Russell Libby, Executive Director of MOFGA, and daughter Rosa. English photo.
By Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director
Organic farmers in Maine will survive, and thrive, based on the long term relationships they develop with their customers. The experience of 25 years shows that those connections between farmer and buyer can be the foundation of a growing relationship that extends beyond the business aspects.
The same is true for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. At one level, we’re providing services to our members, and we hope that these hold some value for each of you. At another level, we’ve been working to build those personal relationships for close to 30 years. I recently attended a gathering at Mort Mather’s house in Wells where York County members had a chance to get reacquainted. The connections they have built go far beyond the organic gardening information they share over potluck meals.
This focus on long-term connections and trust seems to be the exact opposite of the way that our food system has been heading. Nearly every week the newspaper carries a story about another round of consolidations and mergers: Cargill buys Continental Grain; Shaw’s, owned by Sainsbury’s, buys Stop and Shop, which owns Nature’s Harvest; Horizon buys Hood’s share of Organic Cow.
As individuals, each of us can make only small changes. As a group, we can have a bigger impact. Over the years the Common Ground Country Fair has grown into the largest market for organic food in the state, a place where dozens of farmers connect with thousands of buyers. Now a growing number of natural food stores provide us with an opportunity to build these relationships year round. The model of Community Supported Agriculture is being adapted to fit the situations on nearly 20 Maine farms. Farmers’ markets promote the farmer-consumer relationship already, and many have begun moving to extended seasons as farmers find ways to push the growing season at both ends. Even the supermarket chains have moved to make organic foods available in response to consumer demand.
Each of us is a consumer of food. The decisions we make about where to purchase and from whom have impacts way beyond the calories we consume or the dollars we spend. Ultimately, we are voting for the kind of world we want in the future.
I’d like to thank each of you for taking the time to build those relationships, and encourage you to do more in the future to build that network of farmers and consumers. It’s the essential part of building a local food supply.