A Year at Common Ground
Published in The MOF&G, September, 1999
We've been at MOFGA's Common Ground in Unity for one year. What's been happening during that time? Lots! Although the requirements for the Common Ground Country Fair were a predominant consideration in the site selection and development, MOFGA has been clear from the start that the site must also cultivate the expansion of existing programs and the development of new ones.
The Modern Homestead Design Competition is a great example of how MOFGA's Common Ground created the opportunity to expand the apprenticeship program and develop the concept of designing an affordable home using sustainable building practices. The apprenticeship program now offers the option of advancement to the next level--journeyperson. Journeypersons will have expanded educational opportunities and make a commitment to the real hands-on experience of actually running a farm for more than one season. The winning design of the modern homestead is to be built here at Common Ground. As the home of the journeyperson(s) selected to run a farm here, the modern homestead will also demonstrate how an energy efficient home can be attractive and affordable.
Special events held at MOFGA's Common Ground have featured MOFGA farmers in the roles of speakers and vendors educating the public. Two such events, Spring Thing and Herb Fest are to be annual events with many MOFGA-certified growers participating. Spring Thing, held the weekend after Mother's Day, includes two days of gardening workshops, on-site gardening and tree planting projects, and sales of seedlings, plants and gardening products. Herb Fest, held the first Saturday in June, is a day of workshops focused on growing and using herbs, and sales of plants and herbal products.
During the past year MOFGA's educational programs for farmers also included a four-day organic farming course, a one-day session on season extenders, Small Farm Field Days, forestry workshops, and a scion exchange. Several like-minded groups have used the Great Hall for their own educational workshops and training sessions.
Sometimes an event is just for fun--such as the Family Kite Flying Festival and Picnic. We had perfect kite-flying weather, and everyone had a great time. Kids and parents made and decorated kites--and those kites really flew! Awards were presented in several categories: most independent, youngest flyer, most tangled, and more. Don't miss this one next year--on the Sunday after July fourth.
Local businesses have used the Great Hall for dinners and holiday events. Community groups have organized events including solstice celebrations and a day of spinning. Many future programs and events, sponsored by MOFGA, community organizations, and other like-minded groups, are planned already. If you have ideas, want more information on current programs or events, or are interested in using the site for your own programs, please contact Susan at the MOFGA office in Unity.
Volunteers Needed Year Round
Volunteers and their dreams created MOFGA, and MOFGA continues to be true to those dreams, because the commitment and involvement of volunteers turns dreams into reality.
The responsibilities of MOFGA have grown dramatically as those dreams have been realized. We now have over 200 acres of land and several buildings to care for, as well as expanded and new programs taking place at MOFGA's Common Ground in Unity. That translates into a real need for more volunteers. All volunteers are valuable assets, whether they're available on a regular or irregular basis, want to work inside or outside, or want to take on a whole project or part of one.
Volunteers can take responsibility for a particular project or work on whatever needs to be done at the moment. If you suddenly find yourself with some free time and just can't resist coming out to volunteer, come on out! There will always be at least one project in need of immediate attention.
Are you interested in volunteering for a specific event? Even small events require planning, set-up and tear-down. How about helping to organize an event--figuring out who might be interested in participating and contacting them; determining the best layout for booths; or any of the many other details that need attention? On the day of the event, volunteers may be needed for registration, food preparation and service, or to coordinate activities. Every event needs to have signs put up, barriers erected and trash cans put out--and afterwards it all happens in reverse: everything needs to come down and be put away. Volunteers are needed for all of the following events: Spring Growth (March), Spring Thing (May), Kite Flying (July) and Small Farm Field Days (August). A new event, now in the planning stage, will take place in December.
Would you like to represent MOFGA at events sponsored by other organizations? We participate in several events in which volunteers are needed to help set up and/or take down and staff the MOFGA booth/display. Volunteers get free admission and also have time to enjoy the event. Annual events include the Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta (January), Portland Flower Show (March), Garden Days in Auburn (March), various Earth Day events (April), Herb Fest in Unity (June), Full Circle Fair in Union (July), and many times throughout the year when MOFGA is asked to have a table or display on a one-time basis. Let us know if this is your cup of tea.
How about spending a regularly scheduled day or part of a day in the MOFGA office? We most appreciate having volunteers answer phones, make copies, and help with mailings in both the Augusta and Unity offices. If spending time at the office doesn't work for you, we often have projects, or parts of projects, that can be done at home.
If you prefer more physical work, we have lots to offer you at MOFGA's Common Ground in Unity. Gardens and plantings need to be watered and weeded; several carpentry projects, from shelves and counters to barn building, need to be done; painting is needed, inside and out; buildings and grounds can be maintained; paths and camping areas can be cleared, windows washed, signs painted--to name a few!
Are you inspired? Is there something that you would like to do? A particular project you would like to work on, or a skill you would like to use? There is definitely a place for every volunteer and a way to make volunteering work for every schedule. Have we omitted anything? Oh yes, lots of things. Have you noticed something that needs to be done and that you'd like to tackle? Give Susan a call at the Unity office and work out the details. Thanks in advance to all the volunteers who continue to make MOFGA's dreams come true.
--Susan Pierce, MOFGA Events Manager
Putting the Pieces Together
Organic farmers in Maine will survive, and thrive, based on the long term relationships they develop with their customers. The experience of 25 years shows that those connections between farmer and buyer can be the foundation of a growing relationship that extends beyond the business aspects.
The same is true for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. At one level, we're providing services to our members, and we hope that these hold some value for each of you. At another level, we've been working to build those personal relationships for close to 30 years now. I recently attended a gathering at Mort Mather's house in Wells where York County members had a chance to get reacquainted. The connections they have built go far beyond the organic gardening information they share over potluck meals.
This focus on long-term connections and trust seems to be the exact opposite of the way that our food system has been heading. Nearly every week the newspaper carries a story about another round of consolidations and mergers: Cargill buys Continental Grain; Shaw's, owned by Sainsbury's, buys Stop and Shop, which owns Nature's Harvest; Horizon buys Hood's share of Organic Cow.
As individuals, each of us can make only small changes. As a group, we can have a bigger impact. Over the years the Common Ground Country Fair has grown into the largest market for organic food in the state, a place where dozens of farmers connect with thousands of buyers. Now a growing number of natural food stores provide us with an opportunity to build these relationships year round. The model of Community Supported Agriculture is being adapted to fit the situations on nearly 20 Maine farms. Farmers' markets promote the farmer-consumer relationship already, and many have begun moving to extended seasons as farmers find ways to push the growing season at both ends. Even the supermarket chains have moved to make organic foods available in response to consumer demand.
Each of us is a consumer of food. The decisions we make about where to purchase and from whom have impacts way beyond the calories we consume or the dollars we spend. Ultimately, we are voting for the kind of world we want in the future.
I'd like to thank each of you for taking the time to build those relationships, and encourage you to do more in the future to build that network of farmers and consumers. It's the essential part of building a local food supply.
--Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)