The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), formed in 1971, is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.
Mission: 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.
Read an abridged history and timeline of the Association.
Photo by Russell French, 2006
Why Organic Food Is Better Food
The Organic Premise: Many people are aware that food grown according to organic principles is free from exposure to harmful herbicides and pesticides, but that is only one small aspect of organic agriculture. A larger part of organic agriculture involves the health of the soil and the ecosystem in which crops and livestock are raised. Organic farmers recognize that healthy, vibrant, and live soils and ecosystems significantly benefit crops. Natural, undisturbed soil is alive with microbiotic organisms that exist in harmony with the native plant life and the inorganic minerals that provide the soil's substrate.
Synthetic chemicals (such as herbicides, pesticides, and/or fast acting inorganic fertilizers) applied in or around crops interrupt or destroy the microbiotic activity in the soil. Once the microbiotic activity in the soil has stopped, the soil becomes merely an anchor for plant material. In this conventional method of agriculture (in use for only the past 75 of 10,000 years of recorded agriculture) plants can receive only air, water, and sunlight from their environment -- everything else must be distributed to plants by farmers, often from inputs transported thousands of miles to reach the farm. Plants are commonly fed only the most basic elements of plant life and so are dependent on the farmer to fight nature's challenges, e.g. pests, disease, and drought.
Eliot Coleman, in his excellent primer, The New Organic Grower (published by Chelsea Green in 1995) illustrates this very well as summarized below:
Feed The Soil
Feed The Plant
- Soil fertility is a biological process
- Only the nutrients removed from the farm as crops need to be replaced.
- Nitrogen is not purchased because it is supplied by symbiotic and non-symbiotic processes.
- Inputs are purchased in their least processed and least expensive form.
- 75% of the nutrient value of all feed consumed by animals is returned in manure as nutrient input to the farm.
- Soil fertility is an imported commodity.
- All nutrients required to "create" a crop are purchased from off the farm.
- Nitrogen is a very important purchased input.
- Inputs are purchased in their most processed and expensive form. Solubility and availability of these inputs is considered a chemical process performed on an industrial level.
- All feed is a pure expense; animal manure is treated as a problem rather than an asset.
Why should a consumer care about agricultural techniques if an organically cultivated green pepper looks identical to a conventionally grown pepper?
The answer is multi-faceted, but simply stated, an organically cultivated pepper will be healthier and more nutritious than a conventionally cultivated pepper. By growing in a living soil where microbiotic activity constantly breaks organic matter and solid minerals into nutrients a plant can use, an organically cultivated pepper plant always has exactly what it needs to grow, from germination to fruit set, and the plant will be healthier throughout its lifespan than a conventionally grown pepper plant. As a result, the organically grown plant will be able to add more and complex components to all of its parts, including its fruit, resulting in a pepper chock-full of micro-nutrients and trace minerals that are important for human nutrition.
Flavor is another benefit of healthy plants growing in a living soil. Flavor results from a mixture of many different and complex molecules. Healthy, living soil provides a constant and more complex mixture of these molecules, which results in more flavor. It's no surprise that chefs working in the highest caliber restaurants prefer organic ingredients to conventionally grown ingredients.
By purchasing locally-grown, organic produce, the consumer supports sustainable methods of land use that result in far less pollution and top-soil loss than does conventional agriculture. Synthetic pesticides and herbices not only kill soil microbes and leave toxic residues on food, they also threaten the health of farmworkers and disrupt natural ecosystems around the farm. Chemical fertilizers pollute lakes, ponds, rivers, and groundwater.
The alternative to using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers usually requires more labor on a farm. With more labor, organic farmers can match or exceed the productivity and quality of chemically dependent crops. Labor, rather than synthetic inputs, typically means more support for local economies, but it can also mean higher prices. Conventionally grown foods cost less because their hidden costs are passed on to consumers and the environment. These hidden costs include creating synthetic inputs, the resulting pollution from spreading them, and long-term health effects of pesticide residues in our food.
In the long run, organically grown food is the best bargain for us, the environment, and future generations.
MOFGA defines organic agriculture as a locally sustainable, low-input technique for raising crops and livestock. For details on the legal definition of the word "organic," which is now regulated in the United States by the US Department of Agriculture, read the USDA National Organic Program standards and rules.
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association promotes the production of safe, high quality food in a manner that does not harm the environment and that preserves or improves soil fertility, soil structure, and farm sustainability. Our organic certification program, MOFGA Certification Services, LLC, annually reviews the practices of farms and food processors to help assure the public that food labeled as "certified organic" (indicated either by the USDA organic logo, a MOFGA certified logo, or both) has been grown according to nationally accepted organic standards.