Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Coleman’s Method Worked
Help Alleviate Food Crisis
Organic is for the Birds

Coleman’s Method Worked

Eliot Coleman, when he was demonstrating his inexpensive hoop house at the 2007 Common Ground Country Fair [see the Nov.-Dec. 2007 MOF&G], said we should report to you any results we had in this winter garden experiment. We live in Michigan, so the results may or may not apply to Maine. We planted lettuce (‘Hyper Red Rumpled,’ ‘Revolution’ and ‘Winter Marvel’), ‘Winter Giant’ spinach, radishes, ‘Nantes’ carrots, endive, broccoli, cabbage and ‘Coral’ peas on November 10. Regular row cover was in turn covered with greenhouse plastic. We ignored it all winter, with the exception of one inspection in December. Didn't even trap voles, being somewhat lazy and not wanting to brave the cold snowy weather any more than necessary. On April 6 we had our first salad of spinach and lettuce.
The lettuces and spinach did very well. Carrots and radishes grew, but carrot germination was limited and radishes grew mostly tops. Only about 10% of peas survived. Maybe voles are partial to peas. Endive did well. Broccoli and cabbage were failures.
We consider the experiment a success, if only for the early salads, and plan to do it again next year. Now, May 13, the spinach is a couple of feet tall.

– Bob and Linda Kidwell

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Help Alleviate Food Crisis

Dear Editor:

The massive amount of food waste from schools, jails and other public institutions travels "away," at great expense, to dumps and incinerators to be buried or burned. Since the price of food and the cost to transport garbage keeps rising, and since Washington County has many low-income people, we're organizing collection and composting of food wastes from such institutions to create a growing medium for raised-bed gardens to help feed local people.
Removing food from the garbage stream and composting it lowers the amount of garbage from 15 to 50% and reduces disposal fees, odors and numbers of dumps needed. Growing more food locally for the poor reduces tax expenditures to feed the neediest.
The Washington County Commissioners are sponsoring our project with help from a tiny State Planning Office grant. Here’s how you can do the same:

1. Ask the Maine DEP where you can compost food waste. A commercial composting facility near us agreed to do our composting in exchange for using a piece County equipment. Finding and permitting a new site isn't quite as easy, but the DEP and State Planning Office support composting and will help. Our contacts are Rick Haffner at DEP's Bangor office, 1-888-769-1137, and George MacDonald at the State Planning Office, 624-9494.

2. Once you have a site, get institutions involved. We have supportive people at the University of Maine at Machias. We will also be taking kitchen waste from the Washington County Jail. Others are interested, but before we expand we want the program to be working smoothly.

3. Find a hauler. Someone with a small garbage pick-up business who's also a recycler and believes in our program will do this pilot project along with his regular pickup at cost. Once we determine the cost, we'll probably have to put the hauling out to bid.
4. Create and distribute a brochure telling local people about the benefits and methods of composting their own food waste.
5. Write letters and op-ed columns on how to compost household food waste and how to grow food. Offer to help those who can’t make their own gardens.
The real objective of this program is to build 24- to 36-inch-high raised-bed community gardens using local compost in the growing medium. Many of the poorest and neediest are elderly and/or disabled, and raised-bed gardens allow them (and others, including children) to grow some of their own food. Our local transfer station is saving discarded lumber for these beds.
Also, raised beds require no machinery, so we’ll save money, oil and our backs (from not stooping so far). Just add more finished compost each spring, fluff the soil with a tined hand tool, remove unwanted seedlings and plant. Simple.
We want to involve County Jail inmates in growing some of their food. I'm trying to get Maine's Chief Judge Leigh Saufley to suggest to all Maine judges that they sentence more of the petty crime, nonviolent prisoners to community service in lieu of fines or small jail sentences. This will teach inmates how to garden (there is a demand for gardeners), provide exercise, save taxpayer money by supplying part of the inmates' meals, and provide healthier meals, which should lead to healthier inmates. (Nutritious food is also linked to good mental health, which should lower crime rates.) This should also save money, since we pay 100% of inmates' health care.

We hope to use 15 acres of County-owned land. Otherwise, plenty of old farm owners would welcome community gardens on their land.

If you're doing a similar project, let’s share information. Contact me at,, or 207-434-6228. Thanks.

– Nancy Oden, Jonesboro, Maine.
(Nancy is an environmental activist, organic gardener and decades-long MOFGA member.)

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Organic is for the Birds

To the Editor:

As an organic gardener for many years and a member of MOFGA for almost as many of those years, I feel committed to the organic and healthful method of producing and consuming foods that contribute to our health and well being. To that end, I feel it is important to share knowledge, correct misconceptions related to the use of chemicals and to provide guidance whenever the opportunity arises. And so, I felt compelled to respond when our local newspaper, The Lewiston Sun Journal, ran an article related to the decline in bird population last year and, to my amazement, no mention was made of the use of chemicals and its effect on that same population! My copy of the letter to the editor is enclosed. My hope is that it raised awareness of the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

I commend The MOF&G for its continued work to improve our environment, to share with all their knowledge and expertise. From a personal perspective and a long-standing organic gardener, I know that every year is a learning experience, a joy, a huge amount of satisfaction and a lot of hard work! Keep up this important work!

– Beverly McCann, Auburn, Maine

Here is McCann’s letter to the Sun Journal:

Your article on 6/15 related to the declining bird population was interesting. Although the article pointed out some causative factors such as the West Nile Virus, and disappearing open habitats, it failed to mention one of the most common causes, the use of pesticides and chemicals. Pesticide use contributes to the decline in the offspring of our birds with a diminished survival of a variety of bird eggs, making them fragile and vulnerable to an early demise. When I see products such as Miracle-Gro advertised as harmless substances guaranteed to make our gardens grow, I am concerned that the general public is not made aware that this product is a harmful chemical to our bird and animal population as well as to us humans! Lawns and golf courses treated with chemicals to make them green and lush have a price with regard to their potential risk to our health. The research on long-term effects of chemical use on humans is well documented with increased rates of all types of cancer. Why do you think signs are often posted on treated lawns warning adults of the need to protect animals and children, especially whose immune system is not fully developed? This is due to the harmful effects of the use of those chemicals. As an organic gardener for more than 30 years, I know from first-hand experience it is not necessary to use harmful chemicals. We all need to make an informed choice before using any product.

[Ed. note: Some Miracle-Gro products contain highly soluble nitrogen and high concentrations of phosphorus that can contaminate surface and groundwater; others that are sold to control weeds and fertilize plants contain herbicides; some were recalled in April 2008 by the EPA for an illegal, unregistered and misbranded pesticide ingredient. Playing both sides, Scott’s Miracle-Grow also makes some organic products, including one that is approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“Pesticides and Birds,” March 2000,, “Each year, approximately 672 million birds are directly exposed to pesticides on farmlands in the United States, and of these, about 10 percent, or 67 million birds, are estimated to die immediately as a result. This figure does not include birds that perish after a period of illness, that die after feeding on poisoned insects, rodents, or other prey, or losses due to failed reproduction (eggs left unhatched or nestlings left to starve).” Also, “About 40 pesticides, most of which can be used in the United States, are known to kill birds even when applied according to label instructions.”]

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