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 News & Events – Summer 2006 Minimize

Governor Baldacci Signs Executive Order to Phase Out Toxics
Making Co-op Economics Work
Johnny’s Selected Seeds to be Employee-Owned
Aroostook Workshop Draws Fifty
City Hall Drops 10,000 Pounds
“Extending the Harvest” Available on Video
YardScaping/BayScaping Seed Mix Available
Wanted: Western Maine Farmers to Supply Local Schools
Western Maine Fund Supports Rural Area
Grow the Winter Cache! Host a Workshop in Your Community

Governor Baldacci Signs Executive Order to Phase Out Toxics

Governor John Baldacci signed an Executive Order on Feb. 22 to promote safer chemicals in consumer products and services. The Order commits the state government to phase out its use of long-lasting toxic chemicals while informing the public about safer alternatives to those chemicals. It will reduce state purchasing of toxic products and reduce pesticide use around state office buildings. The Order also spells out the next steps that Maine will take against chemicals that have already been identified as priorities, such as mercury, lead and pesticides.

The Governor also announced creation of a task force to identify safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals and to promote the use and development of alternatives. The task force will also identify ways to expand research and development into green chemistry at the University of Maine to, for example, move Maine toward production of nontoxic, bio-based plastics from Maine potatoes and wood waste. The task force will include representatives of environmental groups, people from the business and labor communities, members of the University system, state government and the general public.

The Governor worked with the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine on the Executive Order. The Alliance includes representatives from The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine; The Maine Labor Group on Health; The Maine Environmental Health Strategy Center; The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; The Maine People’s Alliance; The Maine Public Health Association; Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility; The Natural Resources Council of Maine; and The Toxic Action Coalition.

In their roles as MOFGA representatives to the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, Sharon Tisher and Nancy Ross worked hard developing the vision and language for this Order. They will continue to lend their expertise as the task force takes shape.

Source: Press release, Governor’s office, Feb. 22, 2006; Crystal Canney, 287-2531; Dan Cashman, 287-2531.
www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=Portal+News&id=13630&v=article-2004. MOFGA email, Heather Spalding, Feb. 2006.

Making Co-op Economics Work

Thirty years ago, the newly formed Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) made its first loan – $5,000 to Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op in Vermont. Both the Fund and the Co-op are still going strong. By December 2005, CFNE had lent almost $12 million to, in the words of its mission statement, “community based, cooperative, and democratically owned or managed enterprises with preference to those that serve low-income communities.”

From mostly consumer-owned food co-ops, the Fund’s borrower base has expanded significantly. Many worker co-ops and cooperative housing groups have come to CFNE for a loan. Land trusts, producer co-ops – any type of co-op can apply. A number of nonprofit community organizations have become borrowers as well. In some cases, borrowers have become investors. Borrowers include the highly successful worker-owned recycling company Cleanscape in Rhode Island; Corporation for Independent Living in Connecticut; Pelham Auto in Massachusetts; Deep Root Truckers’ Co-op in Vermont; and FEDCO Seeds in Waterville, Maine.

Channeling the Money

The organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is run by a volunteer board of trustees (a number of Maine people have served) and one executive director. Independent contractors around New England serve as outreach coordinators and loan consultants. They stay in touch electronically as they work in various committees, and four times a year they meet somewhere in the region for a day. They talk about who’s lending, who’s borrowing, who to go after, and how to fulfill their self-appointed role: channeling the money of enlightened investors and donors to people in New England working effectively to improve the lives of our most at-risk members toward sustainable well-being. Many of these groups had been rejected as too risky by conventional lenders. Since CFNE’s inception, nearly $12 million has been disbursed through approximately 350 loan transactions, and not one investor has ever lost a dime.

It was the ’70s: CED meets SRI

The Cooperative Fund of New England was part of the ‘community economic development’ (CED) phenomenon in the ’70s, which spawned a number of community loan funds, among other things. The National Community Capital Association and the CDFI (community development financial institutions) sector grew from that. Their national federation changed its name to Opportunity Finance Network in January 2006 to reflect a shift in emphasis from seeing the community as a glass half-empty to seeing it as a glass brimming with possibilities and resources. In 2005, this group’s willingness to invest in low-income people attracted $14 billion in capital.

Intertwined with the history of the CDFI sector is the story of socially responsible investing (SRI). As Amy Domini, one of the founders of the SRI movement and an investor in CFNE, says, “It’s important to recognize that the Cooperative Fund of New England took on the hard part of the market. The Fund succeeded in meeting the needs of the borrowers while also providing investors with a reasonable rate of interest and a leveraged impact socially. That’s pretty exciting.”

Almost half of the investor mix in CFNE is from the religious community. Several Episcopalian Dioceses and numerous orders of Sisters are listed in a 30th Anniversary report the Fund recently issued (at http://cooperativefund.org/). Also included are co-ops and community organizations, trusts and banks and foundations, even the U.S. Treasury. It takes a village to make cooperative economic development happen. The Cooperative Fund of New England has been bringing together important members of that village for 30 years.

– Jane Livingston

Johnny’s Selected Seeds to be Employee-Owned

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a privately-held Maine seed company since 1973, will soon be employee-owned. The announcement was presented by founder and owner Rob Johnston Jr. at an April 24 all-employee luncheon. The plan will be implemented over the next 10 years, with employees gaining majority shares by July of 2009.

What was once a more local and regional supplier of vegetable, flower and herb seeds has grown over the last three decades into a multi-channel, international seed merchant, providing commercial grower and home garden customers around the country and worldwide with quality seeds, as well as tools and supplies. The company has earned a reputation for quality product, service and technical advice.

“We’re about to embark on a new adven­ture, turning Johnny’s into an employee-owned seed company,” said Johnston. “While every privately owned company eventually changes hands, this is selling out with a twist: the employees are buying it. This settles the ownership question moving ahead, and that benefits the whole Johnny’s community – customers, employees, suppliers and research cooperators. This place has a life beyond me, and that life begins now.”

“The sale of Johnny’s through an ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan] is a tremendously exciting opportunity for all of its soon-to-be employee-owners,” says General Manager Mike Comer. “It will reward our employees for their continued focus on building long-term relationships with our customers and for their creative solution-finding aimed at advancing operations to the benefit of our customers.”

Source: Press release, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, April 24, 2006.

Aroostook Workshop Draws Fifty

On April 1, farmers and gardeners from Aroostook County and beyond gathered in Caribou for a workshop on winter vegetable production. Eliot Coleman from Four Season Farm and Marada Cook from Skylandia Farm were the presenters.

Coleman described his experiences over the past decade-plus, raising vegetables in both heated and unheated greenhouses. In his current system, half his production comes from outside, and half from his greenhouses. This winter he cut way back on heat, but he was still able to harvest crops grown in the fall through most of the winter. His most successful crops? Spinach, leeks and carrots. He also does very well with salad mix, although lettuce is hard to grow without at least minimal heat.

Cook apprenticed with Coleman and has since been managing the winter greenhouse at Hampshire College. She emphasized the importance of getting the ground prepared in advance. If the greenhouse goes up late in the fall and nothing is growing already, you won’t get any crop until fairly late in the spring. Cook grows the same range of crops as Coleman but has a slightly longer growing season. Where it’s warm, be careful not to start winter crops too soon, she warned, or they’ll go past maturity before Christmas!

One of the most exciting parts of the workshop was the realization that many farmers in Aroostook are already experimenting with pieces of a long-season system, whether cold frames, home built tunnels or greenhouses. And the big concern among many participants is how to make sure that snow doesn’t collapse their houses. On April 1 in southern Maine, the ground was bare, but as we drove north of Caribou, a foot or more of snow was still on the ground.

Extended notes from the workshop are available by e-mail at: mofga@mofga.org. Thanks to the Aroostook Fund of the Maine Community Foundation for supporting for this workshop.

– Russell Libby

City Hall Drops 10,000 Pounds

Portland City Hall cut its carbon habit during Earth Week. “We’re shaving nearly 10,000 pounds off our carbon footprint for Earth Day,” said Peter Dewitt, communications director for Portland, Maine. “That’s how much carbon dioxide Portland will save with just one week of clean electricity.”

For perspective, nearly 770 trees would require a year to extract as much carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas warming Maine’s climate and increasing extreme weather.

City Hall has offset emissions with wind and solar electricity, through renewable energy certificates (RECs) from Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Portland was Maine’s first city to accept the Governor’s Carbon Challenge, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent. The city is also conducting an anti-idling effort and biodiesel tests in city vehicles.

Brunswick-based Maine Green Power Connection (MeGPC), a project of the Maine Energy Investment Corporation, advised Portland on its green power purchase.

Also, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, with help from MeGPC, issued a Global Warming Challenge, challenging all Mainers to limit their climate impact. RECs are a simple tool for achieving this goal.

RECs represent the environmental benefits from renewable energy. They are sold separately from the electricity itself. Revenue from RECs allows wind and other green power producers to offer their electricity to the grid at a competitive price. The grid uses a relatively fixed amount of electricity, so more clean power means less dirty power and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Because RECs displace greenhouse gas emissions, they can be used to make any activity “carbon neutral,” including flying or driving.

The Maine Green Power Connection provides free public education and action possibilities on clean electricity from renewable resources. The Connection is a program of the Maine Energy Investment Corporation, a 501-c3 nonprofit based in Brunswick. MEIC conducts clean energy public education and market development programs.

The nonprofit Bonneville Environmental Foundation restores watershed ecosystems and furthers development and use of new renewable energy resources. Through revenues generated from sales of green power products, BEF funds projects that restore damaged watersheds and support new renewable energy projects from solar, wind and biomass. BEF pioneered the sale of Green Tags in 2000 and helped establish national standards for certification and trading. More information is available at www.b-e-f.org.

Source: Press release, April 14, 2006, Erika Morgan, (207) 729-9665, Maine Energy Investment Corporation, Brunswick, Maine.

“Extending the Harvest” Available on Video

“We know that if we want to increase the economic bottom line for our farms with local sales, we have to produce what the local consumer wants, we have to extend our marketing season beyond summer and fall, and we have to make our products easily available for as much of the year as possible,” says Paula Day, project director of the Eat Smart Eat Local Project.

In February, more than two dozen farmers gathered in Skowhegan, Maine, to learn how to extend Maine’s growing season and how to extend market access to Maine-grown foods by changing the way harvested products are stored. Organized by Eat Smart Eat Local, an initiative of the Western Mountains Alliance, “Extending the Harvest” is now available on video.

February workshop presenters were Steve Belyea of the Maine Department of Agriculture; Jim Cook from Skylandia Farm and Crown of Maine Cooperative; Jay Robinson, who grows vegetables on two farms in Somerset County; and Ross Adams, a Farmington producer. Belyea shared specifics for low-cost, on-farm storage plans for particular crops; Cook came with years of experience in multi-crop, cooperative storage; Robinson explained his individual storage solutions; and Adams shared plans for a cooperative storage facility on his farm.

Both on-farm and centralized storage systems for such root crops as potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic and beets were presented. As a result, a small group of farmers with interest in collaborating on a storage facility agreed to work together.

According to Cook, who distributes Crown O’ Maine produce throughout New England, and Martha Putnam, who distributes Maine products throughout southern Maine via Farm Fresh Connection, the demand for most root products, except potatoes, is not being met.

In April, a second workshop “Back of the Calendar Farming,” explored hoop greenhouse technology for year-round production in Maine.

The Eat Smart Eat Local project is funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation with the intent of encouraging large food service providers to adjust their purchasing and cooking practices to include more local products, while at the same time encouraging local farmers to gradually adapt growing and production practices to provide more of what large institutions, and all other local consumers, want.

Eat Smart Eat Local is a project of the Western Mountains Alliance and the Maine Alternative Agriculture Association. For more information, contact Maine Alternative Ag at 207-696-8377, maaa@hciwireless.net. To view a videotape of the workshop, contact the Western Mountains Alliance, 207-
778-3885 or info@westernmountainsalliance.org.

Source: Agriculture Today, March 22, 2006.

YardScaping/BayScaping Seed Mix Available

To make your lawn more ecological, plant slow-growing, low-maintenance grasses that don’t suffer from pests so much, don’t require such fertile soil as some other varieties, and don’t have to be mowed so often. A Bayscaping mix of fine fescues, perennial ryegrass and low-maintenance bluegrass is one example. It’s being sold by Allen, Sterling and Lothrop in Falmouth and at www.allensterlingandlothrop.com.

Wanted: Western Maine Farmers to Supply Local Schools

As part of the campaign to stimulate a viable local food system, Western Mountains Alliance and the Maine Alternative Agriculture Association are working to put fresh, locally grown produce in two local school systems. Long range, the goal is to have a variety of foods grown on local farms served from fall to spring in school kitchens.

Starting this year with what is already produced in the area, there is a demand for fresh carrots and potatoes.

The overall number of pounds required this year will be relatively small, but this opportunity opens the doors of school cafeterias to local farmers interested in accessing a large, previously underserved, local market. By starting small as they build working relationships, farmers and food service personnel will be able to discover ways to best accommodate each others’ needs.

Issues of size, uniformity, packing and delivery requirements are still being worked out with the schools, but producers are encouraged to think of the future potential and plan now, during planting time, to participate this fall.

For more information, interested farmers should contact Paula Day at 696-8044.

Western Maine Fund Supports Rural Area

The Western Maine Farm Fund and five banks are offering guaranteed fixed-rate low-interest loans ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 for farmers in Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis and northern Androscoggin counties. The project strives to fill a niche in the financial services marketplace, enabling farms to access credit and thrive as vital enterprises. Since 2003 the Western Maine Farm Fund has assisted farmers with loans totaling more than $250,000 at 4.5% fixed-rate interest for the purchase of new and used equipment, improvement or expansion of farm infrastructure, purchase or lease of land, working capital and marketing. The loans may cover up to 85% of the cost of the project and support primarily profit-motivated agricultural enterprises raising field crops, animals and fruit trees.

Farmers may visit a participating bank for information or a brochure: Bangor Savings, Franklin Savings, Skowhegan Savings, Androscoggin Savings Bank and UnitedKingfield Bank; or contact Tricia Cook at the Western Mountains Alliance, (207) 778-7274; or visit www.westernmountainsalliance.org.

Grow the Winter Cache! Host a Workshop in Your Community

“The mission of the Winter Cache Project is to free ourselves from a dependence on industrial agriculture and to increase our community food security by developing sustainable local food systems. By growing and storing our own food to last throughout the winter, and educating ourselves about agricultural issues, we aim to create a working example of how we can come together as a community to provide for our basic needs using the principles of mutual aid, equal access and self-determination.”

The Winter Cache Project (WCP) started with gardens just outside Portland, Maine. During the growing season, community members collectively grow vegetables that are then stored in a root cellar and distributed free, biweekly, throughout the winter to those involved.

The WCP is extending its roots. Projects are in the works on the Blue Hill Peninsula, in Waldo County and in Boston, Mass., and the organization wants to take part in a larger educational and learning project around Maine. The Winter Cache Project organizers are excited to visit Maine communities to talk about building systems of year-round community food security. They can share information about their project and tell how to replicate it in other communities. They would also like to learn more about existing projects that address similar issues.

For more information, contact wintercache@riseup.net or call 207-244-0908.


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