Meet MOFGA Volunteer Jo Ann Myers
By Betsy Garrold
Jo Ann Myers comes from a farm family in northeastern Connecticut and spent a rather peripatetic lifestyle living in Alaska, Washington state and Kentucky while working on rural health systems. After that she and her husband, Wayne, finally landed in Waldoboro on the farm named after JoAnn's French Canadian ancestors, Beau Chemin Preservation Farm. Beau Chemin means "beautiful path," which certainly describes Myers' journey.
Her previous work as a medical anthropologist led to her involvement with the Maine Migrant Health Program. There she met Dr. Elizabeth Hart, who was on the MOFGA board then and who invited Myers to join that board. Myers is now the board secretary and is on the Executive and Governance committees. The latter is meant to make the board more effective by dealing with the nuts and bolts of board operations, such as bylaws changes, board nominations, size and term limits.
Myers’ most important contribution to the work of MOFGA involves chairing the Public Policy Committee. She works closely with Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s deputy director, crafting policy statements on issues facing organic farmers.
“MOFGA is really a great organization at all levels of the community,” says Myers. “From staff to the board and committees, everyone is smart and committed and such a pleasure to work with. The culture at MOFGA respects and allows for differing points of view, and that is a wonderful thing.”
Spalding says, “Jo Ann’s wisdom and gentle nature is a blessing for MOFGA. In addition to having vast experience as a rural health advocate and rare breeds livestock farmer, she is a great communicator, organizer and historian. Though she has been the recording secretary of the board for 14 years, she doesn’t dwell on the past. She maintains a hopeful and positive outlook for our organic future, and she inspires the next generation of farmers, gardeners, volunteers and staff members who work with her. She is so thoughtful and careful about her decision-making, and we are blessed to have her leadership.
“Her volunteerism really picked up,” Spalding adds, “about the time MOFGA hitched its wagon to an incredibly powerful coalition, the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. The mission of the alliance is to advance policy initiatives promoting safer alternatives to the cocktail of industrial chemicals in everyday consumer products. MOFGA’s engagement with the alliance demonstrated Jo Ann's belief that we can’t have sustainable agriculture without sustainable communities. She really appreciates the interconnections of our broad base of supporters and works tirelessly to ensure that stakeholders feel heard and appreciated, even if their priorities are not immediately front and center for MOFGA. Jo Ann always sees the big picture and the opportunities to build strong relationships with allies across socio-economic, labor, political, educational, health and nonprofit sectors.”
Myers and her husband described Beau Chemin Preservation Farm lovingly in the fall 2016 MOF&G. Their tagline, “yesterday's breeds for tomorrow's needs,” says it all. They raise critically endangered and threatened livestock breeds, such as Icelandic goats and Soay sheep. The Icelandic goats, a fiber and dairy breed, are part of an ongoing project to breed as pure a strain as possible despite USDA restrictions on importing livestock to breed. Featured on “Game of Thrones” as a snack for dragons, this goat species exists only in Iceland, and Myers is creating a gene pool in Maine.
Beau Chemin is MOFGA-certified for hay, seedlings and pick-your-own raspberries as well as ducklings from endangered species. Myers first became interested in organic policy in 1998 when the couple began the three-year process of getting certified. The USDA National Organic Program was being discussed then, and Myers attended a MOFGA meeting about whether Maine organic farmers would support this large government program. She heard many perspectives, which, along with her background in public health policy, led her to her current position of chair of the Public Policy Committee.
So Myers continues her beautiful path fostering more enlightened public policy and encouraging the future by preserving the past.