trip with MOFGA member Richard Rudolph to learn more about organic methods. "Their organic methods are pretty much the same as ours," reports Paul Volckhausen. "But it was their whole sustainable food system that was eye-opening."
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On, tells an audience at the Common Ground Fair that we need a "10-year Manhattan Project" to "rewire the entire globe" and replace all oil, gas, coal and other polluting sources of energy with environmentally friendly sources of energy in order to counter climate change.
Comedian Jackson Gillman becomes a border collie's "colliegue" and tries to herd sheep at Dave Kennard's sheep dog demonstration at the Fair. "I… drop to the ground and try to make eye contact with the ewe… Hey, ewe, look at me. This is by far the most vivid moment of the whole experience. I become acutely aware of the strange, horizontal, rectangular pupils of my sheep's eyes, and her eyes are so wide apart that I can't possibly stare at both of them at the same time. So, I pick one, and with all the force I can muster behind my eyes, I concentrate on pushing this sheep back with brute focus."
Volunteer Eric Rector starts www.mofga.org, our Web site.
Maine's Board of Pesticides Control stuns big seed and chemical companies by denying an application to market a genetically engineered Bt corn variety here. MOFGA testifies that organic growers – the fastest growing segment of Maine agriculture – would be the first to suffer if insects develop resistance to Bt in the engineered corn.
On March 25 and 26, timber framers Robert Engdahl, Mike Smiley, Richard Krause and John Connolly raise the timbers for MOFGA's Exhibition Hall. The Gardner family of Shivanarth Farm in Washington brings its falafel booth to the site and serves lunch, drinks and snacks to the framers and about 50 volunteers – becoming the first food vendor at MOFGA's new home.
"In the Heart of a Seed," a design conceived and planted for MOFGA by volunteer Sue Belding at the Portland Flower Show, wins the Lyle Littlefield Award for Underutilized and Unusual Plants from the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association.
Animal scientist Diane Schivera becomes MOFGA's program assistant (now organic livestock specialist), helping Eric Sideman with organic certification and helping farmers and gardeners raise livestock organically.
Sept. 25, 1998 - THE DAY WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! MOFGA opens its permanent site to the public on this opening day of the Common Ground Country Fair. With one year of planning and 11 months of hands-on work (much from volunteers), MOFGA had: a road network and almost a mile of underground water and electric lines and nine transformers installed; a well drilled and pump house, water tower and septic system constructed; a peaceful walking trail through the woods to the parking lot; two fields prepared for parking; a meeting space, office building and exhibition hall designed and built; a shop/maintenance building and four livestock barns erected; a comfort station/bathroom built (with Women Unlimited); two donated ticket booths erected; 30 acres of ground seeded; an amphitheater and cover crops for two orchards started; the Common Ground Fair laid out and set up. Then, it hosted a fabulous Fair!
Four hundred bicyclists collectively pedaled 7,000 miles to the Fair, where the Bicycle Coalition of Maine offered the first Valet Bike Parking in Maine's history.
Former Aroostook County Potato Queen Aimee Good receives (and accepts) a marriage proposal from Josh Margolis as both stand atop the Amphitheater mound.
MOFGA begins moving its offices from Augusta to Unity.
With its new facility in place, MOFGA revives a tradition from the '70s: the Spring Growth Conference, which quickly becomes a popular and important event for farmers, gardeners and those interested in agricultural policy. The delicious catered lunch is an added attraction.
Under the direction of Ernie Glabau, the Dedicated Tree Planting program starts planting trees at MOFGA's site. This is the fruition of an idea that had been mentioned when MOFGA started talking about a permanent site. MOFGA's grounds are also planted with perennial, herb and vegetable gardens and orchards.
Maine's Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation recommends that genetically engineered foods sold in Maine be labeled as such. At the hearing, MOFGA member Will Bonsall, director of the Scatterseed Project, notes that the arguments are "lining up on two sides…those of us dressed like hippies and those of us dressed like Mormons," referring to the dark suits on the "anti" labeling side of the room. "Just purely from a food industry point of view," he continues, "I think this is an incredibly pro-business bill. If I'm a businessman and I'm producing something I want to sell you, I want you to know everything possible about the [product]. Your confidence is extremely important to me… Those who don't want you to know – that's not a businessman, that's a crook."
After arranging over 500 apprentices on members' farms over the years, MOFGA starts its Journeyperson Program as a next step for people who have some agricultural background but are not yet ready to buy a farm and start their own business.
MOFGA starts an organic farming course for new farmers, a Small Farm Field Day, and hosts the Low-Impact Forestry Workshop and the scion exchange.
Long-time MOFGA member and volunteer Barrie Brusila of Mid-Maine Forestry in Warren is hired as MOFGA's consulting forester. She develops a forest management plan for the MOFGA woodlands.
Sue Belding brings another award to MOFGA from the Portland Flower Show: the Palette Award for the garden that best demonstrates the skillful use of color. This is the only organic garden at the 1999 show, and all of the flowers were grown at Belding's Old Stage Farm from seed she'd saved there. The fragrance of the old varieties drew many admiring people to MOFGA's garden.
MOFGA board members Eric Rector and Sharon Tisher bring $10,000 to our organization after their recipes for Chocolate Sin and Newman's Own Southwestern Rosti Pancakes win a Newman's Own Recipe Contest.
Susie O'Keeffe joins the MOFGA staff to help with the Capital Campaign for the permanent site. In November, MOFGA member Cordelia Lane helps Susie and MOFGA through a fundraising gathering at her home in Yarmouth and by becoming the Campaign's first Collective Challenge Leader. O'Keeffe left MOFGA to work for Maine FarmLink.
A generational event: Long-time MOFGA member Ben Wilcox and his partner Song Emery retire from selling produce at the Camden Farmers' Market. Among the pieces of advice Wilcox offers in an article by Jane Lamb in the Sept.-Nov. 2000 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener: "We found it more profitable to make our mistakes as we could afford them, rather than borrowing a lot of money to make them all at once."
CR Lawn delivers a keynote speech at the Common Ground Fair entitled "Mow Me Less: Tales of a GE-Resistant Lawn." He recalls how, a quarter of a century ago, he "plunked down five bucks to join MOFGA and shared my intentions to start an organic market garden. I've never forgotten the warm reply I received from Tim Nason. Tim also sent the first three issues ever produced of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. I still have Vol. 1, #1… It has a column by Eliot Coleman and a letter from then-MOFGA president Mort Mather… Mort has since graduated to judging the Harry S. Truman manure pitch contest here at the Fair.
MOFGA begins working with the University of Maine Folklife Center to conduct oral history interviews at the Common Ground Fair with people who have played key roles in the history of the organization. Over time, the recorded interviews are being transcribed to produce a rich historical account of this vibrant organization.
Jack Kertesz receives a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant to explore the potential of interplanting shorter-term crops (vegetables, herbs, nursery stock, flowers) in MOFGA's to-be- planted orchard. The study is called, "Improving Financial Returns Early in an Orchard's Life Through Alley Cropping." The plantings become a beautiful focal point at MOFGA's site and a major draw at the Fair.
MOFGA starts "Grow Your Own Organic Garden" programs around the state – one-night class to help beginning gardeners.
Again! Sue Belding, with help from coworker Carol Walker, brings another award from the Portland Flower Show to MOFGA for the MOFGA-sponsored display entitled "Harvesting Dreams." The "Kitchen Door Award," sponsored by Johnny's Selected Seeds, is for the garden's creative use of vegetables, herbs and other useful plants among a profusion of brilliant flowers and ferns.
Maine passes legislation requiring manufacturers and dealers of genetically engineered plants or seeds to deliver written instructions to all Maine growers of GE crops sufficient to minimize potential cross- contamination. This is a weakened version of MOFGA's original proposed legislation. An act to require labeling of GE foods is voted down, but an act providing for voluntary labeling of GE foods passes. MOFGA opposes the latter, calling it inadequate.
Fewer than two weeks after 9/11, Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva flies to the United States to present a keynote speech at the Common Ground Fair. "For me this is truly a journey for peace," she tells her audience. "I undertook it in spite of everyone worrying—about taking a flight, coming to this country at this point of history. But that's precisely why I got onto the flight, because if you give up hope, what chance is there for peace? But it's also my tribute to all of you who built this amazing movement here out of a peace movement. After all, those of you who came to Maine, built the organic movement, did it as an extension of fighting in a peaceful way against a war mentality."
Keynote speaker Jim Hightower tells Fairgoers that we have to "return to the concept of the common good. What works for all of us – the notion that we're all in this together – that's the organic way. The organic, political notion that we are a whole, as a people...We can have any kind of food economy we want. One that embodies our values of economic fairness, social justice, equal opportunity for all people, rather than the current ethic of global corporate greed… This requires us to be willing to challenge the powers that be on behalf of the powers that ought to be… And we're at another one of those 'When in the course of human events' moments in this country when we've got to ask [who the hell is going to be in charge]…and we've got to be asking it even more after last week's horrific bombing and the equally horrific return that we're getting out of some of our leaders in Washington, D.C."
After almost 14 years, special events director Susan Pierce leaves MOFGA to direct the National Folk Festival in Bangor. After 23 years of writing much-loved feature stories for the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Jane Lamb retires and moves closer to her daughter in California.
MOFGA president Eric Rector spearheads the organization's final push to raise $3.1 million for its permanent site: only $203,000 left to raise by this time! The Capital Campaign is complete by January 2003, with the help of nearly 3,000 members and friends.
USDA regulations regarding labeling of organic foods go into full effect on Oct. 21. Any farmer selling organic food in quantities greater than $5,000 per year must be certified. MOFGA makes substantial changes in its structure to comply with USDA requirements, including forming MOFGA Certification Services LLC, headed by Mary Yurlina, who streamlines the application process greatly. Eric Sideman and Diane Schivera no longer have responsibility for certification and can focus on advising farmers and gardeners.
Ten percent of Maine dairy farmers are shipping organic milk.
The Wednesday Spinners celebrates its 25th year at the Common Ground Fair by carrying out a "Sheep-to-Shawl" demonstration.
In a letter expressing his regrets that he could not attend a candidates' forum at the Common Ground Fair, now-Gov. John Baldacci expresses the opinion that "organic agriculture represents the brightest spot in the future of Maine's agricultural industry," and, regarding genetically engineered crops, observes that "cultivation of natural products is at the heart of the agricultural tradition, and I believe it is very important that we recognize the potential drawbacks to GMO use… The silver lining of GMO use may be that Maine's blossoming organic agriculture industry will grow into an increasingly valuable segment of our rural economy as consumers seek out GMO-free produce."
At the Farmer to Farmer Conference, Eliot Coleman defines organic agriculture as "a system of agriculture which pays maximum attention to the effects of agricultural practices on the nutritional quality of the crops produced and the well being of the environment in which it takes place." Hardy Vogtmann, Deputy Minister for the Environment for Germany, also speaks – 25 years after he first addressed a MOFGA audience. He says that "everyone should be a year abroad, be a stranger for one year in another country. It would make all the difference in the world. If people will talk and eat and drink [together], they won't make war, [they] will have a good time. That's what organic farming is all about: It's about joy."
Heather Spalding becomes operations director for MOFGA. Barbara Luce, who has been involved in the Fair since the Litchfield days, becomes Fair director.
Andrew Marshall starts as educational programs director for MOFGA. His first official act was judging samples from food booths at the Fair!
MOFGA receives funding from the Maine Community Foundation and Common Good Ventures to work on organizational development for three years, so that the organization can continue to be effective while its physical structure develops and the number of members and certified growers increases.
Tim Nason suggests in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener that MOFGA members promote organic practices at the town level, by serving on town committees, providing MOFGA publications to towns, posting information about organic practices, promoting local food production and marketing, and more.
MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center has been planted with two orchards, over 120 shade trees, a perennial garden, various shrubs, and vegetables and nursery stock within an orchard. In its woodland, pines have had their first selection thinning; much of the wood will be used for MOFGA projects. A sugarbush is being managed, with removed wood heating the Modern Homestead. Planting for a SeedSchool results from a grant received by CR Lawn and Eli Kaufman.
MOFGA hires Steve Plumb to coordinate buildings and grounds logistics at MOFGA's Common Ground Education Center. After many years and countless hours volunteering his services for major infrastructural work essential to the functioning of our 250+ acres and 12 buildings, Plumb was finally on MOFGA's payroll.
The Maine Grass Farmers Network forms under the leadership of MOFGA's Diane Schivera, Rick Kersbergen of Cooperative Extension, and Paula Roberts of Meadowsweet Farm.
Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser receives a standing ovation after his heartfelt keynote speech to hundreds of Fairgoers at Common Ground. Schmeiser has been made a folk hero by Monsanto, which sued him after its genetically-engineered canola apparently contaminated his crop. Schmeiser sued back. Sharon Tisher asks the quietly determined senior citizen which was harder for him: climbing Mount Everest or fighting Monsanto. Schmeiser says that's a "really hard question."
MOFGA starts its fall "Tastings" event to highlight local foods prepared by Maine chefs. Sam Hayward is the first renowned chef to take part in this event. He now serves on the MOFGA Board.
MOFGA joins the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, a group of environmental, health and labor groups committed to reducing Maine citizens' exposures to toxic chemicals.
Jason Kafka gives the farmer-keynote speech at Common Ground, ending with words that could define MOFGA as well as farmers: "I tend to be an optimist. Being a farmer, you have to be. Sometimes I'm pleased, sometimes I just wait till next year."
Lynn Miller, publisher of the Small Farmers Journal, tells Fairgoers that Common Ground is "absolutely phenomenal… Our dreams have won out! I don't know how many of you realize what a phenomenal force organic agriculture, appropriate technology, right livelihood is in this country now. A lot of us think we're alone until we come to an event like this." Although organic farming "is a market force felt with increasing vitality all around the world," the movement "faces a grave threat from corporate fascism and an entrenched federal government of simian puppets. Our dreams won out, we're here, but if we aren't careful, we'll be passing through a collapsing building."
MOFGA creates a seasonal landscaping position to oversee the living collections at the Common Ground Education Center and to work with the budding volunteer Landscape Committee. Amanda Jamison is hired as our first landscape coordinator.
MOFGA's Spring Growth Conference focuses on the pull between local and global food economies. Russell Libby notes that the United States now has more prisoners than farmers…and "about one-quarter of those are probably there for growing things they shouldn't be growing." Jim Amaral of Borealis Breads says that "it is important to honor and value the people who are creating and growing your food for you. They're doing something amazing. I look at what Matt Williams is doing in terms of growing wheat for us; our product is much, much better for it, and it gives us the opportunity to differentiate our product in the marketplace." Twelve years ago, Amaral added, no bread in Maine was made with locally grown wheat. "As individuals we can all take those small steps to make those things happen, and Maine will be an amazing place to live in 20 years."
MOFGA's educational program director Andrew Marshall starts Farm Training Workshops for apprentices and others.
Peace Action Maine presents its Peacemaker Organization Award to MOFGA, highlighting the organization's work on and support of sustainability with respect to one of our most basic needs—food. Peace Action notes that MOFGA has a "steadfast commitment to supporting ecologically sustainable development and progressive issues" and has been a "tremendous inspiration."
As the Maine Department of Agriculture updates its 20-year-old food policy, Russell Libby offers input: Maine should have the capacity to provide 80% of the calories needed by its citizens. We should have healthy food available to all. We need to build alliances between fishermen and farmers. Maine could carve out a strategic place in the market by setting a goal of being the first state with at least 50% of its farmers being organic in 10 years. (It is now 4%.) The Department agrees…until Libby pushes the "O" word.
After being a powerhouse of public policy initiatives and a highly energetic board member of MOFGA for 12 years, Sharon Tisher steps down from the board (but remains on the public policy committee) to become president of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Of MOFGA, she says, "I've been involved in many nonprofit organizations, but never have I seen such a transformative process as the acquisition and development of the [Common Ground Education Center] site." Public policy initiatives led by Tisher resulted in significant victories: Maine is the first state with a policy to reduce pesticide use; MOFGA proposed a survey of pesticide use in Maine schools, which led to a regulation requiring parental notification and use of IPM in schools; Maine is the only state that does not permit cultivation of genetically-engineered Bt crops; the Maine Commission to Study Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering called for federal labeling and other reforms; and Maine is the first state to require specific instructions to reduce genetic contamination of wild and conventional crops by engineered crops. In 50 years, Tisher says, she expects most of Maine agriculture to be organic or close to organic. The Public Policy Committee is now in the good hands of Alice Torbert Percy.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, in his powerful and eloquent keynote speech at the Fair, tells us: "You have something special here in Maine. There is a purity of intention that I've sensed in this state that is different from many places around the country. Preserve that: It's something very important, and it is our path to the future."
At the Fair, Carol Bryan of Scythe Supply sells her snath to an 88-year-old mower/scyther who insists upon taking a snath home with him because he has mowing to do. (Normally Scythe Supply only takes orders for snaths at the Fair.)
The Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management coauthored by Eric Sideman is well received by organic growers.
The Maine Council of Churches and MOFGA receive a three-year SARE grant to bring together CSA farms, provide technical expertise, share their stories, recruit and train growers, and use congregations as hubs for local foods. The immediate goal is to increase the 2,500 CSA shares sold by Maine's 60 CSA farms by 50 percent.
Jerry Sass of North Anson donates his homestead and 75 acres of forest, which he has carefully tended for 40 years, to MOFGA.
MOFGA receives funding from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to focus on marketing local organic foods, emphasizing participation in Community Supported Agriculture farm programs. Melissa White is promoted from educational programs assistant to organic marketing coordinator, and MOFGA contracts with Cheryl Wixson to develop a strategic plan for marketing sustainably grown foods in Maine.
Russell Libby writes in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener: "We know we are addicted to oil. Each seed we plant this year is another way to capture sunlight and convert it to food. Let's get growing!"
In his report at MOFGA's annual meeting, MOFGA treasurer Dave Shipman said, "I think this was the year that MOFGA consciousness reached the tipping point. No longer a 'fringe' group, MOFGA carries the banner for sane and sustainable agriculture and living." Members saw plenty of evidence for Shipman's view in the 2007 annual report. For example:
- MOFGA's membership reached 6,000. Since well over half of those are family memberships, some 10,000 people are actively supporting MOFGA. Close to 800 members made additional donations to support our programs, and we gained 16 new life members. We have 26 foreign memberships, most in Canada and one each in Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Australia. About 1500 members are from out of state – in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. Outside of Maine, memberships are most numerous in Massachusetts (244), New Hampshire (190), New York (83), Vermont (74), Connecticut (61), Pennsylvania (47), Rhode Island (30), California (36), Florida (23), New Jersey (22), Virginia (21), Maryland (20), Ohio (18), Oregon (13), Wisconsin (13), North Carolina (12), Illinois (11), Washington (10) and Michigan (10).
- Over 30 people joined MOFGA's Bread and Butter Club by supporting at least one day of MOFGA programming through the year.
- MOFGA received a $250,000 gift from a long-time member toward construction of an education building. We will continue to raise funds for that building in 2008.
- Our windmill went into operation during the Fair, and 2008 will be the first full year of its regular operation.
- Two more composting toilets were constructed on our grounds.
- Certified arborist Travis Collins developed a Plant Health Care Program for our grounds.
- A very successful Common Ground Country Fair attracted 63,330 visitors and netted over $300,000 for MOFGA.
- The Fair added a Youth Enterprise Transition Zone, where YEZ graduates mentor new youth businesses and showcase their own creative ventures.
- The Fair's new Fiber Marketplace hosted the Fleece Tent, where over 1050 pounds of fleece were sold.
- After five successful Fairs, Barbara Luce resigned as Fair Director in October.
- 350 organic farmers and processors participated in our organic certification program. Five percent of Maine farms are now using organic practices on about 4% of Maine cropland.
- Almost 1% of Maine families get their summer produce through a CSA program; many are adding winter shares and are making connections for other foods.
- Close to 100 young people participated in MOFGA's Apprenticeship or Journeyperson Programs in 2007. We received major financial support from the Cedar Tree Foundation to help these programs grow over the next two years.
- The El Salvador Sistering Committee led a delegation to El Salvador in January 2007 that helped deepen connections between farmers there and our work here. Delegates from El Salvador's Radio Sumpul (WERU's sistering station) visited MOFGA and toured our education center last summer.
- During the first full year of our expanded website, www.mofga.org, we had 980,000 visitors. Sales through the Year-Round Country Store, which operates primarily through the website, were more than 20% over budget projections.
- MOFGA received a small grant and hired Jim Ostergard, who has worked on food handling practices for many years, to help develop standards for small farmers to address food safety concerns without adding the high cost of a Good Agricultural Practices certification.
- Clayton Carter and Kendra Michaud moved to a farm in Montville (and had a baby!) after two very successful seasons as MOFGA Farmers-in-Residence.
- Small Farm Field Day was moved to early June, and more talks and vendors were added – as well as a swap meet. Attendance increased to over 300, and feedback was very good.
- After over a decade in Bar Harbor, we moved the Farmer-to-Farmer Conference to Bethel for 2007, to benefit growers in that part of the state. A record 200 attended. The event will now alternate between Bar Harbor and Bethel.
- MOFGA's Low-Impact Forestry Committee began to list LIF loggers and foresters on mofga.org.
- Since 2003, the LIF program has produced over 25,000 board feet of lumber for MOFGA from its woodlot.
- Pesticides Action Network North America funded MOFGA's work on identifying alternatives to organophosphate use in Maine and developing a phase-out plan for these very toxic, persistent pesticides.
MOFGA president Amanda Beal reminds us that solving problems in our food system is one way to address many of the problems in our culture.
Twenty-nine American chestnut trees are planted on MOFGA's grounds.
- The recession has record numbers of people connecting with local farmers and planting& gardens. Seed companies nationwide have banner sales. Almost every Maine CSA farm sells all available shares, and more than 4,000 families (about 1 percent of Maine households) get their summer produce from a CSA. Winter and livestock shares are expanding, and the movement has spawned 10 Community Supported Fisheries.
- Jim Ahearne begins as Fair director, and 60,517 people attend the Fair.
- MOFGA Certification Services now has a staff of six and 22 inspectors and certifies 388 farms and processors.
- The USDA begins a "Know Your Farmer" campaign – "the first explicit support of the kind of agriculture that's been happening in Maine for decades," says Russell Libby.
- More than 300 people apply to be MOFGA apprentices, and 160 are placed on MOFGA farms.
- 51,108 people attend the Common Ground Country Fair.
- The water in the Common Ground Education Center is now solar heated.
- MOFGA constructs water bottle filling stations on its grounds and eliminates the sale of bottled water at the Fair.
- We begin selling organic coffee at the Fair, sourcing from growers who reflect MOFGA's commitment to supporting sustainable, organic farming.
- Our Public Policy Committee pushes through a three-year moratorium on open-air production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops in Maine, the first such law in the nation.
- MOFGA debuts its online community, www.mofga.net; MOFGApedia, an encyclopedia of articles from The MOF&G; and Common Ground Radio on WERU from 10 to 11 a.m. on the first Friday of each month.
- A survey finds that more than half of Maine families eat local food frequently – mainly to support local farmers and the Maine economy.
- MOFGA's membership reaches 6,387 – "by far the largest state-level organic association in the country," says Russell Libby.
- The Fair and its 705 events draw 59,572 people, more than 5,000 of them school children. Almost 3.5 percent of attendees bicycle or ride the train to the Fair. More than 630 Maine farms, businesses, artisans and organizations participate; and 715 farm animals are on display – all thanks to the Fair staff, a planning team of 150 area coordinators, the Fair Steering Committee, and some 2,000 volunteers. MOFGA's educational programs staff strengthens ties with the Maine School Garden Network and expands programming for school groups and educators at the Common Ground Fair.
- We have about 150 apprentices and 50 journeypersons. Most journeypersons who have graduated from the program in the past three years are now farming successfully and contributing significantly to Maine's local food systems and rural economic vitality. More than 500 people attend our 12 Farm Training Project workshops.
- Our Organic Orchard Workshops are popular and successful. C. J. Walke takes a leadership role in organic orcharding for MOFGA. Our spring Grow Your Own Organic Garden classes are offered at 28 sites.
- Russell Libby spends considerable time working on federal food safety legislation. Congress passes an imperfect bill – but, thanks largely to Libby, one with amendments giving organic growers more negotiating room regarding regulations.
- MOFGA purchases in the past two years three properties adjoining our original parcel, to tie those pieces together and to grow our programs. One property includes a house that will become office space. A donation of $400,000 will help fund additional space at MOFGA for classrooms and offices. Bruce Stahnke and Erlynne Kitagawa are hired as architects for this building.
- Vernon LeCount, MOFGA's facilities coordinator, gets a $41,098 grant through Efficiency Maine to help fund 44 photovoltaic panels on the red barn, which is now an open usable space with great acoustics. Our windmill generates 4,934 kilowatt-hours of power in 2010 – more than the entire education center used in January 2009.
- Katy Green begins linking MOFGA farmers and new farmers with USDA conservation programs, including helping farmers through the organic transition process. Green is one of the few people in the country certified to help with transition plans.
- More than 300 people attend our Farmer to Farmer Conference, held at Point Lookout in Northport to accommodate increasing attendance.
- The Low-Impact Forestry Committee, now a standing committee of MOFGA, has improved 15 acres of MOFGA's woods, harvested more than 80,000 board feet of lumber and 200 cords of pulpwood, and introduced more than 750 people to safe and responsible forestry practices and chainsaw safety and maintenance.
- We have 6,500 members!
- In January 2011, MOFGA releases "Maine's Organic Farms – An Impact Report" by Jed Beach, indicating that Maine organic producers generate at least $36.6 million in sales, support 1,600 jobs and keep 41,000 acres of farmland in production. Organic producers create a mean of 2.7 jobs per farm (4 on organic dairy farms), versus 2.3 on conventional farms. Organic farmers are younger than conventional, and a larger percentage are women. Maine's organic farmers manage 38,767 acres – a doubling since 2002.
- MOFGA celebrates its 40th anniversary in August 2011, commemorating the initial gathering held at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick in 1971. We mark the event with a book, Fertile Ground – Celebrating 40 Years of MOFGA.
- Russell Libby says that 2011 – the Occupy Wall Street year – was "a turning point, a time when more people began to question the assumptions of everyday economic life and began to reshape a more community-based system … much of that energy has been building for years. It's the combination of rapidly changing economy, high unemployment, pressure on wages, and uncertainty about the future that catalyzes it. MOFGA sees that change, every day, with people who are creating new farms, gardens, markets, stores, and more. If the economy of paper and electronic bits is not working, then people turn to the physical world for solutions."
- MOFGA buys three more properties adjacent to its Education Center. A parcel and building at the corner of Crosby Brook Rd. and Route 220 gives us much needed office space; and a parcel on the north side of our existing land will add parking area for the Fair. Both add increased options for farming and gardening, too.
- Stage one of renovating the red barn is completed, and a 52-panel, 11.7kW solar array is added to the barn roof. In October, the array generates more than 1,300 kW-hours of electricity; the entire Education Center used about 4,500 kW-hours in August 2011.
- Our board president, Barbara Damrosch, says, "Maine's the place where young people come to farm. Better yet, I'm seeing young people raised in Maine [who] now want to stay and farm."
- MOFGA signs on as a plaintiff in the March 2011 filing of the lawsuit Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto, which seeks to protect family farmers from being sued by Monsanto if the company's transgenic pollen drifts onto their land. The suit also challenges the validity of Monsanto's patents on transgenics.
- Dave Colson joins the MOFGA staff as our agricultural services director, John Chartier as MOFGA's agricultural specialist for Aroostook County; Jake Galle as MOFGA Certification Services staff; Andy McEvoy as Low-Impact Forestry coordinator, and Joe Dupere as landscape coordinator while former landscape coordinator C.J. Walke shifts his time to MOFGA's development efforts and continues as our IT specialist, librarian and orchard specialist.
- 59,354 people attend the 35th Common Ground Country Fair. Nearly 2,000 volunteers and more than 600 Maine farms and businesses participate, making the 740 workshops, talks, demonstrations and performances possible. The Public Policy Committee's workshop on climate change is very well received.
- The Fair adds a second farmers' market, this one at the south end of the grounds.
- Our educational programs are seen as a model for similar programs elsewhere in the country, and Andrew Marshall works with the NOFAs and others to help them establish programs. We have 67 journeypersons now, and 103 farms host about 127 apprentices. Andrew Marshall and Abby Sadauckas continue to build MOFGA's educational programs, and attendance jumps from about 800 in 2009 to 1,600 in 2011. Our Grow Your Own Organic Garden classes are now offered at many libraries as well as adult education programs at schools.
- MOFGA launches a new partnership with Land For Good, based in Keene, N.H., and Maine Farmland Trust to help MOFGA journeypersons access farmland, thanks to a three-year grant from USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
- We have 397 certified organic operations – 366 crop, 102 dairy, 41 maple syrup, 95 processing and handling and two wild crop.
- MOFGA Certification Services and Melissa White Pillsbury publish MOFGA's second Organic Maine! A Directory of MOFGA Certified Organic Farms, Foods and Products, and MCS publishes its newsletter for organic growers, The Organic Sprout. MCS also starts screening organic vegetable samples for prohibited pesticides; begins enforcing a new pasture regulation for livestock; enhances efforts to enforce organic marketing rules among uncertified producers; and moves its offices to "the annex" at 210 Crosby Brook Rd. in Thorndike.
- Melissa White Pillsbury coordinates MOFGA's fifth annual Community Supported Agriculture Fair, a statewide event, and updates the Maine Farmers' Market directory.
- Our Common Ground radio shows on the first Friday of each month, on WERU, attract many good comments and questions from listeners.
- We buy an Allis Chalmers G tractor without a motor and convert it to all-electric for use on the grounds and as an educational tool; and we buy and convert an S-10 pickup to all-electric.
- A Unity College environmental citizen class makes 2 miles of hiking trails at MOFGA, leading to the riverfront on Sandy Stream and to a cedar-lined gorge that feeds into the river. MOFGA is part of the Waldo County Trails Coalition, which is linking existing trail systems in the area to create, eventually, a 40-mile through hike from Unity to Frye Mountain.
- MOFGA's Low-Impact Forestry Program adds tree ID, horse collar fitting and other topics to its already popular November workshop. Peter Hagerty, chair of the LIF Committee, says, "Our workshop is unique in this country in that first-rate loggers, teamsters, machinery operators and farriers give these students hands-on access to their animals and equipment. Close to 500 students have experienced this workshop, and some graduates have returned as teaching staff." The LIF Committee becomes a standing committee of MOFGA.
- The Maine chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation donates two sixth-generation blight-resistant chestnut trees to MOFGA and helps plant them on the Common.
- More than 7,000 households are MOFGA members.
- We now have eight members of our agricultural services staff and we're reaching out more to Aroostook, southern Maine, Mount Desert and other areas. Agricultural services director Dave Colson works closely with the National Organic Coalition, which MOFGA helped found, on issues of common, nationwide interest.
- MOFGA hires Chris Hamilton as associate director, with a focus on fundraising.
- By the end of 2012, MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) is certifying 419 farmers and processors. MCS invests in organic canvas banners for certified growers to display at markets, in shop windows and elsewhere. We have been certifying farms as organic for 40 years now.
- Melissa White Pillsbury starts a "Why Are You Certified Organic?" initiative to create promotional materials for display where MOFGA certified organic products are sold.
- We contract with The Soap Group (Sustainable Organization Advocacy Partners) of Portland, Maine, to help us develop a marketing strategy for the MOFGA certified organic brand.
- Organic transitions coordinator Katy Green works with 33 transitioning farms through the Natural Resources Conservation Service transition program. Her work garners national attention for collaborating so well with NRCS at the state level, and she does a nationally viewed webinar focusing on MOFGA's transition work.
- John Chartier works with Organic Valley/CROPP to stimulate interest in Aroostook County for growing feed grains for Maine Organic Milling in Auburn.
- Eric Sideman finishes the second edition of the Resource Guide to Organic Insect and Disease Management, a must-have book for growers in Maine and beyond. His weekly pest reports during the growing season are also widely read and used.
- Cheryl Wixson develops a Farm Food Safety curriculum and sample Farm Food Safety Plan. She is also a key host for our Common Ground radio show on WERU.
- Katy Green obtains a grant for MOFGA from NRCS to help restore the sand pit on land MOFGA purchased. This reclamation will enable us to plant a Maine Heritage Orchard on the site, under the direction of John Bunker. The first 100 trees, to be planted in the spring of 2014, are already grafted and growing in John's nursery. They represent a cross section of rare and endangered trees from many parts of Maine. "It's all incredibly exciting," says John.
- Unity College students and members of the Waldo County Trails Coalition (of which MOFGA is a member) complete a trail through woods and fields from downtown Unity, through Unity College and to MOFGA.
- Our garage across the street from the red barn now has a woodshop, a state-licensed poultry processing facility, and a bunkhouse where up to eight event presenters (mostly for Low-Impact Forestry workshops) can sleep.
- Attendance at our educational events doubles from about 800 in 2009 to more than 2,000 in 2012.
- Our apprenticeship program, now 35 years old, attracts 150 to 200 participants annually.
- Fifty young, sustainable Maine farmers participate in our journeyperson program, which turns out about 25 new farmers each year. We add a Farm Beginnings Whole Farm Planning course to this program. Our apprenticeship and journeyperson programs are models for similar programs in other states.
- Andrew Marshall helps develop a sustainable agriculture program at Kennebec Valley Community College and continues to teach an organic agriculture course at Colby College.
- Three MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee members travel to El Salvador to strengthen ties with our sistering organizations, to visit a community cooperative farm that raises dairy, row crops, fish and bees, and to visit another community that is using permaculture techniques to rebuild an area that had suffered a landslide.
- 59,067 people attend the Common Ground Country Fair, thanks in large part to 185 volunteer coordinators and close to 1,500 other volunteers. The Common Kitchen cooks and serves more than 4,600 meals during the Fair – largely from more than $20,000 worth of donated food.
- Almost 100 young farmers participate in the weed-dating social at the Common Ground Country Fair.
- We hire a part-time low-impact forestry (LIF) coordinator, and the LIF committee holds its first LIF II workshop, in which students build upon skills from LIF I and work in a situation that resembles production logging. The committee also offers its first scoot-building workshop. The LIF weekend in November attracts about 70 participants and includes instruction from Maine Forest Service staff – a turning point in the role of LIF in the forestry community.
- Our public policy committee faces an uphill battle with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control. An excellent pesticides notification registry is gone; the BPC passes emergency rules for aerial and ground spraying for mosquito control; the requirement for a public member on the BPC no longer exists; and no certified organic farmer is on the board. Katy Green perseveres in covering every meeting of the BPC for The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener and voicing MOFGA's concerns at these meetings.
- The public policy committee hosts a teach-in at the Common Ground Country Fair on pesticides and Colony Collapse Disorder of bees, to mark the 50th anniversary of publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
- We begin work on a bill to label genetically engineered foods in Maine.
- MOFGA is a plaintiff in the lawsuit OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto, which challenges the validity of Monsanto's patented, genetically engineered (GE) crops and seeks protection for farmers whose crops are contaminated by GE genes. OSGATA is the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association.
- In May Russell Libby and 15 other sustainable and organic agriculture groups meet to develop an organic/sustainable agriculture concept list for a new Farm Bill.
- Our landscaping committee's crowning achievement this year, in the eyes of some, is construction of a "(s)tool shed" in the North Orchard – a small building for storing garden tools, with a composting toilet on one side of the building. The committee also does considerable cleanup around the grounds, plants and tends vegetable, herb, flower and shrub plantings, creates hugelkultur (mound culture) beds and oversees the dedicated tree program.
- C. J. Walke, our organic orchardist, creates a spreadsheet of flower bud development in apples, from dormancy to bloom, for Maine heritage apple varieties in our North Orchard. He will update the spreadsheet annually.
- Russell Libby is awarded the Conservation Award from Maine Farmland Trust, the Sparkplug Award from the John Merck Fund, and Brooksville artist Robert Shetterly paints his portrait for inclusion in his Americans Who Tell the Truth series. Russell steps down as our director in October, to become our senior policy advisor, and Heather Spalding takes over as interim executive director. Russell gives the keynote address and a three-hour workshop at our November Farmer to Farmer Conference. In December, our much-loved executive director succumbs to cancer. "He did not go quietly," says MOFGA president Barbara Damrosch.
- MOFGA deeply misses Russell Libby. We celebrate his remarkable life and his legacy to Maine's farming and gardening communities through the Russell Libby Memorial Fund – the foundation for an endowment for MOFGA's future – and by creating the peaceful Russell Libby Poetry Grove on our grounds.
- Heather Spalding does double duty this year, stepping up from her role as deputy director to become our interim executive director, until we hire Ted Quaday as executive director late in the year.
- We celebrate a huge victory in passing a bipartisan bill to label genetically engineered foods in Maine. The bill goes into effect once five contiguous states pass similar bills.
- Under the guidance and vision of board member John Bunker, an old gravel pit with erosion problems on our property begins its transformation into the terraced Maine Heritage Orchard (MEHO), which will enrich the land with biodiverse, sustainable plantings. Dozens of volunteers help prepare the ground for planting.
- We now count our membership at more than 11,000 (since we began counting family memberships as 2.7 people, and we added 800 new members) and our certified organic growers at 431! We now certify, for the first time, a kelp processor and a mushroom grower.
- Our Common Ground Country Fair attracts 56,161 attendees and is supported by more than 2,100 volunteers. Our volunteer coordinator, Anna Libby, earns her keep!
- Fair Director Jim Ahearne steps down after six successful Common Ground Country Fairs, and April Boucher becomes our new director. As MOFGA grows to 32 employees, we see half a dozen other changes in personnel this year.
- MOFGA and other farming groups organize and successfully counter several potentially harmful pieces of the proposed rules for USDA's Food Safety Modernization Act.
- Two reduced tillage implements (a ridge tiller and a strip tiller) are added to the Shared Use Farm Equipment pool housed at MOFGA, thanks in part to work by Katy Green.
- MOFGA tries to find ways for people to opt out of potential widespread pesticide spraying as the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) considers this possibility in the event of a public health emergency, such as West Nile Virus or Eastern Equine Encephalitis. And for the first time ever, the BPC holds one of its meetings at MOFGA.
- John Chartier, MOFGA's specialist in Aroostook County, reports that more and more, the seed of "Aroostook feeding the Northeast" is taking root.
- Our agricultural services staff works far and wide with an increasing number of groups. We take part in the revival of grain growing in the Northeast; in new livestock projects and meetings; in a nationwide "Call to Farms" started by Russell Libby and Brian Snyder (of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) to give a voice for sustainable farms at the national table; in teaching about food safety, food processing, and marketing.
- Our communications benefit from grounds-wide wireless Internet installed for the Common Ground Country Fair, and a fiber-optic cable is installed to allow cell service for Fairgoers without compromising local cell phone service due to our heavy volume at Fair time.
- Our grounds are improved with two new greenhouses, subterranean irrigation in the North Orchard, another hugelkultur demonstration, 1,200 bulbs planted, colonial-style fences around the large livestock area, a new logging trail in the MOFGA woodlot, laser-crafted signage, a kiosk for the Hills-to-Sea trail (which will eventually connect Unity to Belfast).
- We form a new committee with the goal of establishing a green cemetery on MOFGA's grounds.
- Thanks to a $15,000 grant from Central Maine Power, we now have a plug-in electric hybrid Ford vehicle for use by MOFGA staff – added to our existing Honda hybrid.
- Our educational events increase in attendance from about 800 attendees in 2009 to more than 1,800 in 2013.
- We place and support approximately 150 apprentices on 101 Maine mentor farms.
- A total of 500 attend our 30 Farm Training Project workshops, held for beginning farmers.
- Our journeyperson program is larger than ever, with 62 farmers representing 48 new farms. This brings the total number of participants in the program since 2000 to 175.
- Our educational services staff is involved in courses at Colby College and Kennebec Valley Community College.
- Our Farmer-to-Farmer Conference attracts 325 participants, the largest in its history, with 66 scholarship recipients.
- Beginning farmers benefit from our Farm Beginnings Whole Farm Planning course and from the Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine, in which MOFGA takes a leadership role.
- Our El Salvador Sistering Committee continues to link with our sistering groups in that country, offering support in fair elections, on anti-mining work, on climate change and food and water security.
- Our low-impact forestry and chainsaw safety programs attract more than 800 participants over their 15-year history, thanks to a volunteer staff of more than 20 people.
- 54,789 people enjoyed the 1,400 presentations and exhibitor booths at the 38th annual Common Ground Country Fair, and 2,381 volunteer shifts were filled.
- André Leu, president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM), the world umbrella body for the organic sector, gave a keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair. Leu began by saying that as an organic farmer, "I just adore what you're doing here. And I'm really excited about seeing the next generation here. One of the things we can celebrate as organic farmers is that we're growing farmers – youth, women – and whereas farmers are disappearing around the world, we know that we are getting over 200,000 new organic farmers every year around the world. We're part of the revitalization and regeneration of agriculture."
- Leu also said the world now produces 2.5 times the amount of food we can consume, and more than half the food grown in the world is wasted. "It's a myth that we need to grow more food to feed the 800 million people who are undernourished."
- MOFGA won the Portland Phoenix Readers Choice Award for Best Fair/Festival for the second year in a row – and for the second year since the award has been offered. Fair coordinator Courtney Williams accepted the award for MOFGA.
- The Youth Enterprise Zone at the Fair was extended to a second day, enabling 77 youth to gain valuable experience and confidence in their businesses.
- Jen Sansosti became fairgrounds logistics assistant to Ellis Percy, in anticipation of taking the lead in 2015.
- MOFGA received a $1 million donation from the Partridge Foundation to endow its beginning farmer programs. The foundation also challenged MOFGA to raise an additional $1 million in order to receive a matching gift of the same amount. Our outgoing president, Heather Albert-Knopp, thanked Andrew Marshall, "who served as MOFGA's director of educational programs for more than a decade. It is due to Andrew's dedication and leadership, in close collaboration with Russell Libby and others, that MOFGA's apprenticeship and journeyperson programs have grown to serve hundreds of new and aspiring farmers each year, becoming a model for other programs around the country, and garnering this tremendous support that will sustain them in perpetuity."
- We placed more than 100 apprentices this year and accepted nine new journeypersons. Twenty-six farms enrolled in our Farm Beginnings course.
- Almost half of MOFGA's finances now come from "earned income," such as the Common Ground Country Fair, membership dues, organic certification and event registration fees. The other half comes from generous donations by individuals, foundations, businesses and endowment income.
- Despite a heavy snow storm and whiteout conditions on November 2, our Farmer to Farmer Conference was a huge success – thanks in large part to the last-minute reorganizing talents and stamina of Abby Sadauckas, Anna Mueller and the agricultural services staff. We awarded more than 40 scholarships to both new and established farmers to attend this valuable conference.
- Under John Bunker's direction, we planted the first 102 heirloom apple trees and 700 companion plants in our Maine Heritage Orchard, and we inoculated the wood chip swales with soil-building edible fungi. We purchased a tractor thanks to a grant from the Quimby Family Foundation, erected an 8-foot deer fence around the orchard and constructed a "common throne" composting toilet there. Extra heritage apple varieties were grafted and sold to "tree stewards," who planted them on their land to act as backups for the Heritage Orchard and to help get old varieties into the public again. "The 10-acre gravel pit is on its way to recovery," said Bunker.
- The tart cherries in the South Orchard had the best crop ever this year, and most were eaten by staff and volunteers working on the grounds. Roughly 12 bushels of apples were harvested in the South Orchard and used in the Common Kitchen during the Fair. Volunteers planted a perennials labyrinth in this orchard.
- Our landscape provided many of the vegetables used at the Fair and other MOFGA events.
- MOFGA Certification Services, LLC, certified 460-plus producers in 2014 and performed 21 random tests of certified operations for pesticide residues, with negative results. MCS also began exploring the idea of establishing a program to certify medical cannabis as "clean" (free from harmful chemicals, mold and other contaminants).
- Our agricultural services staff is now represented on about 50 farm organizations, from the Maine Grass Farmers Network and the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference planning team to the National Organic Coalition.
- MOFGA commented on the FDA's proposed rules regulating fresh produce and manufacturing facilities that are involved in selling fresh and lightly processed produce. Dave Colson attended FDA's only listening session held in New England this year.
- Katy Green has been representing MOFGA in A Call to Farms, a group focusing on providing a cohesive farmer voice in national policy conversations. Green attended a meeting of this group in Mississippi in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer to discuss race and social justice issues in the sustainable food and farm movement.
- Katy Green also represented MOFGA at all of Maine's Board of Pesticides Control meetings and reported on those meetings in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener. She spoke in favor of public notification when herbicide spraying occurs in public rights of way; about monitoring possible revisions to oversight of pesticide spraying in Maine forests; and she kept our farmers informed about strategies they could use to avoid contamination in the event of spraying mosquitoes to attempt to control West Nile Virus.
- Our public policy committee held a teach-in on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock at the Common Ground Country Fair. Subsequently, a subcommittee is organizing a major initiative to forward this issue, including strategies for consumers, with a roll-out planned for the 2015 Common Ground Country Fair.
- Our low-impact forestry committee completed a major cut on MOFGA's land and sold several loads of logs and lumber as a result. Milled lumber was also stored for future MOFGA projects. This group also held another successful level 1 training workshop in November.
- The MOFGA-El Salvador sistering committee held a successful organic CSA raffle and another Empty Bowl Supper to raise most of its funds for the year. In October, the committee welcomed Edith Portillo, community organizer and board member of the Association for the Development of El Salvador (CRIPDES), who spoke at Unity College and to MOFGA staff about Salvadorans' move toward sustainable, organic agriculture – with a special focus on women's roles in that movement. Cori Ring-Martinez, co-coordinator of U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities (USESSC) in San Salvador, translated for Portillo.
- Given the increased interest in organic cut flowers, The MOF&G started running a column by MOFGA certified organic grower Karen Volckhausen on this topic.
- We exceeded 25,000 "likes" on our Facebook page and 2,000 followers on our Twitter feed. We also started an Instagram account.
- We added several staff members:
- April Boucher, Fair director (replacing Jim Ahearne)
- Courtney Williams, Fair coordinator (replacing April Boucher)
- Abby Sadauckas, educational programs director (replacing Andrew Marshall, who left after more than 10 years in this position; Andrew is now with Land for Good)
- Anna Mueller, educational events coordinator (replacing Grace Oedel, who moved to Massachusetts)
- Jason Tessier, buildings and grounds director (following Vernon LeCount's retirement, with Steve Plumb as interim director)
- Don Pendleton, facilities assistant
- Kristen Farrell, certification assistant (replacing Grace Keown, who became our database manager)
- Heather Omand, organic business and marketing coordinator
- Lauren Young, summer Fair assistant
- Laurah Brown, administrative assistant
- Kamala Grohman, Country Store representative and development associate
- Pheonix Obrien, farmer-in-residence
- We said farewell to Aktan Askin, our landscape coordinator, who left MOFGA to take a job with Fedco.
- We were deeply saddened by the sudden death of Joe Dupere, our database coordinator (and formerly our landscape coordinator), as well as the death of Charlie Gould, a former Cooperative Extension agent who helped found MOFGA. Gould died at age 90.
- We expressed our gratitude for Janice Clark, our finance administrator and advertising manager, who has been with MOFGA for 25 years.
- MOFGA now counts 11,000 members, and more than 2,400 people donate tens of thousands of hours volunteering for us annually.
- The Common Ground Country Fair set attendance and revenue records, with 65,098 participants attending the Fair and 2,698 volunteer shifts being filled. The Fair represented 40.1 percent of our income for 2015, netting $426,852. The rest of MOFGA's income comes from fees for certification services; donations by members, individuals and families; and from foundations and government grants.
- MOFGA Certification Services LLC certified 483 organic producers in 2015, a 4 percent increase over 2014. They included producers of crops and mixed production (266), dairy and cattle (70), processors (52), maple syrup (51), blueberries (39), seaweed (3) and mushrooms (2).
- MOFGA Certification Services LLC tested a certification program for medical cannabis that verifies toxicant-free growing and handling practices. It expects to launch the program in 2016.
- Aroostook County had eight organic dairy farms with 340 cows this year, up from two farms the previous year. Also, 10 farms are growing a total of 1,000 acres of organic grains in Aroostook – up from three farms growing 300 acres in 2012. Interest in organic potatoes is increasing in The County, too, with at least three contracts for organic potatoes – Amy's Kitchen, the Organic Valley produce pool, and an organic chip company.
- MOFGA plays an important role in national issues relating to organic agriculture. We are a founding member of the National Organic Coalition, which includes farming groups, cooperative businesses, and environmental and consumer groups committed to maintaining the integrity of the organic label. MOFGA staff members have visited legislators in Washington, D.C., and maintain contact with Maine's Congressional delegation on issues related to organic agriculture.
- The Natural Resources Conservation Service's work in MOFGA's 10-acre Maine Heritage Orchard was completed. More than 1,000 native plants were transplanted, along with 71 apple varieties and five pears. The orchard collection now includes almost 200 apples. Tree stewards have planted these varieties in their own orchards and landscapes to provide backup propagation material for the Heritage Orchard.
- We had a considerable chestnut harvest this year from trees on MOFGA's grounds. Some of the nuts are being germinated for new trees.
- More than 40 bushels of apples were harvested from our orchards this year for use during various events.
- Our barns are almost 20 years old now and need repairs.
- Daniel MacPhee was hired as our educational programs director, replacing Abby Sadauckas.
- MOFGA received a $710,000 USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant to expand its new farmer programs while we continue to grow our educational endowment.
- We exceeded the challenge grant posed to us by the Partridge Foundation, raising over $1 million in 2015, which will be matched by a second $1 million from the Partridge Foundation. Added to the first $1 million from Partridge, our endowment fund for our educational programs has reached $3 million.
- We had 144 apprenticeship applications and placed 46 apprentices, and we accepted 27 new journerpersons (JPs). Our 2015 survey of all current and former MOFGA JPs showed that 92 percent of all participants in the program over the past 15 years are still farming, and 87 percent are farming in Maine. For comparison, USDA says the average success rate of new farms in their first five years of operation is 46 percent.
- We are establishing an articulation agreement with the Kennebec Valley Community College Sustainable Agriculture Program so that, upon completing MOFGA's JP Program and/or Farm Beginnings® course, participants would automatically be eligible for awarded academic credits, which could take a semester or more off participants' degree work if they decide to pursue a degree.
- More than 2,750 people participated in MOFGA's educational programs in 2015 – in more than 100 individual events and workshops through 25 distinct educational programs.
- Nearly 500 people attended the annual Seed Swap and Scion Exchange.
- Our organic orcharding series, grafting, low-impact forestry, livestock processing and kitchen licensing workshops were filled to capacity.
- We added a new, four-session "Quickbooks for Farmers" intensive this year.
- We ran our 6-month Farm Beginnings® course for 25 farms.
- Our Farmer to Farmer Conference had 325 participants, 56 speakers and 34 workshops.
- Labor concerns are increasing among MOFGA farmers, farmworkers and apprentices and among enforcement agencies. MOFGA is developing advisory materials for farmers and is meeting with Department of Labor agents to understand new interpretations and enforcement of longstanding labor laws.
- Four members of the MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee went on a 10-day delegation to El Salvador. They visited organic farms, value-added production projects and a permaculture project; talked with local leaders about food sovereignty, organic agriculture, cooperatives, anti-mining ordinances, pesticide reduction activities and more.
- MOFGA's Food Policy Committee met to begin addressing issues relating to use of the term "sustainably," use of certified organic sugar, and to determine what criteria should be applied regarding seafood ingredients at MOFGA events.
- MOFGA's four-day low-impact forestry workshop is now 17 years old and is paying its instructors.
- Our Public Policy Committee monitored 21 bills in the Maine Legislature and testified on sixteen. These included a genetic engineering labeling law, pesticide reduction efforts, harmonizing our pesticide laws with those of other states, addressing neonicotinoid pesticides and bees, promoting solar energy for farms, funding a Maine plant and livestock testing lab, fertilizer fees, rural broadband expansion, medical marijuana, and health insurance expansion to low-income residents. We signed on with other groups to support country-of-origin labeling, to oppose federal legislation regarding genetic engineering, to support climate change initiatives, to oppose open ocean aquaculture, to oppose agriculture-specific aspects of the Trans Pacific Partnership, to oppose Whole Foods' new food label categories and more. We provided technical assistance to Portland and South Portland advocacy groups that are developing local pesticide control ordinances.
- The MOFGA board selected a strategic planning coordinating team to work with Good Group Decisions to examine the nature and purpose of MOFGA.
Common Ground Country Fair
- The 40th annual Common Ground Country Fair (CGCF) attracted 60,950 participants. Volunteers filled 2,582 shifts – 87 percent of the total shifts requested by Planning Team members. In an inspiring new record, 70 percent of these shifts were filled during pre-registration.
- The Poultry Barn was full for the first time in over 10 years.
- We encouraged more alternative transportation this year, with three Adult Education Program buses bringing people to the Fair. Bus riders enjoyed a discounted admission of $8/person.
- The new layout for Environmental Concerns, Young Maine, YEZ and the Country Store created more flow, and the tents received increased traffic.
- The Compost and Recycling Area had its smoothest year yet, with more sorting stations, more volunteers in the C&R Tent, and a pre-approved compostable-ware list for all exhibitors to use.
- Staff and a Unity townsperson organized an RV campground to help relieve some traffic congestion and address requests for fairgoer camping.
- We augmented our Fair cleanup schedule with a very successful Saturday Cleanup Workday on October 15.
- We welcomed Eleanor Salazar, Andy York and Tami Colburn to the Fair staff!
- Over time, we have learned that the more volunteers who participate in putting on the Fair, the better the Fair. A great diversity of vigorous participants is the best insurance of abundance, balance and longevity.
- Mary Yurlina, longtime director of MOFGA Certification Services LLC (MCS), left that job to pursue other interests. MCS staffers Kate Newkirk and Jaco Schravesande-Gardei served as interim co-directors until Chris Grigsby took over. The certification staff revived its Organic Sprout biannual newsletter.
- The 523 operations certified by MCS in 2016 included 215 farms for crops only, 77 dairies, 52 processors/handlers, 52 maple syrup producers, 44 farms with crops and livestock, 42 blueberry farms and 41 operations with crops and processing businesses.
- MOFGA's agricultural services staff and MCS began a marketing campaign to publicize the idea that local and organic are "better together."
- Maine Harvest Bucks (in which MOFGA participates) will have distributed close to $25,000 in incentives to low-income Maine residents through eight certified organic CSA farms as of March 2017.
- Katy Green continued to organize annual meetings of organic wild blueberry growers and created a listserve so that this "blueberry peer learning group" can communicate with one another throughout the year. The group, through MOFGA, received a grant from Maine Technical Institute to allow six growers to try using blueberry leaves for tea and for the health foods market. Green also served as technical advisor for a farmer grant focusing on reducing compaction in pastures and hayfields.
- Eric Sideman, MOFGA's organic crop specialist, Bruce Hoskins of the Maine Soil Testing Service, Mark Hutton of UMaine Cooperative Extension and Becky Sideman of the University of New Hampshire conducted a SARE-funded study of fertility in high tunnel tomatoes.
- Katy Green completed the IOIA processing certification, allowing for improved technical assistance to food processors.
- Under a Conservation Innovation grant, MOFGA organized four conservation farm tours (partnering with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts) and held conservation-themed sessions at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show and at our Farmer to Farmer Conference.
- John Chartier, MOFGA's Aroostook County specialist, has been getting dairy, potato and grain farmers transitioning to certified organic, adding this year eight dairies, one hay, two grain, two mixed vegetable and three potato farms. In 2014 Aroostook had only two organic milk farms shipping a total of just under $400,000 of milk. By the end of 2016, annual milk sales from the county were about $1,800,000, produced by nine farms. These new organic farms created markets for organic straw, hay and grains, contributing to more of a "local and organic" economy. Regarding grains, 10 farms grew a total of 1,000 acres of organic grains, up from three farms growing 300 acres in 2012.
- Chartier and Noah Winslow of Irving Farms LLC wrote a paper on the market opportunity for organic grains. They found that under current market conditions, Aroostook may be best situated to continue growing its organic grain capacity at a similar rate to that needed for locally grown human-grade end products such as bread, oatmeal and craft brewers. Only a portion of the acres planted for human-grade grains make that quality parameter. The rest is fed to organic dairy animals, mostly within Aroostook or Maine. One challenge is the inability of the current rail system in Maine to access grain cars.
- Regarding potatoes, in 2015 Aroostook organic potato acreage increased because the 2014-15 market indicated room for more. But PEI organic potato acreage also increased, and the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate favored buying Canadian, so marketing the 2015 Aroostook crop was a challenge for some. The start of the 2016 market season seemed strong. Despite marketing challenges, three additional conventional growers put in organic potatoes this year. Regarding wholesale vegetable crops, in 2015 Nature's Circle Farm in Houlton started aggregating certain crops for other farms. Most went to Whole Foods and to distributors in the greater Boston area.
- Ryan Dennett, New Farmer Programs coordinator, joined the staff, and Anna Libby shifted her half-time apprenticeship assistant role to focus more on education and community outreach for non-farmers.
- In 2016 over 2,750 people participated in MOFGA's 27 distinct educational programs, with well over 100 individual events. These included six new educational offerings: beginning beekeeping, beginning cheesemaking, farm labor models in practice, relational systems on the farm, a two-day Maine axe and saw meetup and a daylong homeopathy for livestock intensive. Our annual organic farming principles and practices workshop was reconfigured into a two-day overnight intensive designed as a pre-season crash course for incoming apprentices, new farmers and gardeners.
- Our six-month Farm Beginnings® whole farm and business planning course ran in both Unity and Portland.
- We explored the concept of a MOFGA venue in Portland with 10 workshops at the former Roma Restaurant on Congress Street.
- In partnership with CT-NOFA, we brought the four-day Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) training and exam to Maine for the first time. We also offered introductory workshops on organic land care standards and practices for homeowners.
- The annual four-day Low Impact Forestry workshop was a success and benefited from support from the Maine Community Foundation to increase access and tailor programming for women. Twenty-two participants took the introduction to forestry class followed by working and training with draft horses, farm tractors and hand implements. We had our largest ever annual chainsaw safety course, with 20 participants. This was the first year we had a woman instructor with a subgroup of about five women/first-time chainsaw users. And for the first time the main portion of the LIF workshop was held on land not owned by MOFGA.
- The Maine Heritage Orchard (MEHO) committee expanded its scope to include the North and South Orchards on MOFGA's grounds.
- Our 2014-2016 farmers in residence, Megan and Pheonix Obrien of Sandy Meadow Farm, purchased a farm across the road from MOFGA. Incoming farmer in residence, Carole Mapes, started her flower farm on the MOFGA grounds.
MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee
- The U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities (USESSC) network celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and the MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee celebrated its 15th anniversary.
- Our Salvadoran sistering coordinator, Zulma Tobar, and volunteer Carly Roach spoke at MOFGA and at Unity College during a tour of the Northeast before the national gathering in Cambridge, Mass., of all groups involved in USESSC. The Maine talks focused on the threats of industrial sugar cane production and metallic mining to the people and land of El Salvador.
- Two committee members, Willie Marquart and Jean English, attended the national gathering in Cambridge, where the group decided to focus delegations more on themes than on individual sister communities (without abandoning the latter) – something the MOFGA committee has always done this, since we are sistered with MOFGA-like organic farming and gardening organizations in El Salvador rather than with particular communities. At the gathering, the USESSC expressed interest in hearing about A New England Food Vision as a way to look at feeding a region. We also discussed gang violence in El Salvador and connections of the right-wing government and of multinational corporations to that violence.
- We monitored the lawsuit filed by Pacific Rim Mining, now Oceana Gold, vs. El Salvador, which was before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) of the World Bank. If ICSID allows gold mining in El Salvador, farmers' land and water resources will be drastically affected.
- Our Committee's annual Empty Bowl Supper/fundraiser in April raised $1,105. Committee members shared moving memories from our 15- year-long relationship with our MOFGA-like sistering organizations in El Salvador.
- Climate change is affecting crops and lives in El Salvador. A drought was followed by a deluge and then by another drought. People in Carasque had no potable water. Grain production was down significantly.
Public Policy Committee
- The Public Policy Teach-In at the Fair covered local pesticide control ordinances.
- We worked with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) to reduce dependence on pesticides, ramp up consumer education about pesticides, increase visibility of the YardScaping program, track and report on pesticides sales in Maine and reinforce the BPC's statutory responsibility to minimize reliance on pesticides.
- Committee members provided technical support, advice and advocacy to Portland and South Portland in developing ordinances for local pesticide control. South Portland passed an organically focused ordinance. Portland continued to debate the issues. Nearly 30 communities in Maine have passed local pesticide control ordinances. We developed and circulated a fact sheet explaining the differences between organic and integrated pest management practices.
- Heather Spalding received the prestigious Dragonfly Award from Beyond Pesticides, recognizing her work in environmental protection.
Buildings and Grounds
- The Buildings and Grounds Committee completed its first inspection of the entire grounds, including all buildings and major pieces of infrastructure. That information enabled creation of a multiyear budget to ensure the integrity of the grounds.
- MOFGA became a licensed public water source, which required several system upgrades and submitting monthly water tests to the state. We continue to provide quality drinking water without chlorination.
- MOFGA entered into an agreement with ReVision Energy to install a 102 kW solar array on the grounds and to convert heating systems to use solar to reduce our fossil fuel usage by 85 percent. The system, funded by ReVision Energy, will impact MOFGA's finances minimally for the next six years. It will address infrastructure issues such as a failing heating system in the main building, wastewater issues during the Fair, and ongoing water system issues. We also planned to drill a second well and upgrade our water pumps to increase reliability and isolate ourselves from catastrophic equipment failures.
- Of MOFGA's $3.1 million budget, 52 percent comes from earned income, 15 percent from foundation support, 17 percent from memberships and annual giving, 11 percent from government sources and 5 percent from our endowment. The latter, managed by Trillium Asset Management in Boston, was worth $3.6 million in January 2016. For the first time ever, MOFGA's finances were fully audited by an independent financial auditor, who made several excellent suggestions for improving our internal financial controls – all of which we implemented.
- In 2014 the Partridge Foundation made a $1 million gift to seed MOFGA's endowment. The Foundation pledged an additional $1 million if MOFGA could raise a matching amount within three years. Thanks to the generosity of 293 families, we exceeded that $1 million goal in less than two years through gifts ranging from $5 to $200,000.
- The MOFGA board, standing committees, members and staff created a strategic plan and discussed the association's mission, vision and values. The board proposed changing our current mission statement (The purpose of the Association is to help farmers and gardeners: grow organic food, fiber and other crops; protect the environment; recycle natural resources; increase local food production; support rural communities; and illuminate for consumers the connection between healthful food and environmentally sound farming practices.) to the following: The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is a broad-based community that educates about and advocates for organic agriculture, illuminating its interdependence with a healthy environment, local food production, and thriving communities.
Our membership stands at 6,218 – or 13,415 members when we include the average number of people in a family membership – and we now have a staff of 36. Each year more than 2,850 people volunteer tens of thousands of hours to MOFGA – at the Common Ground Country Fair, at organic gardening classes held statewide, while serving on MOFGA committees and more.
Common Ground Country Fair
- 63,294 participants attended the Common Ground Country Fair.
- Volunteers filled 2,382 shifts, filling about 81 percent of shifts requested by coordinators. Seventy-one percent of these shifts were filled by volunteers who pre-registered.
- The solid waste footprint of the Fair continued to lighten thanks to the hard work and passion of the compost and recycling team plus our partnership with EcoMaine.
- The MOFGA logo was added to all shirts and sweatshirts.
- We offered expanded bus and carpool options to get to the Fair.
- We hired Andrew Graham as MOFGA’s community engagement coordinator, continuing and expanding on the work of former volunteer coordinator Anna Libby, who now works for our education department.
MOFGA Certification Services LLC (MCS)
- The 536 operations certified by MCS in 2017 included 423 farms raising crops, 77 dairies, 77 on-farm processors, 55 maple syrup producers, 55 livestock farms, 49 blueberry farms, 14 mushroom farms, nine wild crop businesses and six kelp operations. (Operations may have more than one production category, making the total by production number higher than the total certified.)
- Certified organic acreage went from 72,261 in 2015 to 90,402 in 2016 and 88,818 in 2017.
- We formalized our Certified Clean Cannabis by MOFGA (MC3) program. Through this third-party verification program, administered by MCS, 13 operations were certified as of the end of 2017.
- MCS responded to national issues questioning the integrity of the organic label by continuing to maintain the integrity in the MCS label.
- Katy Green transitioned from MOFGA’s agricultural services staff to MCS as an inspector.
- Jacki Perkins joined the staff, bringing expertise in organic dairying.
- Working with MCS, MOFGA’s agricultural services staff developed an organic farmer toolkit to help producers with marketing, pricing, messaging and promotion.
- The MOFGA staff visited 76 farms in 2017.
- We published a report called “Adding Profits to Organic Grain Rotations in Aroostook County.”
- Organic grain acreage increased by 250 acres in Aroostook County in 2017.
- Four new forage operations are providing forage to Maine dairies and setting Aroostook County up for future dairy growth.
- MOFGA funders toured Aroostook projects to learn about our work there.
- Our organic orchard workshop series expanded to include Piscataquis County.
- The Maine Organic Milk Producers awarded Diane Schivera a plaque and pitcher for her many years of service.
- Our educational programs now include our comprehensive new farmer training (which includes our apprenticeship, journeyperson, farmer in residence and farm beginnings programs), low impact forestry, organic orchard (and Maine Heritage Orchard – MEHO) and a nascent organic land care training and accreditation program. Over 3,300 people participated in our educational programs in 2017 – a 20 percent increase from 2016 and a seven-fold increase in the size of MOFGA’s educational programs over the past 10 years.
- Expanded support of scholarships and child care from the Debley Foundation, National Center for Appropriate Technology and private donors significantly increased program access for women, families, veterans and limited-resource farmers, gardeners and apprentices.
- Anna Libby is now coordinating programming for non-farmer audiences full time.
- We started a new Farmer to Farmer in the Field series for advanced producers, and a Gather & Grow series for gardeners and homesteaders.
- Our low impact forestry project held a seminar on carbon sequestration and climate change, in addition to its usual four-day workshop on forestry, chainsaw courses, workshops at Hidden Valley Nature Center and three days of low impact tree removal techniques and engaging forestry presentations at the Common Ground Country Fair.
- We graduated 27 second-year journerpersons and will support more than 50 journeypersons in 2018.
- Carol Mapes settled in as MOFGA’s farmer in residence and started her organic flower farm, Flywheel Flowers, in partnership with her sister, Lauren.
- In the Maine Heritage Orchard, half of the 10-acre gravel pit has been reconfigured and stabilized, and almost 300 historic apple and pear varieties as well as hundreds of woody and herbaceous companion plants have been planted. We collected scions and propagated 100 new trees in April – some to be planted in the MEHO and others in yards of tree stewards throughout Maine. In April, 30 volunteers helped during our fourth annual planting day. During the growing season, volunteers met weekly in the orchard to learn about the history of Maine agriculture and about innovative orcharding techniques. While scouring the state for old apple and pear trees, exciting new finds came from Ogunquit, Cape Elizabeth, Hallowell and Aroostook County. Our first Maine Apple Camp attracted 100 participants from nine states and Canada to learn and share about historic fruit preservation, innovative orcharding and fruit exploring.
MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee
- Our 10-day delegation to El Salvador in January-February covered our usual interests (organic farming, permaculture, anti-mining work, etc.) and focused strongly on the conventional sugar cane industry, which is devastating the land, waters and communities in many areas. Our sisters in El Salvador are working hard to change that industry and to promote organic. We came back to Maine with renewed resolve to use local, organic sweeteners and, when we use sugar, to buy organic. Our trip was the topic of a feature story in the summer 2017 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
- We held a meetup at the Common Ground Country Fair with several individuals interested in our work.
- We had another successful Empty Bowl Supper fundraiser.
- One of our members, Willie Marquart, served on the board of US-El Salvador Sister Cities (USESSC), the national umbrella organization for the 17 U.S. entities with sistering relationships in El Salvador. He is now U.S. coordinator for USESSC.
Public Policy Committee
- Heather Spalding now focuses more on public policy and communications as Michele McCarthy takes over much of the budget and administrative work that Spalding had been doing for the past several years.
- MOFGA continued its work on federal food and farm policy through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the National Organic Coalition and the emerging national Organic Farmers Association. We emphasize securing adequate appropriations for organic programs, and developing positions and strategy around organic programs in the federal farm bill.
- At the state level, we testified and/or collaborated with our partners on several bills, including metallic mineral mining, municipal pesticide control ordinances, phthalates, pesticide use on school grounds, water quality, solar energy, food recovery, lead and arsenic poisoning in children and broadband service for rural communities.
- South Portland approved an organic-focused pesticide control ordinance, and Portland followed in early 2018. Public Policy Committee member Paul Schlein helped develop both ordinances. Heather Spalding, with Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, published op eds in local media supporting an organic ordinance.
- Nancy Ross organized our Public Policy Teach-In at the Fair on “Organizing for Resistance.” Attendees learned how to advocate for a safe, nontoxic environment, healthy citizens, clean water and thriving wildlife in Maine; how to work for local pesticide control ordinances; and how to work with (and become) elected officials. The teach-in was summarized in the winter issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener and is posted on MOFGA’s YouTube channel.
- MOFGA, along with Cultivating Community and Immigrant Legal Advocacy, expressed to our congressional delegation our opposition to President Trump’s travel ban – a critical issue for Maine’s immigrant communities, many of whom are engaged in farming.
- We continued to attend and comment at meetings of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control and to report on those meetings in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.
- MOFGA signed on to many position statements, including on the integrity of the organic label, pollinator protection, climate change, synthetic pesticides, food safety, organic livestock regulations, and opposition to Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA.
- Sharon Tisher updated her Pesticides Quiz and Primer, available at http://www.mofga.org/Programs/PublicPolicyInitiatives/PesticidesAction/PesticidesQuiz/tabid/527/Default.aspx.
- We urged our congressional delegation to address the devastating impacts of climate change on farmers, our citizens and the environment. The Bangor Daily News published Sharon Tisher’s annual op ed about climate change.
Buildings and Grounds
- MOFGA completed installation of a 102 kw solar array on the grounds and installed 24 air source heat pumps in three major buildings to use solar to reduce our fossil fuel use by 85 percent. Construction began in January 2017 and energy generation started in March of 2017, when three boilers were shut down and were not started again until December – and then only as backup during extended periods of sub-zero weather. The system is being funded by ReVision Energy and will have minimal financial impact on MOFGA for the next six years. We also installed 2,500 more feet of fiber optic cables to service wireless communications during MOFGA events, including the Fair.
- We moved the amphitheater berm to create a more intimate and functional entertainment venue and to ease congestion and traffic concerns on the roadside. Children were still able to slide down the berm during the Fair. Some of the former berm material filled ditches in the agricultural products and folk arts areas, easing congestion there during the Fair. We expanded the railroad platform to allow two railcars to load and unload at once. We installed four waterless urinals in the main building, saving about 5,000 gallons of septic pumping during the Fair.
- We installed a second well for redundancy. We addressed water system issues.
- Michele McCarthy was hired as MOFGA’s director of finance and administration.
- Our endowment fund has grown to about $4 million, thanks in large part to support from the Partridge Foundation and its matching challenge grant honoring Polly Guth. To implement MOFGA’s strategic plan, we are raising more than $20 million. The Partridge Foundation has pledged to match every gift up to $6 million.
- Our diverse mix of funding includes the following percentages:
Earned income (Fair, certification, other) – 52
Foundations – 7
Government grants – 13
Individuals and businesses – 15
Membership – 8
Endowment – 5
Maine Harvest Credit Project
- This joint project of MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust kicked off the charter application process in 2017 and plans to open its doors in 2018. The credit union, once created, will promote the growth of small farms and food producers in Maine through financial services geared toward the needs of its members. It will help build a food system in Maine that improves people’s health, fosters a cleaner environment and stimulates a stronger food and agricultural sector.