Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Unity Area the Focus of New Agricultural Initiatives

Farming is an important part of the economy and culture of Unity and surrounding towns. Many people are working hard to keep it that way.

Unity Barn Raisers – a local, nonprofit group with 350 members – coordinates several innovative projects, from experimenting with new grain crops, to connecting local farms with new markets, to preserving farmland, to making biodiesel. In these efforts, the Barn Raisers partner with MOFGA, Cooperative Extension, Maine Farmland Trust and other organizations.

The Barn Raisers’ efforts to support local farmers began modestly in 1997, with the creation of a weekly farmers’ market. Conventional wisdom said that the Unity area was too small and too poor for a farmers’ market, so the Barn Raisers created a broader event, “Unity Market Day,” coupling its farmers’ market with tag sales, children’s activities, chicken barbecues and other community events. The formula has worked. Market Day is an active, vital part of the local community and the “place to be” on any Saturday morning from early May through late November.

One spin-off of Market Day is a Community Meals program that showcases local meats and produce. Held on the first Saturday of every month, these meals attract about 120 local residents. By exposing more people to great products from neighboring farms, the meals have begun to change local buying habits.

Emboldened by these successes, Unity Barn Raisers began to think bigger. One major effort now is to preserve local farmland.

“The Unity area is a critical agricultural zone for Maine, and great effort should be mustered to help it remain so,” says Rick Kersbergen, Cooperative Extension Educator for Waldo County and chair of the Barn Raisers’ Farmland Protection Committee. The Barn Raisers have partnered with Maine Farmland Trust to develop a concerted strategy for the region. Already, over 500 acres of working farmland have been protected permanently.

A recent $670,000 allocation from the Land for Maine’s Future program is expected to protect another 1,000 to 1,200 acres, once matched by federal and local funds. This special effort targets farmland abutting the 40,000-acre “Unity Wetland Complex.” The Maine Department of Agriculture, which is leading this project with local input, sees a special opportunity to preserve valuable farmland in a way that also helps protect one of the largest undeveloped wetlands in the state.

Unity Barn Raisers have also been helping local farmers transition local fields into organic soybeans for livestock feed and oil, and is experimenting with making biodiesel from the resulting oil. Other Barn Raiser projects involve exploring raising more grass-fed beef locally and promoting the region’s agricultural strength and products.

In all this work, MOFGA has been a critical resource and partner, and MOFGA’s executive director, Russell Libby, serves on the Steering Committee.

To learn more about the exciting agricultural initiatives occurring in the Unity area, contact Unity Barn Raisers at 207/948-9005 or visit

Maine Grass Farmers Network Forms

In response to the increased interest by many livestock farmers in effectively utilizing pasture for raising and finishing livestock, the Maine Grass Farmers Network (MGFN) is being created to gather and provide information and support to interested farmers. Pasture resources in Maine are underutilized significantly now.

Many livestock farmers in Maine are learning about the potential advantages of growing grass as carefully managed pasture for their livestock. Growing grass in Maine takes advantage of our short growing season and cool climate. Keeping land in pasture reduces soil erosion caused by water runoff and reduces fresh water contamination from nutrient runoff that results from row cropping. Grass farming and pasture raised livestock utilize pasture land effectively, while improving animal health, product quality and market advantage. Pasture raised milk, meat, poultry and eggs have higher nutritional content, higher market prices and are good for the environment. Grass farming can increase profitability, help keep farms viable and maintain the rural character of our communities.

With the support of a grant from SARE, the Northeast Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, the MGFN coordinators have scheduled pasture walks this summer and fall and plan to arrange several workshops, produce information to help farmers, and create a core group of trained professionals in Cooperative Extension, MOFGA, Maine Department of Agriculture, NRCS, and farmer-consultants, who will provide technical information and support to a network of grass-based farmers in Maine. A database of livestock farmers and an email network of interested farmers are being developed.

Fact sheets for professionals and farmers will be created on topics including forage identification, fencing methods, watering systems, pasture management (reclamation, set-up, evaluation), predator control and genetics.

An initial study group/pasture walk pilot project is being implemented in the Waldo County area in coordination with Unity Barn Raisers (UBR). The UBR aims to “serve more local needs locally” and has been the leading force behind the following projects: a community-led farmers’ market, a community meals program organized around local meats and produce, and a farmland protection initiative working to permanently protect 1000 acres of prime farmland in the region. From this initial work, the project will gradually branch out to cover the state in the next two years.

For more information, contact Diane Schivera, project coordinator, at MOFGA at 568-4142; Rick Kersbergen of Cooperative Extension at 1-800-287-1426; or Paula Roberts of Meadowsweet Farm at 338-1265.

Do You Know a Farmer Who Deserves to Win $10,000?

American Farmland Trust is accepting nominations for its 2005 Steward of the Land Award. Each year, the prestigious, $10,000 prize goes to the farming or ranching family that most exemplifies leadership in protecting farmland and caring for the environment.

You can nominate a farmer or rancher for the 2005 Steward of the Land Award in two easy ways:

1. download nomination materials from;

2. call (202) 331-7300 ext. 3044 to receive a nomination kit in the mail.

Nominations must be received by 5:00 p.m. EST on Monday, November 1, 2004. American Farmland Trust’s Board of Directors will consider nominations, and the award will be presented in 2005.

Seven renowned farming and ranching families from across America have accepted the award since its inception. Information about these national farm conservation leaders and the history of the award can be found at

American Farmland Trust is a national nonprofit organization working with communities and individuals to protect the best land, plan for growth with agriculture in mind and keep the land healthy. As the leading advocate for farm and ranchland conservation, AFT has ensured that more than a million acres stays bountiful and productive. AFT’s national headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. (Phone: 202-331-7300). For more information, visit

WagN Directory Available

A directory of the Maine Women’s Agricultural Network (WAgN) is available to the public. The directory includes names and contact information for over 70 members who operate farms and other organizations related to agriculture in Maine. WAgN provides mentoring and collaboration opportunities for women – and other underserved individuals – who run or are developing agricultural businesses. Its statewide membership includes people working on farms and in greenhouses, associations and government agencies. Support for the WAgN comes from University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Time and Tide Resource & Development Area. Grants from the Maine Agricultural Center and The Harvest Fund of Maine Initiatives funded the development of the directory. Copies of the directory are available from WAgN, 24 Main Street, Lisbon Falls, ME 04252-1505. The cost is $10 for the directory, postage and handling. Please make checks payable to WAgN/T&T RC&D.

Source: Agriculture Today, June 30, 2004, Maine Department of Agriculture.

Organic Poultry Processor in Auburn

Rocky Ridge Organic Meats has a state license to operate a poultry processing facility in Auburn. The facility meets the needs of Maine’s organic and conventional poultry producers.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Food & Rural Resources licensed the facility, and MOFGA certified it for organic production. Birds slaughtered at the state-inspected facility meet the highest standards and may be sold anywhere in the state.

Kate Dabney, the company’s principal owner, has worked closely with staff from the Meat & Poultry Inspection Program for the past year to develop a business plan, learn Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) – a complex new system of pathogen reduction in food processing – and complete the licensing procedures.

The plant’s first customer was Representative Nancy Smith of Monmouth, a farmer and a member of Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry.

About a year ago, the Maine Department of Agriculture restarted a program that was discontinued more than 20 years ago – the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program – to improve producer access to approved, licensed and inspected processing facilities. State and federal food safety laws require, with some fairly narrow exceptions, that meat and poultry products sold to consumers are slaughtered under the supervision of state or federal inspectors and that the facilities where livestock and poultry are processed are approved and licensed. When the original program was discontinued, only a small number of federally inspected facilities served Maine producers, constraining both the expansion of livestock industries and the profitability of farms. More recently, the Maine Department of Agriculture has provided grants and technical assistance to processors to help them improve and upgrade their facilities.

In addition to the Auburn facility, Dabney runs an organic poultry farm in Litchfield. The business plan for Rocky Ridge Organic Meats includes processing poultry for both organic and conventional producers, with little, if any, disruption to the process.

Rocky Ridge will eventually be able to process 500 birds a day with a crew of five workers. At that level of production, the processing crew will be able to meet the needs of poultry farmers and to provide a product that is safe for the consumer.

Source: Agriculture Today, June 30, 2004, Maine Department of Agriculture.

Omega-3 Deficiency Can Affect Behavior

Because modern food is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, hundreds of thousands of British people may develop behavioral problems and depression, reports Robin McKie, science editor for The Observer (London; June 27, 2004). International researchers met in Britain in June to discuss farming methods and increased consumption of breakfast cereals and sunflower oils that have reduced omega-3s in diets. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to brain development, says McKie.

Sources of omega-3s include meat from animals that graze on grass, many fish, and vegetables in the cabbage family. Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are more abundant in cereals and in products from grain-fed animals. Diets, once containing a balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, now contain predominantly omega-6s.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are in membranes that surround neurons in the brain. McKie quotes Prof. Tom Sanders from King’s College London: “Individuals that are omega-3 rich end up with neurons that run very fast – like Pentium 3 microprocessors. Those that have too much omega-6 are slow and sluggish, like a 20-year-old silicon chip.’

Omega-3-rich cells also make more complex nerve connections, especially during the last three months of pregnancy and first six weeks after birth, and thus can increase intelligence. McKie notes that a study of 14,500 families in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children found an increased risk of depression in pregnant women with diets high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fatty acids; and more problems with coordination and behavior and lower verbal IQs in their children. Other studies link low omega-3 intake during pregnancy with more aggression and behavior problems in children.

Dr. Christine Albert of Harvard University Medical School found the greatest risk of heart attack in people with less than 4% of the fatty acids in their red blood cells being omega-3s, while those with over 8% omega-3s were least likely to have a heart attack.

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 appears to be between 1:1 and 4:1, reports McKie. Mediterranean diets rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and garlic, and low in meat achieve the 4:1 ratio; Western diets that are high in cereals range from 11:1 to 40:1.

Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Family Farmers

The epic battle of Canadian family farmer Percy Schmeiser against biotech giant Monsanto Corporation officially closed on May 21. A hairline 5-4 Canadian Supreme Court ruling sided with Monsanto, saying Schmeiser is guilty of the “crime” of saving seeds from his canola plants – seeds that Monsanto claims to own. In the late ’90s, Schmeiser’s canola field was contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seed, most likely from a neighboring farm or from trucks passing in front of his Saskatchewan farm. Monsanto’s patent monopoly on GE crops, such as canola, mandates that farmers using the seed must pay “royalty” fees to the gene giant. Since Schmeiser never purchased his seeds from Monsanto or signed an agreement in the first place, he continued to save his seeds and replant each year, so Monsanto sued. The court’s decision has angered family farmers across Canada, and emboldened organic farmers to continue their class action lawsuit against Monsanto and Aventis (Bayer) for contaminating organic crops with GE traits

Source: Organic Bytes #33, Food and Consumer News Tidbits with an Edge! Organic Consumers Association, 5/28/2004.

GrandyOats Certified Organic by MOFGA
by Kate Moon

Four years ago, when GrandyOats wanted to grow from a small, Maine-based granola bakery into a more substantial company, being organic seemed like the key to its potential success in the natural products marketplace. Retailers were asking for organic products because customers were demanding them. GrandyOats had hoped to make this switch overnight, but the small business faced the realities of a lack of organic raw ingredients: Products were either not available or were prohibitively expensive.

Nat Peirce, partner and production manager of GrandyOats, set out to make the organic switch gradually, one product at a time. First, the oats and other grains went organic, then Maine maple syrup, raisins, nuts and seeds, and finally the honey and cranberries. Finding organic honey was extremely difficult, and organic cranberries cost twice as much as conventional. This past spring, however, Peirce found the organic honey, and the switch was made way ahead of schedule.

Aaron Anker, the marketing side of the partnership, wanted to go organic without increasing prices. GrandyOats was able to do this because of the increased demand for organic products from consumers and the subsequent supply from farmers and millers. GrandyOats also bought Uncle Roy’s, a granola company based in Western Massachusetts. This strategic acquisition enabled the purchase of raw ingredients in larger quantities. Along with the gradual process of this change, GrandyOats was able to mitigate any increases in price.

Now, four years later, GrandyOats is organic and has not raised its prices. GrandyOats’ sustainable and thoughtful approach has reaped great benefits for its customers, farmers, children and the planet.

GrandyOats is [now] located at 349 Center Conway Rd., Brownfield, ME 04010. You can contact the company at or 207-935-7415 (sales, bakery) or visit:
MOF&G Cover Fall 2004
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