The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is a 501(c)3 organization and, as such, will not directly or indirectly participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.

During an election cycle MOFGA may present non-partisan public forums and publish voter education guides relating to our mission. MOFGA may also encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, but only does so in a non-partisan way.

MOFGA has asked each of the gubernatorial candidates in Maine’s 2010 election to answer a few questions relating to organic farming and gardening in Maine. We are posting their responses as they come in.

Here are the questions that we posed:

Do you buy organic food?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of organic farming?

Do you support state funding for initiatives aimed at reducing preventable childhood illnesses caused by environmental pollutants?

How much regulation should be applied to farmer to consumer transactions? For example, what are your opinions about Maine’s poultry farming regulations, the National Animal Identification System, and/or the food safety bills under consideration in Congress?

Do you favor federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) subsidies that specifically support local farming? Should WIC benefit recipients have the option to purchase organic food with their monthly allowances?

1. Do you buy organic food?

Eliot Cutler (Independent) – Yes, we do buy organic food. We try to buy as many locally grown and produced foods as possible, including fish, meat and produce. Some of those products are organic and others are conventional. Buying local products – in all sectors – is a hallmark of my efforts to get Maine working. Maine people need to support Maine businesses and organic foods are a valuable resource for Mainers.

Paul LePage (Republican) – Revitalizing Maine’s farming, fishing and forestry industries is very important to me. My hope is that MOFGA, the Farm Bureau and the number of individual commodity associations and agricultural leaders come together to support my agenda, as I strive to limit government red tape, reduce spending in Augusta, and lower taxes for all Mainers. A number of my initiatives will help farmers in Maine to be more profitable and will help the younger farmers in your group prosper. Ann and I enjoy eating and supporting all farm products in Maine, including organic. We are fortunate to live in a state that offers an amazing variety of fresh and affordable agricultural products. My goal is to see that all of our farmers remain competitive and are allowed to prosper in the marketplace.

Libby Mitchell (Democrat) – I buy organic whenever possible. My Senate district has some of the richest farmland in Maine and farmers’ markets and farm stands are a wonderful sign of a Maine summer!

Shawn Moody (Independent) – Yes, I buy organic food.

Kevin Scott (Independent) – Yes.

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2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of organic farming?

Eliot Cutler (Independent) – As with any type of production there are advantages and disadvantages. Certainly the nutritional value of organic foods and the environmental benefits are significant advantages to organic farming. It is important to also acknowledge that organic farming, at least in the short term, has a lower productivity rate than conventional farms, and I know some argue that cultivation in organic farming can make soils more susceptible to wind and water erosion.

As Governor, my first goal will be to hire the most qualified people to serve in my administration, obviously including the Commissioner of Agriculture. I would look to the Commissioner and the practitioners in the field to provide guidance and information to establish sound public policy that would support all types of agriculture including organic farming. I look forward to hearing and learning from all farmers in Maine about the advantages and disadvantages of their practices.

Paul LePage (Republican) – The advantages and disadvantages of organic farming mirror the advantages and disadvantages of all farmers in Maine. The ability for our farmers to make a profit is my key concern. Any farmer who can capture a niche market has an advantage, and the USDA brand of “certified organic” does that, allowing for potentially better prices for the farmer. Farmers have that advantage when they produce fresh fruits, vegetables and value-added products for consumers at farmer’s markets, roadside stands and in the grocery store. The “local” brand is catching on and I want to support all farmers’ efforts to capture that advantage as well. All farmers are faced with similar challenges: the weather, pests, and costs of labor and capital. There are solutions to these challenges if all farmers come together to support research and development and develop new public/private initiatives. Farmers have the disadvantage of being in a low profit margin profession with unmet capital needs, high medical insurance, labor issues and high cost of energy. That is why my plan to meet those needs should help all farmers. My goal is to see all farmers come together to jointly solve the challenges and disadvantages facing your industry. I appreciated the opportunity to speak last month at the Agricultural Council of Maine. The gathering showed that it is possible for all types of farmers to come together to develop solutions. I encourage MOFGA to continue to work together with these groups for the common good of all farmers in Maine.

Libby Mitchell (Democrat) – The advantage is quality produce grown at a sustainable scale. Typically, the organic process is better for the environment with less pesticides and chemicals used. The downside is that large markets – where most people buy their food – often require larger quantities than might be grown on many of Maine’s farms.

Shawn Moody (Independent) – Organic farming is better for humans and better for our environment. Increased cost is sometimes an issue.

Kevin Scott (Independent) – Advantages: One advantage is pesticide free, toxin free farming. I am a supporter of grass farming and when my wife read Omnivores dilemma we discussed this topic at length. We also have a local grass farmer in our community and I am aware of some of his practices. Both surface and ground water are safer when farming with organic methods. Disadvantages: I believe the single biggest issue is the perception that local, organic foods must cost more than conventional foods. Time required to attend the crop is another perceived disadvantage.

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3. Do you support state funding for initiatives aimed at reducing preventable childhood illnesses caused by environmental pollutants?

Eliot Cutler (Independent) – I support the Children’s Toxic Bill, which tasks the DEP with identifying chemicals that it thinks should be more carefully scrutinized or banned in certain applications. It is an important process, and we must ensure that the DEP’s decisions are not arbitrary but rather based on sound science.

Paul LePage (Republican) – Maine’s next Governor faces a $1 billion shortfall created by the budget passed by the current Legislature. Given that huge fiscal challenge, I am not committing to fund any new program because I believe that we need to have all options on the table to face this monumental budget challenge.

Libby Mitchell (Democrat) – Prevention is the step that is missing in our health care debates. Sensible eating of healthy foods is critical to Maine people improving their health. My proposed Farm and Bait to Plate program sets a goal for “grown local” foods, and leads the way with state purchasing of local foods for schools and nursing homes and other state facilities. Maine’s pristine natural environment is our brand. My administration will work to keep that brand with infrastructure investments in clean water and preserving farmlands, working waterfront and working forests.

Shawn Moody (Independent) – Yes, I support initiatives aimed at reducing preventable childhood illnesses caused by environmental pollutants.

Kevin Scott (Independent) – Yes. On my website, I have a policy outlining a long-term, sustainable agricultural economy in Maine. My plan calls for replacing our current k-12 food procurement practices and sourcing only locally grown food. Whole, local food in our school systems cafeterias is achievable; we do have control over this. I firmly believe the future of farming, food safety, and our children’s health depends on local grown food being the primary food sold into our k-12 system. I am the only candidate talking about food and children’s health as well as food and technology which includes:

  • Composite engineering R&D for year round growing structures
  • Lighting & industrial automation
  • Information technology
  • Soil conservation,
  • Hydroponics techniques, etc.

This plans creates jobs across many existing industries:

  • Concrete workers
  • Local electricians
  • Food packers
  • Biologist
  • Tractor supplies & dealers
  • Alternative energy sources and much, much more

We can achieve this plan and lower childhood illnesses caused by our current farming practices. This plan also addresses the reduction of the carbon footprint associated with long distance food delivery requirements. Let’s cultivate a vibrant, recession proof local economy. It is exciting and at our fingertips under the right State leadership. My plan calls for a State Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF) financing model for those farmers and businesses willing to participate and provide local grown foods to our k-12 system. The SRLF is a model currently used in Maine in other industries. With k-12 as a market place, Maine’s small and medium sized family farms will take risk, grow, and prosper.

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4. How much regulation should be applied to farmer to consumer transactions? For example, what are your opinions about Maine’s poultry farming regulations, the National Animal Identification System, and/or the food safety bills under consideration in Congress?

Eliot Cutler (Independent) – Farms – of all sizes – face substantial environmental, labor and consumer regulations. Regulations regarding food safety should be sufficient to protect the health and safety of consumers, and we must ensure that small family farms are not unduly harmed or put out of business by laws and regulations that are designed for larger scale farm operations.

Paul LePage (Republican) – My plan for Maine is to help all farmers prosper. We need a government that works as a partner of the private sector not as an adversary. When it comes to food safety, we need to assure that the food is safely produced and processed so that consumers have safe food. We need to do everything we can to assure consumers that food produced in Maine is safe. As Governor, I will be looking at all the agricultural regulations and fees and determining how much flexibility we can develop. I also will be asking the Maine Department of Agriculture to work with all farmers to discuss which federal regulations are onerous and ask our congressional delegation to push for reform. I fundamentally believe in more education, not more regulation. We need more educational programs that help farm businesses get better at what they do, and support them in that effort. I feel education, rather than regulation, is the best approach. Programs that help educate consumers on knowing their farmers and understanding how the farmer produces their food is important. However, I also believe that farmers must educate themselves as to proper handling of farm chemicals, food processing, and by product utilization (manure and compost). The role of government is to help in that education effort I also believe the role of government is to protect our citizens from unscrupulous businesses. I am in favor of producing heavy fines and shutting down businesses that do not provide safe food.

Libby Mitchell (Democrat) – We must make sure our food is safe, and our national and state standards must provide those protections. Food safety is critical to farmers to be able to sell their products to consumers – either at farmers markets or through grocery stores. We also need to make it easier for farmers to get high quality products to market, including certified slaughter houses that are accessible to producers.

Shawn Moody (Independent) – Because consumers rarely see where their food is grown/processed, we need to keep protections in place. Food safety is a priority. One way to promote food safety is to promote locally grown farming initiatives. Local is definitely better.

Kevin Scott (Independent) – Minimal, effective, easily understood regulations are best. Over time we have developed a complex regulatory mind set, a culture of complexity. I will work hard to overcome this approach as Maine’s next Governor. We must rethink these regulations in order to make a healthy, local k-12 food policy for Maine’s children a reality. Poultry regulations in particular must be looked at and made to fit a 21st century, local food economy. I have some direct knowledge in this area from dealing with Frye Wood Farms in Roxbury, Maine. I require more information concerning the NAIS as well as the current food safety bill under consideration in Congress. If National government legislation does not “fit” Maine local farming and organic farming needs, I will work to help Maine selectively adopt National policy – not the past failure of “one size fits all” public policy.

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5. Do you favor federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) subsidies that specifically support local farming? Should WIC benefit recipients have the option to purchase organic food with their monthly allowances?

Eliot Cutler (Independent) – I understand the importance of this issue. One in eight Americans now receives food stamps, and low-income communities often have higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other health problems, which are made worse without access to fresh, healthy foods. The USDA recently ranked Maine as the ninth most food insecure state in the nation and the most food insecure state in New England. I believe that Maine must get the DHHS and Department of Agriculture to work with farmers and community groups to increase participation.

The WIC program has significantly reduced childhood hunger and developmental issues associated with lack of nutrition during formative development. The addition of WIC coupons for fresh produce is a benefit for children and families. Both WIC and SNAP should be accepted at local farmers markets – it is a benefit for both consumers and farmers. However, people have to be willing to use them and farmers need to be willing to accept them.

Regarding the use of the regular WIC coupons for organic food, WIC coupons are allocated based on the age of the children and moms who are postpartum or breastfeeding. It is a critical safety net for low income families and has been very beneficial. WIC coupons are specifically for items such as a gallon of milk or a dozen eggs. Because organic dairy products and eggs are generally more expensive than conventional, I believe that the value placed on WIC coupons should be based on the average cost of the conventional product in a particular market. If not, I would be concerned that many families might be moved off the program due to lack of funding.

Paul LePage (Republican) – WIC is a valuable program for women and children of limited means and I will direct my administration to spend time understanding the program to see how we can improve it over the long term. In the short term, I understand there is a lot of flexibility in what foods the state can choose to promote. It is my understanding that the USDA has allowed some organic products in the WIC packages (milk, eggs and cheeses as well as fruits and vegetables). That is a good step; however, affordability is often a great concern to low income families. Therefore, as long as regular and organic farmers can meet those requirements, I would be willing to have my administration look into the matter further, if requested.

Libby Mitchell (Democrat) – I do. Mothers should have the option of buying healthy and nutritious food for their children.

Shawn Moody (Independent) – Absolutely, I support WIC subsidies that support local farming and production/consumption of organic food.

Kevin Scott (Independent)
– Yes. Yes.

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