By Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director
This is the time of year when we can let our dreams be large. I like to leave them that way for a few weeks before I acknowledge that I can never accomplish all that I want within the year ahead, and then make the needed adjustments. Each of us changes direction hundreds of times each year, but we still keep a picture of where we want to be. Fifteen years ago, when Mary Anne and I landed on a rundown farm in Mount Vernon, we had a picture of what our place could look like with attention and care. We’re still coming up with new ideas, but that basic framework has carried us a long way.
When your time horizon is 10 to 20 years, it’s easier to work towards permanent solutions. Now another factor is entering the discussions more often: Time. What can realistically be accomplished now? What can be left to the next generation? When we have these talks at a family level, I realize that we also need to build in the “enjoyment” factor – how can we make this work more fun for all involved?
The same question relates to MOFGA – only on a larger scale. We’re moving toward a big goal – an organic agriculture for Maine – with 3,000 different pictures of what success might look like, and as many paths for reaching a solution. The Board is just beginning to review our previous five-year plan and to set goals for the years ahead. I’ve been thinking a lot about where MOFGA is going, and the issues facing us in the years ahead. I’d like to throw out a few, just to stimulate your thinking.
Issue: Organic farming grows in importance. Maine already has one of the highest percentages of organic farmers in the country. We could pass the five percent mark over the next few years. We’re already near or past three percent, depending on which USDA statistics we want to use. That will mean more product available, but it will also require a lot of marketing to make sure a customer base exists that’s ready and willing to support local, organic agriculture. We’ll also have more farmers with the size and volume to ship to regional markets in New England and beyond.
Issue: People will look to MOFGA for help managing their land. We’ll be providing technical assistance – as we do now – to people who want their land to stay in organic agriculture (or be converted to organic farming). But we’ll also be getting more requests for help with ownership questions, such as leases and easements. These ownership issues will be linked to an interest in finding people to farm particular pieces of land – which we’re trying to do with the journeyperson program.
Issue: Consumers will want to “put a face on their food.” Uncertainty about how their food is grown or raised will push more buyers toward organic and local suppliers. Direct purchases from farmers (CSAs, farmers’ markets) or quality information on packaging will make a big difference in buying choices. MOFGA is in a great position to keep making those adjustments, because we’re doing it already. As you’re thinking about your garden, or your farm, think about the big picture, too, and how MOFGA can be an effective part.