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Lynn Miller & Jon Fishman
 Lynn Miller was accompanied by Jon Fishman of Phish on the vacuum cleaner at the start of his speech at the 2009 Common Ground Fair. Jean English photo for the Winter 2009-2010 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

Articles

Six years ago, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay decided to convert to organic practices. Many staff members were skeptical that they could maintain a high standard of care with a limited budget if they went this route, but they thought it was vital to try. The experiment has been an overwhelming success: Plants are far healthier, pollinators more diverse, visitors happier and costs have remained the same or decreased. The switch has not been without challenges, however. William Cullina, executive director of the gardens, talked about the conversion during his keynote speech at MOFGA’s 2015 Common Ground Country Fair.

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When public interest attorney Steven Druker, executive director of the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, sued the FDA to force it to divulge its files on genetically engineered (GE) foods, he learned that politics influenced administrators to cover up their own scientists’ extensive warnings about the unusual risks of these foods and to lie about facts. These products were then ushered onto the market in violation of federal food safety laws.

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The two words that we bandy around so much in alternative agriculture – "organic" and "sustainable" – do we really know what we mean by them? Because let’s make no bones about it: They are very radical ideas.

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Before he wrote Wild Fermentation, published in 2003, Sandor Katz spent the summer of 2001 in Bowdoinham, where he wrote a self-published zine called Wild Fermentation. Gulf of Maine Books bought five of the 100 copies, so “my fermentation world started in Maine,” said Katz at his 2013 keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair.

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Deb Soule is an herbalist, biodynamic gardener, teacher and author of the newly released book How To Move Like a Gardener: Planting and Preparing Medicines from Plants. In 1985 she founded the herbal apothecary Avena Botanicals. Avena has been certified as an organic farm by MOFGA for 29 years. Soule gave this keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair on Sept. 21, 2013.

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One of the nation's foremost organic agriculture advocates for nearly two decades, George Siemon is best known for his leadership in organizing farmers and building market support for organic agriculture. His work champions an agriculture that supports family farms with a fair and stable pay price, humane treatment of farm animals, healthy soil and environment and quality organic food.

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Sandor Katz, author and fermentation revivalist
  Fermentation and Food Relocalization

Deb Soule, founder and owner of Avena Botanicals
  Honoring Women Farmers and Gardeners, Locally and Globally

George Siemon, CEIEIO and co-founder of CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley
  Cooperating with the Future

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Sarah Smith and Chellie PingreeSarah Smith and her husband, Garin, own and operate the MOFGA-certified Grassland Organic Farm in Skowhegan, where they milk 45 cows and raise 3 acres of mixed vegetables as well as organic beef, pastured broiler chickens, laying hens, and pigs – and their three young children. They sell through a seasonal CSA and four year-round farmers' markets. Also, Sarah manages a multi-farm CSA in Skowhegan, the Skowhegan Farmers' Market, is active in many community events, including Skowhegan’s Food Hub, and is a MOFGA board member.

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Hayes and LibbyBlending storytelling, farm humor and a knack for stirring up trouble, Shannon Hayes examines the history of consumerism in America, how it played out in the household, its effects on our food system and culture, and how we can recover our households, communities, ecosystem and country.

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Libby and MerriganKathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of USDA, asked MOFGA’s executive director, Russell Libby, if she could come to the 2012 Common Ground Country Fair. “This is something that would not have happened,” said Libby, “at the first Common Ground Fair.” Or the fifth. Or the 10th, 20th or 25th, he added.

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Jay FeldmanI want to talk with you about the regulation of pesticides and the countervailing organic solution to pollution – where we’ve been and where we need to go. And interspersed in the talk, I will share the insights, vision, guidance and truths that Rachel Carson speaks about in her own words from Silent Spring.

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Mort MatherMort Mather was MOFGA’s third president and soon after served as president for two more years. He was among the first certified organic farmers in Maine and was the first to sell organic vegetables to the first natural food co-op in Portland. He now grows an acre of organic vegetables, supplying most of the veggies for his son’s restaurant, Joshua’s, in Wells.

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Russell LibbyThere is so much that is good and powerful that is happening around us, right here, right now. Last month MOFGA celebrated 40 years of helping to make this possible. Without the hard work and dedication and commitment of many of you, we could not be here right now. But the challenges ahead of us are even greater than what we’ve already gone through.

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Barbara DamroschLately there’s been an ugly smattering of articles in the press telling us that if we grow organic food, especially if we are small-scale growers, we are deluded, elitist, anti-technology and anti-science. They tell us that our farms and gardens are very pretty, and what we do is very sweet and well intentioned, but it can’t feed the world. They say the earth’s population is exploding, people are starving and it’s all our fault. Now isn’t that just a load of bunk?

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Kerry HardyKerry Hardy grew up in Lincolnville, Maine, exploring the outdoors extensively and eventually writing about traditional foodways of Maine in his book Notes on a Lost Flute. He now lives on a Hopi reservation in Arizona. He was the keynote speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair on Sept. 24, 2010. This article is based on his talk.

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Jim Gerritsen and familyJim and Megan Gerritsen have owned and operated Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, in Aroostook County, Maine, for 35 years, and they are raising their four children there as well. Their farm, MOFGA-certified organic since 1982, focuses on producing organic early generation Maine Certified Seed Potatoes, seed crops, vegetables and grain.

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Woody TaschWoody Tasch, founder of the Slow Money movement, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money and resident of New Mexico, presented the keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

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Sam LevinA junior at Monument High School in Great Barrington, Mass., Sam Levin is one of three co-founders of Project Sprout, an organic, student-run, 12,000-square-foot garden on the grounds of his school. Project Sprout supplies the school cafeteria with fresh fruits and vegetables, helps feed the hungry in the community and serves as a living laboratory for students of the Monument school system

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Mark GuzziOne of the region’s most successful young farmers, Mark Guzzi has been growing and direct marketing produce through farmers’ markets since 1993, when he started working on farms. A former MOFGA apprentice and a 2000 graduate of the University of Maine Sustainable Agriculture program, Guzzi now owns Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, one of the area’s oldest organic farms, which he bought in 2003 from farm co-founder Ariel Wilcox. Along with his wife, Marcia Ferry, and their crew, he grows 10 acres of MOFGA-certified organic vegetables, which they sell at six markets a week – in Orono, Camden, Belfast and Waterville.

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Lynn Miller & Jon FishmanLynn Miller, editor of the Small Farmer’s Journal, gave a surprise speech – accompanied by Vaudevillian entertainers – at the 2009 Common Ground Country Fair. Miller said that he has “taken the draft horse and small farm community around the country, pulled them together, and now embarked on a new adventure trying to get us all to work together to save what’s good, valued and important.” Small farms, that is.

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We are working on a tremendous offering of speakers and presenters for this year's Fair. The final schedule won't be ready until later this summer, but here's a preview of a few of this year’s presenters.

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Gary Paul NabhanIn his keynote speech, Gary Paul Nabhan said that many of the so-called “local” foods he sees in the Southwest are addicted to fossil fuels and fossil water. He sees communities like those of MOFGA as building blocks that balance local with fair trade between watersheds.

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Jeffrey SmithJeffrey Smith told of Monsanto scientists who switched to drinking organic milk when they learned about the dangers of Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (now owned by Eli Lilly); about research showing health dangers from genetically engineered foods; and about a plan to get genetically engineered foods out of the market.

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John BunkerPalermo was never the apple center of Maine. For that you must go west to Wilton and Turner and Winthrop. But for most of Palermo’s 204 years, nearly everyone lived on small self-sufficient diversified independent farms. And every farm had a small apple orchard. I picked Palermo to write about because the town has been my home for 36 years. I also picked Palermo because it was and is in many ways a typical small town of the Pine Tree State.

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John BunkerEach day of the Common Ground Country Fair, MOFGA presents a keynote speaker at 11 a.m. in the Common. Friday features a MOFGA grower, while Saturday and Sunday feature others working in food, agriculture and the environment. This year MOFGA welcomes John Bunker, Jeffrey Smith and Gary Paul Nabhan.

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Robin Alden and Ted AmesOn Sunday, September 23, at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair, Ted Ames discussed parallels between organic farming and community-based fisheries in his keynote address to fairgoers.

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Hannah PingreeHannah Pingree, of North Haven, is the Majority Leader of the Maine House of Representatives. A second-generation MOFGA member (her mom, Chellie, organized MOFGA's apprenticeship program), Pingree is a leader on issues dealing with toxic materials in the environment. She was the prime sponsor of this year's successful legislation to phase out the brominated flame retardant "deca."

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Amy LeBlancPickles and teenagers took center stage on September 21, 2007, when long-time MOFGA farmer Amy LeBlanc of Whitehill Farm in East Wilton delivered her keynote speech at the Common Ground Country Fair.

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Amy LeBlanc and students“I must make fabulous dill pickles,” says Amy LeBlanc of Whitehill Farm in East Wilton, Maine. “Every time someone new comes to work, a veteran employee goes to the cellar and gets a jar of pickles to share for lunch.”

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Cynthia ThayerMy husband, Bill, and I, and our children moved from Massachusetts in 1976 to an abandoned farm, which we named Darthia Farm, located in the coastal village of Gouldsboro, way Down East. No one had farmed the place since the ‘40s, and all the land was overgrown with poplar, alder and raspberry bushes. Since we began, our children have grown, we now have grandchildren, much of the land has been cleared, we have a successful farm store and mail order business, we’ve bought a woodlot, and we’ve had around 200 apprentices who have worked and learned with us over the years.

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First Lady Karen BaldacciFor those of you who don’t know me, I’m an educator and I’m also a dietician, so being at Common Ground Fair is the destination point for me as I’m sure it is for you. It’s an opportunity to learn, to educate ourselves, an opportunity to work on what we all know is true in our heart of hearts – sustainable agriculture and how to make it work in Maine.

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Ken GeiserKen Geiser, director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, was the Sept. 23rd keynote speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair. Geiser is the author of Materials Matter: Toward a Sustainable Materials Policy, which covers the economic, ecological and health benefits of using clean materials from the beginning of any industrial production process.

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John Carroll and Spencer AitelLet’s talk about food. We all think we know a bit about food. My kid sister perched above the floor in a high chair, taking a sizzling slap shot at a spoonful of steaming, strained carrots; she knew about food all right. And so do you: what tastes good and what doesn’t; what’s good for you and what isn’t good for you. For a few minutes, let’s talk about some assumptions we have about food.

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John and Debbie HoweJohn Howe has a plan to get us through “the most important problem ever to face civilization,” i.e., the period following “peak oil.” Peak oil refers to the halfway point, the point at which we’ve used half the oil, the major component of all fossil energy originally made on earth, and after which less and less oil becomes available, extraction becomes more difficult, and prices climb rapidly.

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Jason KafkaWhen Jason Kafka started his keynote speech at the 2004 Common Ground Country Fair with, “Mission Accomplished!” his announcement had substance: He held up a giant kohlrabi and massive onion that he’d grown on his Checkerberry Farm in Parkman.

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Sharon Tisher and Percy SchmeiserIn introducing Common Ground Country Fair Keynote Speaker Percy Schmeiser, Sharon Tisher, chair of MOFGA’s public policy committee, noted that the Canadian canola farmer had been on three expeditions to Mount Everest, where he’d climbed to 26,000 feet. The Canadian press, she continued, often asks Schmeiser which is harder to deal with: Mount Everest of Monsanto. Schmeiser says that’s a “really hard question.”

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Jason KafkaHe could be known as Jason ‘Ailsa Craig’ Kafka, after the mammoth ‘Ailsa Craig’ onions he grows. These are the same onions you see sliced into rosettes and onion rings served at the Common Ground Country Fair by 4M Productions.

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Lynn MillerFor everyone who has ever dreamed of starting a farm, Lynn Miller has some solid advice: Start where you are. Even if you’re living in a city apartment, you have a place, somewhere, to grow a plant for food or for beauty. And one plant can become two, or more.

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Percy SchmeiserMOFGA and GE Free Maine are pleased to welcome Percy Schmeiser to the 2004 Common Ground Country Fair. A conventional canola farmer for over 40 years, Schmeiser was sued by Monsanto when it found that his Saskatchewan farm was contaminated with its genetically engineered (GE) Round-up Ready canola.

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Sandra SteingraberFor her keynote address at the 2003 Common Ground Country Fair, Dr. Sandra Steingraber read the eloquent “Organic Manifesto” that she wrote for Organic Valley Family of Farms, which has published it as an attractive booklet. The Manifesto and accompanying photos by Carrie Branovan are reprinted here with permission of Organic Valley Family of Farms and are available at www.steingraber.com/ as well.

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Juvelina PalmaWe are very happy to be here with our sisters and brothers of MOFGA. My name is Juvelina Palma, as they have told you already, and we are a delegation that has come to join with our brothers and sisters here at MOFGA. The delegation is composed of Ernesto Morales, Marisol Ramirez, Santiago Serrano and myself. We feel very strongly that we’re happy to be here with our MOFGA family. We are very happy to be here at this beautiful and happy fair. And on behalf of the delegation, I’m thankful to everyone who’s here together with us.

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Sandra-SteingraberThe writings of this year’s keynote speaker, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., Cornell University biology professor, 1997 Ms. Magazine “Woman of the Year,” cancer survivor and mother of two, are the best antidote I know to what Rachel Carson called those “little tranquilizing pills of half truths” that we still too often hear when government officials talk to the public about toxics.

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In introducing keynote speaker Jim Hightower at last September's Common Ground Country Fair, MOFGA's executive director Russ Libby said, "Jim has been out there for the last 25 years talking about agriculture and democracy, and he's put it into practice. I was sitting with some friends in a meeting in Washington a couple of months ago and we were saying, "How many good commissioners of agriculture have we had in these United States?" And we came up with a few and two of them were Jim, because he got elected twice."

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Ronnie Dugger and "Granny D" HaddockOn Friday, Sept. 21, Ronnie Dugger, founder of the Alliance for Democracy, addressed a crowd of Common Ground fairgoers. His address was moved inside the Exhibition Hall because rain threatened outside. For over an hour, the large group of listeners stood among the glorious display of fruits, vegetables and crafts and listened as Dugger told how to return the United States to a democracy. Doris “Granny D” Haddock of Dublin, N.H., the tough old soul who walked across the country to promote campaign finance reform when she was 89 years old (she’s now 91), stood with him. After his talk, she said in amazement, They all stayed! They stayed and listened, even though they had to stand! Dugger’s message was that important.

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Penobscot Chief Barry DanaBarry Dana, Chief of the Penobscot Nation, grew up on Indian Island in the Penobscot River. A long-time participant at Common Ground Country Fair, he was a keynote speaker there this year. While growing up, “for some reason I liked being in the company of elders,” says Dana, and thus he learned about canoeing, basket making, snowshoe making, hunting, gathering plants, and other Native traditions. “It was really great growing up where I was connected to my culture,” he says.

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Dr. Vandana ShivaWe’re deeply honored to have Dr. Vandana Shiva with us today to share her experiences as an international leader in many environmental and social movements, particularly in her efforts to promote organic farming. Dr. Shiva came to Unity all the way from Doon Valley, India, and she arrived just yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately she has to return to India, and she’s leaving shortly after her address today. In the midst of all the international uncertainty and terror, we especially appreciate her courage and resolve to travel half way around the world to join the Fair and share her experiences with us.

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• Penobscot Nation Chief Barry Dana
• Founder of the Alliance for Democracy, Ronnie Dugger
• Jim Hightower
• Shall We Chautauqua? To Quell a Corporate Coup, by David Kubiak
• Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder of the India-based Research Founda­tion for Science, Technology and Ecology

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CR LawnThank you. I am deeply honored and moved to be here. A quarter century ago, in February, 1975, while I was living in a neighbor’s barn and building my house, I plunked down five bucks to join MOFGA and shared my intentions to start an organic market garden.

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Brian DonahueBrian Donahue enjoyed the Common Ground Fair last summer. “The type of activities seen at the Fair should be part of our daily lives,” he said. For many of us who live in rural Maine, they are; but Donahue goes a step further: “We should do them in the suburbs.” This is his key to countering sprawl.

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Michael SlighActivist Michael Sligh grew up on a family farm in West Texas and farmed for a decade before taking a sabbatical to “square away policies” that were detrimental to family farming. That sabbatical began some two decades ago, and hasn’t ended yet. Sligh described those detrimental policies to a crowd that gathered on the earthen-banked amphitheater at the Common Ground Country Fair in September to hear him.

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• Genes and the Food Supply, Michael Sligh of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)
• Tools to Fight Sprawl: Protecting Open Spaces and Using Common Lands Productively, Professor Brian Donahue of Brandeis University

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