The MOF&G Online
Organics, Our Common Work, and Compassion
"A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest -- a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."- Albert Einstein, as quoted in Undernews, 1.28.05
Many years ago, reading one of Wendell Berryís poems, I was struck by a statement that said the work of farming is to leave the farmer with 'a better head.' Now, as I walk through our young orchard on my way to cut next winterís firewood, I feel as though Iím starting to understand.
The American system of agriculture is based on scale. Bigger is better. Getting to the point of hiring someone to do all the work so that the farmer is a manager, an "agribusinessman," is good. Every system has to be uniform, to be sterile, to involve packaging and processing and transportation at a scale that would have been incomprehensible just 50 years ago. Any farming system that doesnít fit that industrial model is, by extension, questionable. Using our bodies to accomplish work is bad.
This entire agricultural system is built on an artificial edifice: the widespread availability of cheap petroleum. The price increases of the past two years signal that this system is being stretched. A more blatant signal is the war in Iraq, a war that is being fought for long-term access to oil, whatever the publicly stated rationale. Pick up any book on our future energy situation, and the common thread is that the age of petroleum is coming to a close. Itís not that weíll run out, in an absolute physical sense. More likely is a gradual and continuing price increase, accompanied by occasional supply problems and more troops in more countries.
This system is inextricably linked to the continuing discussion in nearly every country but ours about climate changeóthe more rapidly we use the storehouse of energy built over the millenia, the more impact we have on the climate as a whole.
What is the role of organics in this? The local, organic food system we have been working toward for over 30 years forms a skeleton of what might be possible in a world where oil is expensive or unavailable. In some parts of the country, the Amish provide another model for an agriculture that lasts. This system, our next agriculture, will have to bind farmer and consumer inextricably in ways we are just beginning to understand.
Iíve begun to think of organics as an agriculture of life, one that is concerned about the life of the soil, the health of the plants, the animals that eat those plants, and the entire system within which the farm resides. If any part of the system is broken, we know there are consequences. We are all still reaching for that ideal, although we can see the improved health of the farm that comes from long-term organic practices. Weíre still a long way from understanding how the health of each farm relates to our health, both personally and as a society.
Contrast that with the current model of livestock agriculture, where 1,000 cows or 5,000 sows or 100,000 chickens live their lifespan (not lives) within a single building and are disposed of once their productivity drops. Or with our Midwestern corn/soybean system, which replaced the extraordinary productivity of the plains with a two-crop rotation where more soil (by weight) is lost each year than the weight of the grain produced from the land; where every stream in the Midwest and every rainfall in the East in the spring contain measurable levels of atrazine, an herbicide that has been linked to deformities in amphibians. This is an agriculture of death. We need, as a society, to understand that these systems have consequences that show up in our lack of health and vitality.
If the alternative, our common work, is to stand as the accepted standard, it will require many people learning and sharing their experiences with one another. That, too, is the model under which MOFGA has worked for these past decades. Our long focus on building a local, organic food system that fits within ecological possibilities has always been a grounding point for me. This is the theme of the Spring Growth Conference on March 12 ó "Local and Organic in a Global Food Economy." I hope you will join us that day, and throughout the years to come, in taking the next steps in moving our shared work forward. And the short-term task, the common work we all must be part of, is to support one another, to plant seeds that will grow and flower into something bigger than ourselves. That is, as Iím beginning to understand, the work of compassion.
Friends of MOFGA
Two people who have influenced MOFGA, and me personally, died in the past three months.
Since MOFGAís first incorporation papers were submitted to the state in the early 1970s, Gordon Stein of Litchfield has served ably as our legal counsel, both informally and formally. Weíve been lucky enough not to require his services often, but when we did, he negotiated, he bargained, and he found a path that worked for us. Gordon died while hiking at Bradbury Mountain in Durham with his wife, Freda Bernatovicz. At the memorial service I ran into many MOFGA members and heard stories from Chaitanya York and others about how Gordon ("Spike") made the most of life every day, gardening, doing his own style of carpentry whenever needed, and remembering to dance when it was time to dance. His family and friends have generously set up the Gordon Stein Fund with MOFGA. The earnings from this account will underwrite scholarships for young people who wish to attend MOFGA educational events, particularly the Farmer to Farmer Conference.
A few weeks later, Anne Johnson of Orono died. Like many of you, I came under Anneís influence before I knew who she was, eating at the 'healthy alternative' dining hall she established at the University of Maine. Then, as MOFGA moved to Unity and began offering a wider range of educational programs, Anne was always present with an idea, and with her boundless energy. At her memorial gathering in Orono, everyone talked about Anne as a 'connecter' ó someone who knew many people, and knew how to put the right people together at the right time. She spent most of last year home with her family and friends, but didnít hesitate to offer her ideas and suggestions via e-mail, and then through her husband Jay. Like Gordon Stein, family and friends have encouraged donations to MOFGA, and we have set up an Anne Johnson Fund to help support educational programming targeted to young people. Her energy and passion for what could be possible will be missed, but have also been passed on by her to another generation of people across Maine.
A Common Vision
Itís a pretty good bet that anyone reading The MOF&G is a fan of agriculture in some form or another. In that sense-≠and probably in others--we are a community. For over 30 years MOFGA members have worked together to create an organization that has acted as Maineís primary advocate and educator for those pursuing organic agriculture. Itís wonderful to be part of this community.
But Iíd like to suggest that this community is, in fact, far larger than the MOFGA membership. The similarities among all lovers of agriculture everywhere far outnumber and far outweigh the differences. Whether you call it sustainable, conventional, IPM, low-impact, biodynamic, transitional, organic or anything else, if you are a devotee of raising trees, flowers, herbs, shrubs, vegetables or livestock, Iíd call you a member of this inclusive community.
Maineís rich, centuries-old agricultural tradition has found its strength by recognizing and tapping those similarities--by being inclusive. Groups such as the Patrons of Husbandry (the Grange), The Maine Pomological Society, the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine (SWOAM), the Maine Landscape Nursery Association (MeLNA) and many others have filled important roles in this community over the years.
Iím proud to say that MOFGA has also been a valuable contributor. Our 4500 members represent a dedicated, positive force. By embracing all other "lovers" of agriculture, together we constitute an even more powerful force for protecting our stateís "living collections" and for promoting a vibrant, sustainable, local agriculture for generations to come.
Sometimes a pull can focus on our differences within MOFGA or with other agricultural groups. Letís reach out to those with differences. Letís listen carefully to those differences. Letís respect and honor those differences. Letís explain to willing ears where we disagree. But letís turn our greatest attention to our similarities. Letís assume that itís our responsibility to work together to create a common vision for Maineís agricultural future.
I suspect that when we do share our vision with one another, we will all be pleasantly surprised. We need not choose among visions; rather, letís create a common vision. I also suspect that the more we all work together, the sooner that common vision will become more than a vision.
Both Lynn Miller, in his 2004 Common Ground Country Fair keynote speech, and Vern Grubinger, in his 2004 Farmer to Farmer keynote speech, urged listeners to spend more time on positive actions than on fighting Goliath...although the latter requires some attention, possibly even gorilla-type activities, according to Miller.
Miller also proclaimed MOFGAís Common Ground (rather than a spike outside Notre Dame in Paris) to be the center of the universe. My son, John, and his friend, Joe, were listening to Miller, when one of them picked up a pebble, moved it ever so slightly and said, "Not any more!"
We do have the power to shift the center of the universe, pebble by pebble, inch by inch (and row by row, as the song goes). John and Joeís little joke reminded me of a cartoon that MOFGA member Kamyar Enshayan (originally from one of the axis-of-evil countries; now doing the subversive work of promoting local agriculture in Cedar Falls, Iowa) once sent me. Heíd drawn two dimes side-by-side on a piece of paper, and another pair below but slightly to the right. This, of course, was a "pair oí dime shift."
By shifting our dimes toward supporting local, preferably organic agriculture, we can change the world and defeat Goliath. Miller counseled against head-to-head combat, and stepping aside to let the giant fall of its own misguided weight probably makes sense. One direct action is tempting, however: As genetically-engineered crops transfer their undesirable traits to nontarget plants, those new, contaminated species should be named appropriately. Bill Nealís Gardenerís Latin comes in handy. Monsantus fatuus (foolish; insipid; worthless)? fimecarius (growing on dung)? flaccidus (feeble; collapsing under its own weight)?
One person whoís been helping us shift our dimes deserves special attention. Tim Nason has produced The MOF&G for 30 years now. Readers would be amazed to see the various and numerous ways in which Tim receives the raw paper--hard copy articles, emailed articles in any of several formats, changes to those articles, changes to the changes, hard copy and electronic photos, notes suggesting that he go to some Web site to get art... The ultimate product that you hold in your hands is a work of art and dedication that few would be patient or talented enough to produce. Thanks, Tim!
Once-a-Day, CSA Cows?A story by the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, on NPRís Morning Edition (Dec. 17, 2004) told of the Apple family and their neighbors outside Indianapolis. Mark and Debbie Apple were selling raw milk when they found out--through a cease-and-desist order--that they were violating state law, but drinking raw milk from your own cow is legal in Indiana. So... 53 families now own shares in 11 cows who board at the Applesí farm. The cows are raised without synthetic chemicals, hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. The idea of CSA cows is delicious in itself, but also worth noting is that, for the comfort of the family and their cows, the Apples milk only once a day. If thoughts of 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. milking have kept you from keeping a cow or a small herd, maybe once-a-day milking and a CSA herd are ideas to consider. For more, see www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4230005.
Farm and Garden Tours: Want to Host One?
Do you have a new llama to show? Did you start carrots by sowing seed on toilet paper (as noted in a Tip in this MOF&G)? Want to share your CSA farm for a few hours? Every year, in our June-August issue, we list farms and gardens that are open for tours in the summer--for a few hours or a day, on one or several days. If you have something to share and are ready for anywhere from zero to dozens of visitors, please let us know. Weíd love to list your tour. Contact Jean English at email@example.com or 662 Slab City Rd., Lincolnville ME 04849.
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