The MOF&G Online
It's All A Jumble SometimesThe best part of being MOFGA's executive director is getting to see what all of you are doing, and sometimes to get a glimpse of how all the pieces fit together. Of course the hardest part of the job is figuring out how to get some of the pieces to fit when they seem to be going in different directions. I thought I'd give a brief overview of how a few parts are going now.
GMO Moratorium. The Maine Legislature this spring considered the idea of a three-year moratorium on GMOs, along with a campaign promoting Maine as a GMO-free state. The Department of Agriculture hosted a panel in early November that essentially concluded that some niches may exist for GMO-free agriculture, and that farmers and businesses who wanted to take advantage of them should be free to do so. CR Lawn did a great job of keeping the discussion on what could be done, rather than on what we think about the whole idea of GMOs in the first place. (Strong opinions were represented on both sides.)
Dairy Task Force. The Governorís Dairy Task Force completed a report to the Governor, one that essentially emphasizes the importance of putting a floor under a farmer's income. I presented information on the rapidly growing organic sector, on opportunities for value-added products (cheese, butter, bottled milk), and on the importance of improving forage production on Maine farms. Small pieces of that were included, but I think we missed an opportunity to lay out a future for dairy that is different from the rest of the country, opting instead to try to hold the existing farm base without making any major changes in how we do business. This moves back into the Legislative forum in January, where it's important to continue to support dairy farmers while looking for long-term solutions. (By the way, 15% of Maineís dairy farms are now producing organic milk!)
Local Foods. The notion of building support for local foods is a central one in the policy paper for the Governor's Blaine House Conference on Natural Resources. Stew Smith of the University of Maine is convinced, based on survey data from farmers, that direct marketing already is approaching $40 million a year in Maine, triple the level measured by the 1997 Census of Agriculture. That's almost halfway to the level of $10 a week for six months! Selling food within the community is central to the survival of Maine agriculture.
Young Farmers. People keep coming up to me and saying, "We bought a farm in .....". At this year's Farmer to Farmer Conference, I walked into the Sunday morning breakfast and was overwhelmed by how the next generation of farmers has emerged, and how excited they were to be talking with and learning from their peers. Congratulations! At the same time, Susie O'Keeffe at FarmLink has names of dozens of prospective farmers looking for places to get established. Maybe you know of the right situation for some of them.
I recently participated in a gathering of groups from around the country that have local food marketing campaigns, both formal and informal. The subject of how to get local food into Wal-Mart came up, which is natural since that chain now controls 15% of total grocery sales in the United States. I said that we're really not interested in that discussion--we want to support our farmers and their communities. If Wal-Mart wants local food, and they say they do, they'll figure out how to make it happen. Our job is to help our farmers and consumers find places where they can meet in ways that are deeper than the ephemeral life span of a big box store. Remember: Wal-Mart didn't exist 40 years ago, and it won't exist 40 years from now.
Keep planting seeds. It's amazing how fast they grow in the right situation.
A Few Words on Frank Eggert
Frank Eggert, MOFGA board president in 1981 and 1982, died at the age of 83 in late October. Frank brought great credibility to MOFGA as one of the first land grant university scientists to research organic foods (in the late 1970s). He was so impressed by what he found (both good productivity, and good people) that he came on board himself and became a great bridge between the academic and organic communities at a time when that was very rare. As president he pushed for MOFGA to have its own technical support staff, an idea that became real several years later when Eric Sideman was hired as the first organic "extension agent" in the country. Frank's willingness to challenge assumptions and look for the facts was legendary; so, too, was his willingness to step forward and make things happen. Our thanks to Frank will continue for years; our sympathies to Barbara, one of the Wednesday Spinners, and to Frank and Barbaraís family.
Civilization: Seeking the Multipliers
My middle-school-age son is studying the transition of humans from nomadic hunter-gatherers to stable agrarian societies. I benefit by learning once again (or even for the first time) about events that contributed to human civilization: the discovery of metals; development of language; learning how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals; and so on. My sonís test question--to tell what contributed to a growth in human population from 5 million in 8000 BCE to 90 million in 4000 BCE--is fertile ground for thought...as fertile as the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys. The ability to produce and store more food is central to the answer, but along with that abundance came trade (not to mention defense systems for protecting accumulated goods).
My son has also been reviewing fractions, including finding least common denominators. As I reflect on some of the articles in this issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, I think that the "least common denominator" might be an appropriate term for what large, multinational corporations are seeking in workers as they take over world trade and expect farmers and sweatshop workers to produce abundant, cheap goods. As Juvelina Palma, a delegate from MOFGAís sistering organization in El Salvador, related, "free trade" corn brought into her country from Mexico costs less than that produced by local farmers. "The only thing that will be available for us after all of these free trade agreements," she predicted, are jobs in sweatshops. Those sweatshop workers are the fertile input that produces the multinationalsí obscene profits, like nutrients dumped on the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates. This situation shows how far we have come from being truly civilized in the 21st century.
The profit motive that began in Neolithic times now carries a heavy, toxic burden with it, as described at the teach-in on cancer and the environment at the Common Ground Country Fair. Residents in the Rumford area, for example, have higher rates of some cancers than those in other parts of Maine. Last summer I followed a pulp truck through most of northern New Hampshire and into Maine, lumbering slowly over hills and through valleys as it made its way to the MeadWestvaco paper mill in Rumford. What an inefficient way to make paper, I thought--as visions of smaller, decentralized, totally chlorine-free paper mills fed by locally-grown hemp danced in my head. After the teach-in I realized that the current way of making paper is not only inefficient but is probably quite toxic as well. The people in the Rumford area seem to be the least common denominator on which toxic profits depend. Some of these citizens seem to be paying the highest possible price for those toxic profits.
On the other hand, many of the articles in this MOF&G highlight the highest multiples of civilization--people building on good works and helping instead of bleeding populations. The teach-in itself, especially the powerful, moving presentation by Rumford resident Terry Martin, offered motivation to be part of the change necessary to develop a truly civilized world. The Salvadoran delegatesí belief that they can develop their own free trade for the campesinos within Central American countries is another such multiple. Joyce Whiteís encouraging story about the Gonsalves family shows how to "be the change that you want the world to be," as the saying goes, or "live within your harvest," as the Gonsalves practice.
Maybe my sonís children will be taught about people like Martin, the Gonsalves and the Salvadoran delegates, folks who helped bring about a civilized balance among food, trade, profit and populations.
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