Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener - November-December 1979

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ 1979 Nov-Dec

November-December 1979 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener


A Letter from Chaitanya York to the Members of MOFGA

Yearning for a change and wanting more time with my family … it's time to move on.

I'm experiencing a strong sense of loss and sadness about parting company with my old and constant, sometimes rowdy friend MOFGA. MOFGA has been a garden of growth for me – a special privilege, and it is impossible to adequately acknowledge the many people who have supported me (some unceasingly) and contributed to my growth and satisfaction. You know who you are – members, the Board, committee people, staff. Whenever and wherever I let you down or did you a disservice I ask your forgiveness. Thank you and I love you.

I must thank the Lord, my enduring source, and acknowledge my family, especially my wife Lynn, for supporting me. I must acknowledge Werner Erhard for enlightening value through the est training, and Swami Satchidananda for his grounded teachings. Without these I could not have made the same contributions to MOFGA.

Now, I'm going to do just a little of what I call "chasing eagles" – relaxing and reflecting in "the wild." We have some precious extra time to be a family and I'm excitedly looking forward to handling our long list of home repairs and improvements.

My commitment is always to realize a permanent agriculture on this planet. I'm looking forward to discovering how to express that intention next, and I'm intrigued with the idea of working in government – a new frontier of unworkability, if you will.

To increase my knowledge and enhance my credibility, I'm beginning a Master's program in Environmental Science with a rural development specialty (probably this winter through the Center for Human Ecology). Also this winter, provided funding is obtained, I'll be working two days a week as legislative advocate and government liaison for the Maine Consortium for Food Self-Reliance. "To pay the light bill" I'll be part-time New England sales representative for Lynn's family's business, I.S. Imports. Also, regarding money, two friends, Charlie Frair and Peter Micoleau, and I have for the past six months been working through a collectively generated seminar that we've just named "Breakthroughs in Finances." I'm excited to see what our discoveries will be and where they'll take us.

Having dedicated my life to this group for such a long time, I cannot leave without making some observations and sharing some organizational concerns. (After all, the bloody bugger is leaving – it's his privilege.)

On the Effectiveness of Organizations

Precious few organizations on this planet (agricultural, banking, whatever), in the final analysis, work – that is, truly function in complete service to their purpose. Werner Erhard, speaking from his experience of organizations in the November 1976 issue of the Graduate Review, identifies three universal and essential criteria of an organization that works. (Bucky Fuller makes similar observations.) (1) "First of all, an organization that works stays true to its purpose. (2) The second criterion is that "it be viable in the world." It simply achieves its goals and gets the job done. (3) "It nurtures the people who participate in it, to the "degree that they choose to come in contact with it," rather than using or sacrificing people – making them less than they are. Organizations have greater and lesser degrees of failure in proportion to how well they meet these criteria.

When organizations start to slip away from their purpose (and all organizations do) there are warning signals. In the Spring of 1978 I began to notice signs of this. (1) Survival, particularly financial survival, started crowding member service for importance. (2) Some older members had ceased to participate in the organization and a minority of disgruntled members began grumbling about the association. It is unproductive when carping and making the organization wrong replace doing something about "your" organization – complaining to the appropriate folks, e.g. the Board. It breeds the "us vs them" syndrome, righteousness and blame, which are deadly for an organization. (3) Top-down decisions increased because of lesser member participation and input. If you have a successful organization that is obviously viable in its activities, i.e. the fair, co-op orders, establishment relations, these problems remain hidden behind the success.

At this point in our development it was obvious to some of us – especially me, because I was closest to it – that we needed to assess our association from the bottom up. Not many organizations have the courage to examine themselves and there aren't many models available. Fortunately the folks from the Institute for Cultural Affairs, schooled in community empowerment and development, helped us to design and complete the process. Not a totally pleasant experience, but certainly enlightening, watching all that stuff surfacing about the organization. Assessment was a positive, though sometimes trying growth experience – opinions and positions rubbing against each other to create greater order and clarity of purpose for the organization. We came as close as we could to member-generated goals.

The question now is, did it work – is it working? One must be cautious about taking credit here. The best measurement of success perhaps is to look for significant incidents that have occurred. Here are several I've noticed: (1) Increased participation by members, even older ones, with the fair; publications and fundraising being notable examples. (2) Assessment goals being met or being worked on, i.e. office restructuring and renovation, correcting and improving membership service, work on group insurance and credit union plans. (3) The willingness to increase staff and staff hours to handle essential business properly, e.g. membership, fair. (4) Happier members with a greater sense of being joint owners, if you will, in the association.

To talk about assessment as an event come and gone is to miss its essence. It is a process ongoing, endless, requiring member participation, monitoring even, and continuing input. You need to check with your director to see if the Board is implementing assessment dictates. (Publications certainly is "on purpose" for you.) Let the Board know how you feel and what you want to happen – protect them from losing sight of your needs.

On Money and Miracles

This organization has always had a special magic for doing the "undo-able" – performing miracles like the fair, legislation, revised "establishment" policy. Those successes obviously require a positive nurturing environment – without it they cease to manifest themselves. That environment is people-generated – vision-oriented, and is generally unreasonable and irrational, particularly in regards to money. Now that Common Ground is a reality, we can trace the steps of its development. In retrospect, and from a position of success, the process seems more reasonable, the risks less risky. At its inception, though, courage and irrational behavior were required to penetrate the "it can't be done's" and "where's the money coming from's" to establish the event.

Initially, it was distinctly unreasonable to so quickly form a planning team – to create $12,500 ($8,700 within two months of the event). It was irrational to realize a profit of $10,000 the first year. Given our present fiscal attitudes, I doubt that the fair would have happened. Certainly, that's my opinion and open to question. Futurists put various names on this creation process, which is so elusive to explain. Dr. Nolfi of Goddard College calls it "future's invention"; Joan Holmes, Director of the Hunger Project, calls it "creating a context". Whether it's creating New Alchemy Institute or ending hunger, you begin with an essential commitment to an idea (which presumably serves people) and proceed from there to realization. Money always has secondary importance to the idea and that's precisely why money is discovered to make it happen. Quite irrational! And the process may be fraught with some financial struggling. (Ideally, you will find an Executive Director who struggles less with finding money than I do.)

Chet Purdy as Financial Manager, and I, as. Executive Director, represent two essential poles in organization – one visionary, the other conservative. We are symbolic of the historic confrontation in organizations and it is only through our friction that the best fires are made. Your responsibility is to maintain the proper balance conducive to dynamic action and financial solvency.

Selected Organizational Concerns

Gardening I think we as an organization (certainly myself as Executive Director) have done a less than perfect job of serving the majority of our members – gardeners – i.e. conferences, the newspaper, and co-op orders. Assessment and recent surveys have brought this to the attention of the Board. I'm confident you'll receive better service here.

Politics Having functioned as lobbyist it is clear to me that people can make a crucial difference in government at state, federal and local levels. The essential impediment is the belief that "I can't make a difference." "They don't listen." The legislature is a passive, not an activist, body, waiting for "the people" to tell it what to do. Organization and alignment of people in support of this association's bills have always made a difference – with passage into law the result at least half of the time. With the issues facing us now – chemical violations, energy shortages and land use – it is essential for folks to realize their political muscle and flex it.

Pesticide Abuse According to a recent national magazine survey, 70% of the folks polled expressed serious concern about pesticides in their environment. Even commercial growers express concern about the chemicals they're using. The USDA is finally and formally exploring organic alternatives in addition to IPM, and the U.S. Forest Service has expressed its reluctance to continue funding the questionable practice of budworm spraying.

The time is right to work cooperatively and move to create viable alternatives. The newly formed MOFGA-initiated task force is an ideal opportunity for everyone concerned – producers, researchers and consumers – to work collectively in discovering workable alternative solutions. It's an exciting beginning. Extension is "our" agricultural service agency and too often folks criticize it as if they were powerless to affect its policy – its programs. Every county office has an Executive Committee with the authority to shape programs, hire agents, and establish policy. It should be the goal of every chapter to get people on the Board of this and other agricultural services. They have the luxury of money for agricultural work at the local level – an ideal opportunity.

The Fair Litchfield is a unique community and the people, especially the Farmers' Club, have been inspiring in their support of our fair. Unfortunately, the fair is outgrowing the fairgrounds. I for one am not optimistic that we could easily recreate this support in a large community holding a larger fairgrounds, and further I don't think we should have a "fairground-hopping" fair. I've suggested to the fair planning team that they consider forming a special committee with the purpose of beginning the creation of Common Ground Country Fairground. (Others, like Mike Haskell, have proposed this previously.)

In ages past, particularly during the Renaissance, the major (often only) question before building something was, "Will it be beautiful? Will it uplift the spirit?" I'd like us to proceed in that spirit and begin the process of discovering how to make it happen. Beautiful solar design barns, exhibition hall, children's sculpture, gaming fields, model dwellings … The grounds could be multi-purpose – rented out for various functions throughout the year.

I think folks, including farmers, architects, planners, and artists, could really align on this one – with potential contributions of land, lumber and skills. Well, the association has $30,000 from the fair, the assessment is working, the office has professional systems for handling business, and I can leave satisfied, complete. If I've left anything incomplete with you – an unanswered letter, a misunderstanding, whatever, I'd consider it a privilege if you'd give me an opportunity to clean it up. Just write or call me at home in Union. I'm excited about your new director, whomever s/he may be and I offer my assistance and support where it may be desired. I expect the new director to stand on my shoulders, and do a better job than myself. There's a great organization waiting.

As my mother-in-law would have said, "It's been real." It's been fabulous and horrible, and I wouldn't have had it be any other way. I love you.


Chaitanya York