Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

By Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director

For those of us who are figuring out the implications of the Federal government's involvement in organic foods, interest is growing in emphasizing the "local" part of our "local, organic" foods message. Farmers and buyers are not abandoning organic production practices, but the idea that organic food from anywhere in the world is preferred over something from next door is certainly open to challenge.

Even though we might not always be certain about what label to use, MOFGA remains committed to the organic principles that have been at our heart since we first started certifying farms 30 years ago. And, since ecological sustainability is part of that view, an obvious case can be made for eating from close to home. Obviously, we're not the only people who've been thinking about these issues.

Informally over the past few years, beginning with the Legislature's Agricultural Vitality Task Force, and more formally since October, MOFGA has held discussions with other Maine groups involved in agriculture – Maine Farmland Trust, Maine Farms Project, Locally Grown Foods Project of Hancock County, Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, Portland Public Market vendors, FEDCO Trees, and others. We've talked about how to work together to build supply networks, make stronger connections with buyers, and get our ideas into the public view. Informally, we've begun calling ourselves the "Eat Local Foods Coalition."

Even though the idea of local foods for local markets seems essential to any food system, the push of the last half century has been in precisely the opposite direction. Food without identity, food from anywhere, is at the heart of our current food supply network. If we, as farmers and gardeners and people who care about food, are to change that system, we need to provide a positive alternative.

Luckily, all of us, working together over the years, have started to build that alternative. It involves farmers' markets, CSAs and natural food stores; restaurants, bakeries and schools that have long-term relationships with farmers; and consumers who are committed to particular farmers. The alternative is also based on farmers with stability, experience and confidence gained over the past three decades, and on the improvements to their soils and farms that have been made year after year.

At the heart of a food system that works for all of us is the understanding that "We are what we eat" (the theme of this year's Spring Growth Conference on March,23), and we are only going to be as healthy as the food we eat, which in turn depends on the actions of the farmers and gardeners who raise the food.

The "Eat Local Foods Coalition" is in its early stages, but we've already committed to working with farmers' markets this year to improve signage and displays within markets. Several institutions, large and small, are considering ways to increase their purchases of local, preferably organic foods (Bates, Bowdoin, and Unity Colleges; Central Maine Medical Center; Portland Public Market). The Hancock County Locally Grown Foods Project is in its second summer of linking farmers and restaurants. The University of Maine is surveying independent grocers and identifing factors that can help these businesses remain viable.

We welcome participation in this work. Please contact us if you have ideas or would like to be part of the discussions and actions that need to follow.

I'm hopeful that even more MOFGA farmers will emerge to supply these interested markets, that our gardens will feed ourselves and our neighbors, and that you'll all be involved in this critical work!

Some Changes at MOFGA

After almost 14 years, Susan Pierce got that "offer she couldn't refuse," and is now the director of the National Folk Festival to be held in Bangor for the next three summers. Susan served as Fair Director for 10 years, helping to grow and solidify the Common Ground Country Fair, and helped pull together the huge organizational changes that accompanied our move from Windsor to  . Unity. I know I'll never forget all the times Susan helped to keep the hundreds of volunteers who came to work during the summer of 1998 on target and well fed! Congratulations, Susan! I know many of us will be joining you in Bangor this August.

Similarly, Rhonda Houston, who served as our data and computer systems person for the past year and a half, has returned to the University of Maine to pursue a master's degree. She promises to stay involved through the Fair Steering Committee and her strong interest in the issues that MOFGA works on, including pesticide use reduction.

Dawn Flanzer has moved from the secretary position to take on Rhonda's job, and Debra Kipp is now our full-time receptionist-secretary after sharing the position with Dawn last year.

MOFGA Certification Services, LLC, will be in operation by the time you read this as well, which means Eric Sideman and Diane Schivera will have more time to provide technical assistance as they move away from the certification program.

Finally, Susie O'Keeffe is winding down her fundraising work and will spend much of her year working on the farmers' market project and working with Maine Farm-Link, helping to link farmers who want to transfer their land with new farmers looking for properties.

MOF&G Cover Spring 2002