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MOFGA Editorials
Editorials and "op-ed" articles published in The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener newspaper

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Articles

As MOFGA develops a long-term, forward-looking strategic plan, I looked backward for inspiration – to our late director Russell Libby’s visionary writing.

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Through its apprentice and journeyperson farmer training programs, MOFGA has long provided an opening and opportunity for new farmers to learn about organic production and to launch new farm operations.

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Thousands of folks from throughout New England and beyond make an annual pilgrimage to Unity for the Common Ground Country Fair. This Fair, celebrating its 38th year, has become a rite of passage from our busy summer season into the quieter winter months we know lie ahead. It is a time to rekindle friendships, to learn and to savor all the extraordinary food grown by Maine’s organic farmers.

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In a fascinating interview on Krista Tippett’s radio show “On Being”, Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer talks about her scientific research involving “the words and ideas we attach to them” as well as the concept of mindfulness – “the very simple process of actively noticing new things. When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present, makes you sensitive to context.” Actively noticing new things is literally enlivening, Langer says.

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After a cold and snowy winter in Maine, spring took its sweet time arriving. Folks in and around Unity figured the season had finally turned on April 1, when the sun came out and the temperature hit a high of 46. Of course the danger of slipping back into winter persisted for a while, but eventually spring happened. It always does.

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"Don't worry about a thing, 'Cause every little thing gonna be all right."
… if you pay attention to soil organic matter.
Maybe Bob Marley wasn’t thinking of soil organic matter when he sang that happy song, but if we want every little thing to be all right, we need to keep organic matter in mind – and in the soil.

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In January, MOFGA and our allies gathered in Augusta to celebrate our win in the drive for a labeling law for genetically engineered (GE) foods. On January 9, 2014, Governor Paul LePage delivered on a promise he made last summer and affixed a symbolic signature to the measure (LD 718) enabling the Right to Know Act to become law. It was a historic moment in Maine. With approval, we became just the second state in the nation to require labels on GE foods (sometimes called GMOs, or genetically modified organisms).

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In agriculture, some interests are promoting expanded use of herbicide-resistant crops, and thus, by definition, expanded dependence on herbicides. Some interests are promoting expansion of monocultures of specialized crops that are highly susceptible to insect infestations and thus more dependent on chemical insecticides.

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Every fall when our children were young, my husband would collect milkweed pods from a thousand-square-foot patch of Asclepias syriaca that grows on our land and store the seedpods in a paper bag over winter. In spring, when the swallows returned, he and the kids would scatter the parachuted seeds from our second-story deck, anticipating that the swallows would use some of the silken fluff in their nests.

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I am sincerely honored and grateful to have the opportunity to serve MOFGA in this role. I bring the perspective of having grown up with MOFGA as a fixture in my life and landscape. My parents brought me to the first Common Ground Fair in ’77 – I don’t actually remember it, but I wish I did!

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“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity that belongs to us. When we see it as a community to which we belong, we can treat it with love and respect.” Arlene Nelson’s words in a short video by the Real Food Media Project sum up the basis of true organic agriculture and a philosophy that we need for the planet if we are to survive.

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Russell was extremely intelligent and extraordinarily well read. We all know that. He was well aware of the challenges and failures of modern society. He understood them, and he wasn’t afraid to point them out.

How is it that a man who was so aware of all this could be so fun to be with? So much at peace throughout his life, right up to the end? Why wasn’t he somber or tortured and tormented? This is a question that I have asked myself on many occasions. And, it is here that we may find Russell’s greatest lesson to us all as we move forward without him.

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Walter E. Whitcomb, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources, spoke these words at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta in January when he honored the legacy of Russell Libby with the Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Award. Mary Anne Libby accepted the award on her late husband’s behalf.

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Russell LibbyLast week, on November 1, MOFGA held a pie social to mark my transition from executive director to senior policy advisor. Heather Spalding is serving as interim executive director as the board begins a search for the next executive director, and she will do a great job keeping the organization moving forward during that process.

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Heather Spalding and Russell LibbyMOFGA really knows how to throw a party! On November 1, 2012, hundreds of us gathered in the Exhibition Hall for a pie social in honor of our esteemed, brilliant, honorable and much-loved leader, Russell Libby. Friends and staff brought dozens of sumptuous pies, words of love and reverence, smiles, tears, laughter and a lot of inspiration.

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Barry Commoner, biologist, ecologist, humanist, died in September 2012 at 95 years of age. Commoner recommended, long before most others, natural products over synthetic, renewable resources over nonrenewable, organic agriculture over conventional, pollution prevention rather than remediation, social and technological development rather than population control. Development, he believed, would itself reduce population.

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KIds at MOFGA's Farm & Homestead DayLook at the map of Maine and what do you see? A large state. Not very many people in it. Unused, cleared land that could be farmed. No wonder people are looking up this way when they wonder how New England will feed itself in an uncertain future. Where will all the new farmers come from? From everywhere, it seems.

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At this year’s Common Ground Country Fair, we celebrate the work of Rachel Carson. It’s now 50 years since the release of her critically important book, Silent Spring, which we should all be reading once again. If we take one thing from her writing, it is that Carson is right. We can’t poison the earth, thinking we can control an insect or a plant disease, without impacting everything around us. The same is true for her brilliant books on the oceans. Everything is connected. There is no “away.”

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September 27, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The book, prompted largely by effects of the insecticide DDT on birds, led to the ban of most uses of DDT, helped start the environmental movement, and led to increased regulation of pesticides. It did not reduce pesticide use. In 1964, 540 million pounds of pesticide active ingredient were sold in the United States. In 2007 – the most recent year for which EPA has pesticides data – that figure was 1,133 million pounds.

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This is the year when the Farm Bill is supposed to move through Congress. As I write, the Senate Agriculture Committee has passed its version of the bill, and the House Agriculture Committee is drafting another to reflect its priorities. I’ll be heading to Washington in early May to testify before the Nutrition and Horticulture Subcommittee, emphasizing a few items that are important to MOFGA and to farmers across the country, such as support for organic agriculture and beginning farmers.

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A long-time MOFGA member and low-impact forestry proponent, Lansky is also the author (20 years ago!) of Beyond the Beauty Strip – Saving What’s Left of Our Forests, about the destructive effects of industrial forestry and of the financial world’s desire for ever-expanding economic growth. Botanic growth is something else. “This time of year,” says Lansky, Andrew Marvell’s poem “captures how I feel when I enter our gardens.”

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Twenty years ago MOFGA pushed for labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, which were just then entering the marketplace, and therefore the grocery store. The Legislature said that this was a federal issue, not a state one, and turned down the legislation, repeatedly. The federal government decided to treat GE crops the same as any other crop, and not require labeling of any kind. Jump forward. Ninety-four percent of the soybean crop is now planted with genetically engineered seeds; 74 percent of the corn crop; 73 percent of cotton. Close to all canola.

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In Holli Cederholm’s feature story in this issue of The MOF&G, Mike Bowman of Groundswell Farm says that he has always farmed and gardened organically and has never considered any other method. He and Maria Reynolds cultivate Groundswell Farm the way they learned, through their own farming and gardening experiences, through apprenticeships on MOFGA certified organic farms, and by having co-managed the MOFGA certified organic Black Bear Food Guild at the University of Maine. They are of a generation that has grown up with organic and now embodies an ethos in which MOFGA members – consumers, gardeners, farmers – trust.

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PeasIn Good Food for Everyone Forever, Colin Tudge, writing on behalf of The Campaign for Real Farming (“a people’s takeover of the world food supply”), says that the key to success in taking over the food supply is “merely to identify the enterprises and ideas that are truly helpful and to bring about some degree of coordination.”

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Feeding New England will take not only farmers, but farmers who will set about the task with the knowledge that farming can be either a wonderful or a terrible thing, depending on how you treat the land, the water and the air. Agriculture can ruin a place if it’s a greedy – and ultimately a costly – business, with little care for the life of the soil and the husbandry of clean water and clean air.

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Each of us has dreams and ideas about what we’d like to do with our lives. We adapt and adjust, and if we work hard and are lucky, we achieve some pieces of those dreams. Meanwhile, the world around us keeps changing, so we adapt and adjust again, and so the cycle goes. That, at least, has been the way most of us have approached life for a long time. But if the entire structure around us seems to be fading away, we need to try even harder to figure out how to move toward our dreams.

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This past June, the Maine Board of Pesticides Control approved a Special Local Need registration request for conventional Christmas tree growers to use the organophosphate insecticide diazinon to kill balsam gall midges. According to its label, diazinon is highly toxic to birds, fish and other wildlife, and to bees exposed to direct treatment or to residues on blooming crops or weeds. That’s a high potential price to pay to kill a delicate little fly that is readily controlled by time and by nature’s cycles.

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When I first became involved with MOFGA some 27 years ago – by going to the Common Ground Country Fair, of course – I was in awe of the folks who had founded the organization and created such a wealth of information, cooperation and community. I still am.

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A few months ago, I realized that MOFGA is now 40 years old. That is as good a marker as any for looking back, and forward.

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Seeds are the starting point for almost everything we do on our farms and in our gardens. Quality, vital seeds are fundamental to agriculture as a whole. Throughout history, maintaining a supply of seeds was almost as important as the harvest itself, because the seed supply assured that everything was ready for the next year.

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Why would organic growers and consumers want to converge with conventional agriculture, as the title of a Maine Agricultural Trades Show session, held in January, suggested? Craving the Organophosphate-Arsenic-Laced Special for dinner? Organic farming can feed the world, can help strengthen communities (soil, microbial, beneficial insect, human…), can keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and more. Evidence for these statements is strong and continues to build. If we are to converge with anything, we – organic and conventional farmers – should look to nature.

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Recently I was part of a conversation about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The book was published in 1962, so we’re just shy of 50 years since Carson clearly articulated the dangers of DDT and the impact of thinking about a piece instead of the whole. While the United States eventually banned the use on DDT in 1972, the mindset that produced the pesticide is still the dominant approach in agriculture.

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Cedar waxwing nestlingsA non-gardening friend once asked how I could find enough to write about gardening. As any farmer or gardener knows, there’s always something new to discover – a new vegetable variety, an old way to grow fruit, how landscapes can support soil life … We can never know it all.

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For almost 40 years now, MOFGA has worked toward a more local, more organic food system. Not that we don’t think about what happens in other places or parts of the world – after all, we’re all connected. And not that good farmers are not producing quality food using other systems. We’ve worked toward a more local, more organic food system because that’s who we are. We’re based in Maine, and we started as, and continue to be, focused on organic production systems.

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Display at Common Ground Country FairLooking for good national health care? Begin with good local, preventive health care – as you’ll find at the Common Ground Country Fair. Immerse yourself, for example, in the healthful and delicious organic produce at the farmers’ market near the north (rose) gate.

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“Why are some people concerned about genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops?” That was one exam question for my organic gardening class at Unity College, and when I read one student’s response, I laughed out loud: “Because they will come back to bite you in the a--.”

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Picking up my tree order at FEDCO is one of my favorite days of the year, and from the long lines on Friday morning this year, I know that I’m not alone. The sale is a sure sign of spring, but it’s also sending important messages about what kind of food we want.

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In February, a few of us sat down to interview the 34 people who applied to be MOFGA journeypersons this year. Every story and situation is different, but one message came through loud and clear: MOFGA’s support of beginning farmers is making a huge difference on the ground.

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The KISS design principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid – does not translate to farming and gardening. To farm and garden in environmentally sound ways requires intelligence; complexity in planting plans; and observing nature as a working model. KINS – Keep It Natural, Smarty.

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If we were trying to design a system to promote food safety, I don’t think it would look anything like the legislation that’s moving through Congress now. It would focus regulatory attention on the companies that supply most of the food in the country. It would be comprehensive. It would focus on root causes.

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Cycles are so pronounced in our cold temperate climate. Now, in winter, leaves have fallen, blanketing the forest and feeding the soil organisms that hold the nutrients that will later be released to help woodland plants burst forth in spring with renewed vigor, to photosynthesize and gather yet more nutrients to cycle back to the earth.

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My favorite story from Deeply Rooted – Lisa Hamilton's inspiring, beautifully written book – is about retired plant breeder and former farmer Mat Kolding, who was walking through a North Dakota farmer's field one year when disease was decimating the wheat crop. Among an estimated 5 million plants in the 40-acre field, "There was a plant shouting, Here I am! Take me!" said Kolding.

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We are what we eat. That simple truth runs headlong into the complexity that is our food system and into HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009, which the House of Representatives just passed.

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Sales of vegetable seed to home gardeners jumped in the past couple of years, and the National Gardening Association anticipated a 20 percent increase in the number of people growing their own vegetables this year. The NGA says that an average home garden can generate more than $1 per square foot in produce, and that U.S. households raise more than $21.6 billion worth of produce from their gardens. This is good.

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“One of the big lies in the popular press is that organic farms are labor-intensive,” said Mary-Howell Martens at MOFGA’s Spring Growth Conference in March. She and her husband, Klaas, told how they manage 1,400 certified organic acres of crops in New York state with only three full-time and two part-time people working the farm.

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It always takes a while to actually find out how bad things are in the “paper” economy, but we’re now somewhere around a year and a half into the current recession, at least the way it’s measured in official terms. But we can look at the long lines at food banks, the increasing numbers of people who are laid off temporarily, or longer, the pressure on budgets for families, businesses and governments, and know that we aren’t past the worst of it yet.

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What struck me most in my first few weeks as a MOFGA farm apprentice two summers ago was how the farmers spoke about their land – as though it were a family member, as in need of them as they were in need of it; necessary, basic, beloved.

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Every day I make a little list of  “things that made me happy.” Looking back, I see that most relate to food!

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During the cold days of January and February, on my way home I can see more than 50 miles to the White Mountains, and equally far to the mountains of the north and west. That chance to catch the long view lasts for only a limited time each year. The same seems to be true for our political system.

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Organic blueberry farmer Deborah Aldridge of Jonesboro was nominated by Gov. Baldacci to fill the environmental seat on the Maine Board of Pesticides Control – a seat that has been vacant since the summer of 2007. On August 19, 2008, the Legislature's Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted 7-3 against recommending Aldridge for the post. Clearly, behind-the-scenes lobbying by some conventional agriculture groups and farmers influenced the Committee vote.

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In the midst of fall’s big stories – economic turmoil; a drawn-out political campaign; the ever-present war – day-to-day life for most of us was surprisingly unchanged, especially when it involved harvesting our own food, for economy, nutrition, health, taste – and for the simple pleasure of doing something quiet and productive outdoors.

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A few weeks ago the remaining debt from Lehman Brothers was sold at eight cents on the dollar, a sign that some of what they valued wasn’t worth too much. I was thinking about that in October, when my neighbor Chris and I were picking from a couple of Baldwin trees up the hill.

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Richard Parker illustrationIn my imagination, long-time MOFGA member and dedicated supporter Dick Parker will be sitting in his little folding chair on the Common at the Common Ground Country Fair, listening carefully to all three keynote speeches; sorting, synthesizing and storing the broadcast information; linking anything new and interesting to a vast store of wisdom.

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As the economy moves into a downturn or a recession or something else that will have a new name, long after the fact, most of the news seems to focus on individual solutions, on what people should buy or whether they should sell stocks now. In the end, these decisions don’t really make a large amount of difference. What will make a difference is how we act, day-to-day, in our communities.

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The United States, and the state of Maine, have no strategy that is any more sophisticated than “more of the same” to deal with problems in the world. After all, any attempt to deal with issues of hunger, of climate change, of high and rising energy prices, of high grain prices must directly address the root causes. Instead we get to watch a theatre of the absurd in the election process, where no candidate dares to describe the current situation as anything other than a slight aberration from the past.

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What a legacy: This is the 10th anniversary of The Good Life Center and the 125th anniversary of Scott Nearing's birth. Over the years The Good Life Center has grown, not just as a memorial to Helen and Scott Nearing, but with greatly expanded programming teaching sustainable homesteading skills, with more resources and with greater networking.

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Dear Governor Baldacci,
    Thank you for the wonderful opportunity to attend the May 6 dinner at the Blaine House hosted by you and the First Lady, along with Share Our Strength. Discussing the problem of childhood hunger in Maine and what can be done to address it in these challenging economic times is an important step toward mobilizing change, and I commend you for your commitment to this issue.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., continually broadened his vision, connecting the civil rights movement to economic justice and opposition to the war in Vietnam. If he were with us, 40 years after he was assassinated in Memphis, he would still be making the same kinds of connections.

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MOFGA members and supporters, we have much to celebrate: 2007 was a successful and affirming year for MOFGA! We broke every standing attendance record for our educational events, as well as the Common Ground Country Fair. We were named the Down East Environmental Organization of the Year

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The stock market went wild this winter, shocking people worldwide. Yet, if you had a cozy, mostly-solar-warmed home, a modest pile of firewood, and a fair amount of food stored away, well, those stock market numbers weren’t nearly so scary

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I think about these questions often as I travel around the state. For every major issue that confronts us, there are approaches that tie us more deeply to the existing economic system, one that is in many ways at the root of the problems. There are also possibilities that would give us both more independence and a deeper sense of community. These possibilities, taken together, form the basis of the Organic Maine that I see as our shared future.

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It took three days to walk and absorb the breadth of the Common Ground Fair and, as every year, I was struck with so many possibilities for growing and enjoying good food that the mental pot is still simmering.

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If you asked me five years ago where my food came from, I probably couldn't even tell you what state it was grown in, much less the actual farm that produced it. But when my husband and I left "big city living" and moved to Maine in 2002, something changed in the way I looked at food. I realized that every plant and animal had a story and I wanted to know what it was.

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I am one of 13 Maine citizens whose bodies were tested last year for the presence of a wide range of toxic materials:  lead, mercury, flame retardants, various plastics and more. When the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine released the results in the Body Burden report in June, I started getting reactions everywhere I went.

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Thought becomes character. That’s a short version of a Buddhist saying that includes a few more steps: “Thought” becomes manifested as deed, deed as habit, and finally habit as character – so let your thoughts “spring from love born out of concern for all beings.”

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My sister, a teacher, is in Tokyo as part of a summer exchange program. Almost daily, she sends me e-mails about her experiences. Here’s my favorite so far: "Oh - I love school lunch! Who knew school lunch could be good? Lunch arrives at each homeroom on a cart, the kids put desks together in groups of 6, and cover them with a tablecloth. Music plays across the intercom system, there is a moment of silence before the meal and a bow (the same after lunch)....

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Nicole VinciBy having a green thumb my whole life, I’ve been able to create beauty through horticulture; and now, owning dozens of plants, I have discovered that they’re my teachers. If I had my own way, my whole apartment would be a forest of plants. If I had a desk job, I’d be that person dedicating my working hours to watering, feeding and talking to the plants that create a garden wall instead of having a cubical separator around my desk.

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I’ve been making some new garden beds this spring. A few times my youngest daughter, Rosa, now 16, has come out to help. Each time we turn a piece of sod, she picks up the worms that we uncover and carefully moves them to the newly prepared ground. A classic book of English farming lore is The Worm Forgives the Plough, by John Stewart Collis. In an agriculture of life, the death of the worm is part of a cycle that creates the conditions for the growth of the plant, the animal and the human.

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The front pages of daily papers would have you thinking otherwise, but look a little deeper (and often closer to home), and you’ll be inspired. Here’s a short list,

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As we enter the new year, we find ourselves living in a world in deep, severe and, some would say, irreversible crisis. We in this room did not create this mess, nor did we ask for it. We certainly do not deserve it. It has been in the making for many years. It is ours only in that we inherited that which others created. Perhaps they were reckless; perhaps malicious; perhaps ignorant. Most likely they were simply doing the best they could do. In any event, we have no choice other than to accept the present as it is

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My own appreciation for farming began not long after MOFGA was created. In 1975, my dad, who happens to be an organic dairy farmer, bought his farm in Litchfield, Maine. I have always considered him to be one of the hardest working people I have ever known, a trait I witnessed firsthand as I spent many hours growing up working alongside him in the barn. But when my brother, sister and I finished our chores and were set free to play in the fields and forest, my dad kept working.

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Every new paradigm starts as someone’s harebrained idea, then is treated as a strange idea outside the mainstream, and eventually becomes accepted – or not. If the idea is really successful, after a while no one can remember when it wasn’t “the way things are done.” (Thomas Kuhns, very loosely paraphrased.)

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In the last MOF&G, I wrote about a farm-to-school-to-community fundraiser at Central Lake Elementary School in Kalkaska, Michigan. Students visit farms, learn how food is raised, harvested and, sometimes, processed, then help sell that food through their fundraisers. This healthful fundraiser nets Kalkaska students about $1400 and keeps far more money in the community than packaged programs from out-of-town fundraising companies.

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Turin, Italy, October 28, 2006 – We in Maine are a part of a growing, worldwide movement to reclaim, defend and invigorate local communities, local economies and local agricultural systems.  Nowhere is that more evident than here in this massive makeshift cafeteria. I’m sitting at a long picnic table, having just finished eating a delicious lunch of local Italian food with a few thousand farmers from around the world.

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For many years, organic farmers were the outsiders. Organic agriculture was considered either obsolete (how our grandfathers farmed) or unworkable. Growing food organically might work for the customers at the local food coop or the farmers’ market, but it wouldn’t meet the standards of the average consumer. Now, after decades of slow growth and improving production systems, organics is everywhere.

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When my kids were in elementary school, they invariably brought home fundraising catalogs full of junk during holiday seasons.  Glitzy, plastic-coated wrapping paper; plastic doodads that nobody needs and are toxic to make and toxic to dispose of; candy; highly preserved and colored and artificial “food”; too many magazine subscriptions. Most parents, teachers and administrators balked at these sales. “I wouldn’t feed this to my dog,” one teacher told me about a particular “food.”

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From time to time people ask me what MOFGA is all about. Although, oddly enough, the word education does not appear in our mission statement, when I talk about what we do, I always come back to that word. It is the key that unlocks the door. From time to time people also ask me how I myself got involved in agriculture. Again, my response always comes back to that same word. In my case, it began in a secluded vegetable garden 50 years ago on Cape Cod.

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There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example – where had they gone? …. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh. – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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Any of you who are Finnish or who married a Finn know the term ‘sisu.’ According to Wikipedia, this Finnish word is roughly trans­lated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, acting rationally in the face of adversity. It derives from sisus – something inner or interior – and it includes a long-term element, i.e., sustained determination. In my family (my husband is of Finnish descent), we call the trait ‘stubborn determination.’ It’s usually a good thing.

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In April, Bill McKibben, speaking at Bowdoin College, spent a lot of time emphasizing the need for people to eat local foods. Around the country people have begun taking a “hundred mile challenge,” trying to eat most of their meals from food produced within a hundred-mile circle. In Maine, over 2,500 families are getting their food from 75 CSA farms this year. A group of Aroostook farmers is considering organic dairy production. At the same time, the ideas that we think are important – such as eating locally produced, organic food – are still outside the major policy debates in Augusta and in Washington.

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The other day on the radio I heard a peep or two about our precarious food system. Not to be confused with the chorus of peepers serenading us from the pond this evening, or the entertaining tree swallows flying overhead this afternoon, this was more reminiscent of the groan the old pickup makes when I load it down too heavily with fresh manure.

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Russell Libby’s message to spend $10 a week on Maine-grown or Maine-raised food is oft-repeated now. Become an ELF, advises an upbeat article in the Brunswick Times Record by Darreby Ambler.1 Ambler quotes Maine's Eat Local Foods (ELF) campaign, which reiterates Libby’s message that if people spend just $10 a week on food grown here in Maine, we'll pump as much as $100 million into Maine's economy, much of it into the hands of local family farmers.

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A spirit of freedom dwells in the hills of Montville, and if you live here for any amount of time, you get a strong sense of it. For over 200 years, the people who have lived here have valued self-reliance, independent thinking, and, above all, they have had a sense of community that is uncommon. On March 25, 2006, the town of Montville voted at its annual town meeting to include policy in its Comprehensive Plan that will effectively ban cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the town.

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The days are getting longer now. Oceans of seedlings fill greenhouses and line windowsills. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere many millions of gardens are going in: some huge; some tiny; others in between. Cows are calving; goats are gamboling; piglets squealing and sheep are running around naked. It’s springtime again. When you tip the wheelbarrow and spread compost over the moist soil, you are participating in a tradition of organic farming and gardening that predates Nearing, Rodale, Steiner, Johnny’s, Fedco and Pinetree.

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Organic farmers, gardeners and consumers filled a large meeting room and overflowed into the hallway at MOFGA’s annual meeting in January. Our executive director, Russell Libby, noted that this probably was the most populous meeting to be held at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show. Our president, John Bunker, reported that MOFGA serves over 5,200 individual, family and business members; that MOFGA has 301 certified-organic farmers; and that last year about 45 MOFGA apprentices farmed and learned on about 30 farms. Maine has over 60 farmers’ markets, he added; over 60 Community Supported Agriculture farms (many run by MOFGA members) and over 60 natural foods stores.

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It’s early February as I write, but the ground outside the MOFGA offices is missing its blanket of snow. For the past two months, as I take my evening walk, the stream on the hillside has been running almost half the nights, often running as fast as it would at spring thaw. There’s already talk of tapping maple trees. Maybe this is what winter will be like in a world of climate change.

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Garfield and Venette King live in downtown Fort Kent. They are retired. Every September when I take a trip north to explore the gardens and orchards of Aroostook County, I include a visit to their Page Street home. Sometimes Garfield takes us on a fruit exploring trip into the surrounding countryside. Just as often, however, we spend an hour or two exploring their yard. That’s how long it takes.

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Right now, the Maine Department of Agriculture is updating the state’s 20-year-old food policy. I’ve been pushing for the policy to include some relatively bold statements. Maine should have the capacity to provide 80% of the calories needed by its citizens. We should have healthy food available to all. We need to build alliances between fishermen and farmers. So far, these statements are not too controversial, and the department agrees in direction if not specific language. But when I push the “O” word, caution sets in.

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John Walton, son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, died when his ultralight aircraft crashed in June. Any death brings sadness, but what also caught my eye in articles about Walton’s death was his “worth,” estimated at $20 billion. Why would anyone need or even want $20 billion, and what does it mean to be “worth” $20 billion?

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I must be stuck in a re-run of Little House on the Prairie. Swirling skirts, bearded men, organic women. I sat paralyzed in an itchy, 1970s tweed chair positioned in the corner of a small, rustic dance hall in rural Maine. Once again, this is what my ebullient Aunt Nancy had deemed a good time.

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Do we want Maine agriculture to look, as much as possible, just like agriculture in the rest of the country, or can we carve out an approach to agriculture and fisheries that distinguishes us – in terms of crops, tastes, varieties, how food is grown, management of coastal estuaries, links between farmers and fishermen – from the rest of the country?

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Recently I've been asking around to find out what people think about local agriculture. I thought you might enjoy hearing the results of the official survey. The governor and Ms. Baldacci love local agriculture. They've got their own vegetable garden in Augusta, right at the Blaine House. They even put up a greenhouse for 'four-season' gardening. Ms. Baldacci has been working hard to get local food into our schools.

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Much of what you need (maybe even most, or all) is at the Common Ground Country Fair: yarn from Maine-raised sheep, to knit into warm winter socks; fresh produce at the Farmers' Market for an evening meal, or storage crops for the months ahead; talks and demonstrations that will inspire you to grow a better garden and a better world. This past year, that better world seems to have taken root and flourished – at least as it relates to organic agriculture.

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A complex biological revolution is ready to blossom-and just in time, as the dinosaur, oil-fueled revolution approaches extinction. The flame kindled by cheap oil won't burn much longer, and its demise is actually a good thing, potentially saving us from global warming and pollution … not to mention war.

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In at least one of his many books on the nature of life, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes of the "Five Remembrances." Number five is my favorite: "My actions are my only true belongings. I can not escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand."

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In the spring we are filled with optimism, and we tend to think that what we do will succeed, and last. Each time we plant a tree, we want it to grow and thrive. I know when I plant an apple or pear in my small orchard, I've thought about my daughters, and beyond, as potential eaters, long after I'm gone. With a tree, it's easy to visualize that long-term growth, and its potential use and impact.

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It’s a pretty good bet that anyone reading The MOF&G is a fan of agriculture in some form or another. In that sense – and probably in others – we are a community. For over 30 years MOFGA members have worked together to create an organization that has acted as Maine’s primary advocate and educator for those pursuing organic agriculture. It’s wonderful to be part of this community. But I’d like to suggest that this community is, in fact, far larger than the MOFGA membership.

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Many years ago, reading one of Wendell Berry’s poems, I was struck by a statement that said the work of farming is to leave the farmer with ‘a better head.’ Now, as I walk through our young orchard on my way to cut next winter’s firewood, I feel as though I’m starting to understand.

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Both Lynn Miller, in his 2004 Common Ground Country Fair keynote speech, and Vern Grubinger, in his 2004 Farmer to Farmer keynote speech, urged listeners to spend more time on positive actions than on fighting Goliath … although the latter requires some attention, possibly even gorilla-type activities, according to Miller.

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Twenty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1984, the Union Carbide chemical pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, exploded. The world’s worst chemical disaster killed tens of thousands and injured more than half a million. Forty-one tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas, used to formulate the insecticide Sevin, crept through poor neighborhoods of Bhopal following the explosion; to this day, 150,000 people continue to suffer with coughs, cataracts, gynecological disorders, poor growth and more.

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I spent part of one fall afternoon bringing firewood from some of the piles scattered around the edges of our woodlot. I always have more piles to gather, but never quite enough stored to take us through the winter, so we always depend on our neighbors and the larger community to supply firewood so that we can make it through the winter. That dependence ties us to a wider circle.

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Usually in my editorials I ask you to support local, organic farmers by buying their products – directly, if possible. Today I’m asking you to support your farmers indirectly by supporting MOFGA.

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I’m always intrigued by the “glass half-full, glass half-empty” analogy. It’s always seemed to me to be such a static way of seeing the world, as if nothing has happened before and nothing is going to happen next. I’m always wondering what’s about to be poured into the glass, or if someone’s elbow is about to knock it over accidentally.

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The Navaho believe that “the life process is a complex order of relationships in which balance is achieved through the interaction of negative and positive relationships,” according to Nancy C. Maryboy and David H. Begay. Can any phenomenon illustrate this concept more than the fact that pollen is positively charged and is attracted to the negative charge of the stigma on female flowers?

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As I travel throughout the state, and in my phone conversations, I keep having different versions of the same conversation: “Is what we’re doing really making a difference?” My answer is: “Yes!”

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1. It’s Subversive. Well, maybe that’s overstated, but not much. I’m not talking about the government, I’m talking about being subversive against corporations, and buying locally definitely helps to keep you off the radar of corporations.

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There are dangerous people in Maine who threaten our economy, if not our society. Some of these people may be in your own town. Consider Vernon and Viola who live in the old farmhouse down the road. They tend a neat vegetable garden and can, freeze and root cellar much of their winter needs.

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The little girl who told me, during one of our woods walks, that “bark is like tree-shirts” is now voting age and will soon graduate from high school and head for McGill University in Montreal (absentee ballot in hand).

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The 2002 Census of Agriculture estimates for Maine agriculture are about to be released, and they are likely to show a continuing decline in the number of farms, the acres of land in production, and an increase in the average age of farmers. The 1997 Census estimated $8.3 million in farm-to-consumer direct market sales of food, a number that may approach $20 million with the 2002 report. Meanwhile, Stew Smith at the University of Maine estimates those same sales at $50 million or more.

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I suppose it was only a matter of time until Mad Cow disease (or Bovine Spongiforn Encephalopathy – BSE) made it to the United States, and now it’s here. At least we know about this disease. Let’s look at what we know.

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Back in frigid January, the cats crouched on the greenhouse bench, staring down the white, frozen ground through the greenhouse windows as if they’re willing spring to come – the same way they stare at the back door with a faith that sooner or later someone will open it to let them out, or in, or out …. January was a good time to sit by the wood stove and catch up on reading, looking for bits of faith-propping news. Here are a few.

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Every year my wife and I look forward to the Fair. We look forward to seeing friends, dancing, eating great food in the common kitchen, learning new things, and the chance to share our lives with others through our work with Earthways. Most of all, we look forward to the gathering of positive energy, positive thought, and like-minded folks whom we love and relate to.

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Frank Eggert, MOFGA board president in 1981 and 1982, died at the age of 83 in late October. Frank brought great credibility to MOFGA as one of the first land grant university scientists to research organic foods (in the late 1970s).

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The best part of being MOFGA’s executive director is getting to see what all of you are doing, and sometimes to get a glimpse of how all the pieces fit together. Of course the hardest part of the job is figuring out how to get some of the pieces to fit when they seem to be going in different directions. I thought I’d give a brief overview of how a few parts are going now.

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My middle-school-age son is studying the transition of humans from nomadic hunter-gatherers to stable agrarian societies. I benefit by learning once again (or even for the first time) about events that contributed to human civilization: the discovery of metals; development of language; learning how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals; and so on.

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Children's Garden ParadeWell, it’s finally here – time for the Fair!! If you’re not excited about the Fair already, then you need to talk to my daughter Katie. Katie is nine years old, and this will be her fifth Fair where she has volunteered for the whole weekend. And she can’t wait!

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Two thousand years ago, when Hippocrates articulated the fundamental guide for physicians, the guide was a clear statement of a starting point. Now we need to extend his philosophy to our larger, more complex world, healing both individuals and society.

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Leave it to MOFGA member Peter Baldwin to take his time answering my question, “What’s new?” He ate a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, thinking the whole time, before responding, “Well, I’m putting biodiesel in my truck now, and I switched to green electricity.” What a gratifying response in this time of appalling national news!

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Over the last 18 months, most Maine dairy farmers have seen their monthly milk checks drop by a third. The end of the Northeast Dairy Compact, high milk protein imports, and growing inventories of cheese and butter have pushed milk prices down to 1978 levels.

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It’s gardening season! Hurray!! I know that for many of the folks reading this (and certainly for the one writing this), gardening is our reason for being. I garden, therefore I am. Those who can’t garden thrive now when they enjoy the tasty, fresh vegetables at the farmers’ market and in the local health food stores.

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I was born in northern Iran, on what some call the “axis of evil,” and I want to tell you about a kind of true homeland security. There is much talk about bioterrorism and how to safeguard our system of food and agriculture from terrorists. But if we look around us, we see that the forces systematically destroying American agriculture are almost entirely domestic: nitrogen pollution of our streams, atrazine in our drinking water, farm policies that kill independent businesses and small towns, genetic manipulation for profits and power, and monopolization of agricultural markets by a few global corporations.

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Consider this: Of the 250 certified organic farms in Maine, 50 rely heavily on the 50 independent natural food stores in the state to provide outlets for their produce – and the number of independent natural food stores is shrinking as the big box chains take more and more of their business.

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As if we needed another reason to buy local, organic, Maine produce in season – here’s one more, nevertheless. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that perchlorate, the main explosive ingredient in rocket and missile fuel, may be concentrating in lettuce and other vegetables that are irrigated by Colorado River water.

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It’s a new year. New USDA regulations are in place. New farmers who have never farmed before are sitting at home on this blizzarding day, thinking about growing crops in their fields, and I already know of three new local restaurants that want to sell those farm products when they’re ready. And we are lucky, because the organic food grown in Maine is the best in the nation, and we get to eat it.

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This editorial by Russell Libby was published in the Spring 2003 edition of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener newspaper. Read the article ...

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The annual meeting of MOFGA, held in January at the Agricultural Trades Show, indicated the many ways in which our organization has matured. The room full of involved MOFGA members, many voicing excellent suggestions for the association during the meeting, was one such indication. Another was the number of members who are willing to serve on MOFGA’s board and who bring impressive experience in farming, gardening, marketing, business and public policy to the board. A third was the number and depth of committee and program reports.

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Marigolds illustration by Jean Ann Pollard“In the beginning – ” Ah, yes. As the year unfolds, and along with it fresh peas, strawberries and crisp greens, one is reminded that America, “in the beginning,” was an entire nation of gardeners. But, as William Woys Weaver points out in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, the country became heavily industrialized in the nineteenth century, and much of it “lost its daily contact with the land.”

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Recently, in an Atlantic Monthly review of Fore Street restaurant in Portland, food critic Corby Kummer called Maine “a veritable Bay Area of the East.” Kummer is referring not only to all the terrific chefs in Maine who are creating fantastic dishes, such as Sam Hayward at Fore Street, but also to the ingredients.

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It seems to me that elections are as good a time as any to step back and look at what’s ahead – or at least to try to set some clear goals for the future. Since I’m writing without the advantages of knowing who won, these goals for Maine agriculture and for organic agriculture within Maine don’t have anything to do with a particular candidate.

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The most significant book I’ve read in a long time is The Farm as Natural Habitat – Reconnecting Food Systems with Ecosystems, edited by Dana L. Jackson and Laura L. Jackson and with a foreword by Nina Leopold Bradley. The organic movement, then community supported agriculture, season extension and rotational intensive grazing, encouraged farmers to take leaps toward more sustainable operations. The Jacksons’ tenet that we should amplify the importance of farm ecosystems will prompt the next big stride toward sustainability.

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So many people know about and attend the Common Ground Country Fair that sometimes I’m surprised when the same people aren’t familiar with MOFGA’s role in the Fair, or with MOFGA’s other year-round activities. I’d like to take this opportunity to describe some of the other roles MOFGA plays in the sustainable agriculture movement in Maine.

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A fine shading exists between trust and confidence, and we as a society have to deal with that shading. Recent Congressional actions are supposed to rebuild our confidence in the stock market and make us more willing to invest. Meanwhile the Financial Times newspaper identifies literally dozens of people who have made over $10 million while driving their companies into bankruptcy.

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Remember the old saying, “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves?” The same philosophy can apply to agriculture: Take care of the neighborhood, and the world will take care of itself; feed the neighborhood, and the world will feed itself.

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This spring marked two major milestones in pesticides regulation in Maine. The first was the release of a report on pesticides sales and use in Maine that, while still in need of much more work, is already far more comprehensive than previous reports and reveals far greater quantities of pesticides on our land, in our air, and, ultimately, leaching into our waters than ever thought before.

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Since the USDA is showing a little more interest in organics, at least to the extent of implementing uniform national standards for organic foods, I've been paying more attention to U.S. farm policy and its impact on farmers in Maine and beyond.

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I had to laugh one day when I walked into the Belfast Co-op Store and the first thing I saw was a big pile of golden yellow, organic bananas – with Dole stickers on each bunch! How, I wondered, will Dole convince shoppers that it abides by the fifth principle of organic production recommended by the USDA National Organic Standards Board? That principle states: "Organic production and handling systems strive to achieve agro-ecosystems that are ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable."

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This past year, MOFGA worked hard to achieve long envisioned goals. Strong membership support, dedicated staff, and an unwavering vision of sustainable local agriculture resulted in great successes in 2001.

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For those of us who are figuring out the implications of the Federal government's involvement in organic foods, interest is growing in emphasizing the "local" part of our "local, organic" foods message. Farmers and buyers are not abandoning organic production practices, but the idea that organic food from anywhere in the world is preferred over something from next door is certainly open to challenge.

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Contrary to such expressions as "dumb animal" and "dumb as an ox," animals may tell us a lot when they exhibit certain behaviors. If your animals are off their feed, for example, check to see whether their grain is moldy. That was one bit of advice from toxicologist LeBelle Hicks, who spoke about mycotoxins (toxins produced by fungi and sometimes present in grains) at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show in January.

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Wool productsSo how about wool, anyway? Here is a wonderful natural fiber that grows on the backs of gentle animals, who, Shmoo-like,* provide meat and manure, and even milk and cheese. When sheep are rotated through pastures, they improve the land and keep the farm open – and yet, the use of wool for clothing and blankets seems to be disappearing, as are the sheep.

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Two months have past since September 11, as I write this, and we’re all struggling with the repercussions. For me, the tragedy and the aftermath have been both disheartening and clarifying. We all witnessed the result of anger carried to extreme. And, unfortunately, we saw it over and over again, as if seeing the images of the planes and buildings once wasn’t too much. The political debate that followed has been promoted as the solution, one that all of us have to support if the nation is to be successful.

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Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has said that “overcoming poverty, inequality, greed, and cynicism will be the great human challenges of the twenty-first century.” Can you imagine a world without poverty, inequality, greed and cynicism? I think it would look something like the Common Ground Country Fair.

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Little did we know that in the waning weeks of the Clinton administration, Bruce Babbitt’s Interior Department was championing our concerns over biotech risks. In a low profile but definitely high stakes move, the agency in charge of federal lands broke rank from the lockstep complacency of the rest of administration over the future of biotech and the adequacy of federal oversight.

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Eventually, we’ll figure out how to connect the pieces in a way that makes sense. In June, Scott Howell, a MOFGA board member and organic farmer from Blue Hill, called with a question about the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. A local store had a sign indicating that WIC coupons couldn’t be used to buy organic food, which definitely had Scott asking questions. Now I have a few answers, but they don’t add up.

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The title of this message may sound obvious, since the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has organized the Common Ground Country Fair for 25 years. What I really mean is that the Fair itself is a living metaphor for organic agriculture, not simply a demonstration of its virtues.

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Posted roads, lambing stories, and seedlings in the window – it is spring, the Maine version, as I write this. Political leaders were meeting in Quebec to discuss forming a “Free Trade Area of the Americas,” while protesters reminded them that “free” trade is not without a cost.

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Stories abound about people who don’t know how or where potatoes grow (see our Volunteer Profile in this issue), how milk gets into cartons, or how to do with less. So I’ve been heartened by a few experiences I’ve had with my family lately.

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In February, my daughter, Saima, and I visited Waldo County’s Sister City of San Nicolas, Nicaragua. As Saima and I flew from Boston to Houston and then from Houston to Managua, we saw brown field after brown field. Upon descending to change planes in Texas, we got a closer look at huge expanses of bare, erosion-prone, leaching-prone, non-photosynthesizing tracts of farm land, even in a subtropical climate in the “developed” United States. And we need biotech to feed the world?

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August will mark 30 years of MOFGA, and it seems to me that the need for our perspective on the world may be greater than it’s been since the beginning.

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I want to thank the board and the membership for offering me the great honor and responsibility of being MOFGA’s president. I specifically want to thank Sharon Tisher for her outstanding term as president.

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We are all pieces of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle – four-dimensional, if you include time – and we all matter. That’s what I’ve been thinking as I’ve put this issue of The MOF&G together.

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In 1953, J.I. Rodale made a quick trip to England and to some of the early organizers of the Soil Association. He recorded his observations in An Organic Trip to England (1954, Rodale Press). I don’t have time to write a book, so I’m using my editorial space to share a few observations from a short visit to England in early January, when Eliot Coleman and I attended the Soil Association annual meeting and had three days of whirlwind farm visits.

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For many years we in MOFGA liked to think of ourselves as separate from the big farm policy discussions that take place every five years in Washington. The Farm Bill was about the big farmers in the Midwest, and didn’t have much impact on what a small vegetable farmer in Maine might be doing. We were busy building our own world of local markets and connections with consumers.

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As I sit down to write, I have a startling revelation: This is my last President’s letter. In January, I turn over the helm to Eric Rector, biologist, creator of our web site, prize-winning chef, and organic gardener and animal husbander. It’s been a whirlwind two years, full of challenges and projects that kept all of us very busy and very enthused.

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An MOF&G reader asks: How can I afford to buy organic food? Here are some suggestions. First, make sure you get everything you can out of your garden. Nothing will lower your food bill more – by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars – than growing your own fruits and vegetables.

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With the Presidential campaign now centerstage, we're hearing mostly about big solutions. I thought it would be fun to think about what we are able to do, individually and together, to make a difference.

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Seven years ago, Jean English first asked me to report on the Board of Pesticides Control for this paper. I’ve stuck with the job ever since, and I’d be the first to admit that it’s been both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because, however "routine" many of the Board’s actions come to seem after a while, what they do is really at the cutting edge of the clash between human health and the environment on one hand, and business (including agricultural) interests on the other. Frustrating because too often I’ve seen the economic interests (as in short term profits, and long term ecological costs) win out.

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The pesticide treadmill has become a pesticide-genetic engineering rollercoaster, as evidenced by genetically engineered Bt cotton and canola. The cotton apparently is gourmet fare for stink bugs, which Monsanto says can be taken care of with such deadly insecticides as methyl parathion. And three varieties of GE canola have, on their own, in the field, combined their GE genes to produce new plants that contain all three of the once separate genes for resistance to herbicides. The recommended solution to these triple-herbicide-resistant plants popping up where they’re not wanted? Spray the rogue canola with 2,4-D – yet another toxic pesticide.

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Earlier this year, MOFGA wrote to each of our representatives in Congress, asking them to cosponsor the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act [HR 3377 and S 2080]. Our letter, reprinted in the last issue of The MOF&G, traced the history of Maine citizens’ concern and legislative initiatives on GE labeling, back to 1993, before a single genetically engineered food or food ingredient had yet hit the supermarket shelves.

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Perspectives matter. Last year, the United Plant Savers printed a piece that discussed the various ages to which plants (or their clonal descendants) can live. I was struck by the notion that a clump of lilies-of-the-valley can live for 670 years.

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Are your children breathing clean air? This question has come front and center in our small town of Lincolnville, as a very toxic fungus (Stachybotrys chartarum), harmful bacteria, high CO2 concentrations and asbestos have been found in our school during air quality testing and building inspection in preparation for renovating the school.

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Say: What if you regard it as a donation to the agricultural workers, land, wildlife, neighbors, water supply, children’s health and everyone’s nervous system and hormone balance?

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As I was thinking of what to say at MOFGA's Annual Meeting on January 11, my thoughts kept coming back to a book I am rereading for a seminar I am teaching this semester: Sandra Steingraber's stunningly sensible Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. Steingraber explores the growing chemicalization of our economy since mid-century and its connection to a 35% increase in incidence of cancers, excluding lung cancers. Add lung cancer and the increase is 50 percent.

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Like many of you, I sometimes stop and look at what's happening in the big world around us and wonder whether I make a difference – whether there's really any chance of changing the big trends moving us towards centralization and consolidation. That line of questioning rarely lasts more than 30 minutes before the next idea pops in my head.

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Well, not much. However, I did read an article about Wal-Mart, maybe in the November issue of Money magazine, that covered, among other things, Wal-Mart’s outstanding inventory control system.

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First of all, applause and the highest praise for Heather Spalding and the MOFGA staff, the Fair Steering Committee, the Planning Team, the Traffic and Parking Committee, and the 1400 volunteers for executing a flawless Fair. And thanks to all of you who gave so generously in money, in labor, and in kind so that the Common Ground could be our place for this extraordinary celebration.

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Advertising people say that you know your message is getting through when you're so tired of repeating it that you're ready to stop. Not that we're tired, but it's always fun to see some results.

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One night I get a call from Peter Vido, a New Brunswick grower with intense thoughts and feelings about scythes. He wants to write an article for The MOF&G. I prepare to give him my email address, and he says, “Wait a minute, my candle’s almost burned out.”

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Sharon Tisher's Swiss “Tuscher” family ancestorsI’m writing from Bern, the capital of Switzerland and home of our AFS exchange student, Simon Dalla Torre. I’ve been spending the last three weeks with our children in Paris and Bern. While we’ve done plenty of the usual tourist things, what I’ve most enjoyed is my informal and very tasty study of the European food system.

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Rosa and Russell LibbyOrganic 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.

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“When you insert a gene into a DNA by using genetic modification, you have no idea where the gene goes – it’s absolutely a shot in the dark. These random mutagenic events can cause plants or crops to produce new toxins, new allergens, or they can reduce the nutritional value of the food … there’s no way to predict their effects. – John Fagan, founder, Genetic ID Inc.

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Some thoughts on reading “Hope for Alleviating International Hunger” in the June-August issue of The MOF&G, about the ECHO farm in Fort Myers, Florida, where “development” workers from other agencies learn about tropical food gardening, and where hard-to-get tropical seeds are sent to groups that need them: There is another side to this “international hunger” story that we should be aware of.

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As I was immersed over the last couple of months in the issue of the moment – trying to get a biotech labeling bill passed in Maine – I realized it was time to stop, take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. I don’t mean melting polar ice caps, though that’s certainly important (see the article on global warming in this paper); I mean the big picture of what MOFGA was, is, and should become.

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A first step towards a sustainable cuisine is to acknowledge that we don’t have one now. The current source of our food is both everywhere and nowhere – everywhere because affluent consumers can buy food from anywhere in the world, and nowhere because there is no personal connection that traces the food back to a particular farmer’s field.

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It’s early May, and I’m enjoying the most wonderful spring I can remember since moving to Maine. The asparagus is calling me from the garden; I’ve been outside planting something every day; the kids are kicking the soccer ball around, the chickens are feasting on compost, cats are rolling in the garden soil …

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I’m deeply honored to be elected President of MOFGA. To the membership I’d first like to say that I hope you’ll always let me know your thoughts and concerns about the organization and its work. To MOFGA’s staff and all of its volunteers I’d like to add my personal thanks and congratulations for the miracle that was the first Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

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This is the time of year when we can let our dreams be large. I like to leave them that way for a few weeks before I acknowledge that I can never accomplish all that I want within the year ahead, and then make the needed adjustments. Each of us changes direction hundreds of times each year, but we still keep a picture of where we want to be.

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Two massive freight trains are speeding toward us. One is powered by the Y2K engine, the other by genetic engineering. Conductors are trying to pull the brakes on the first but are fueling the engine on the second. What’s an individual to do?

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E. coli 0157:H7, that deadly little pathogen. The latest news from Cornell University’s illustrious researchers tells how to get rid of this killer: Take beef critters out to pasture for five weeks before slaughter, and they are magically freed of the bacteria. This news came to me from the business section of the Bangor Daily News a few weeks ago.

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Wow. After two years of going full steam ahead to get ready for the first Common Ground Country Fair, I finally had a chance to sit and think for a while about what we’ve just done.

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The first-year, succulent green leaves of the bayberry bushes cling to the plant as winter approaches, while older leaves fell more than a month ago. Calendula blooms into November while other flowers have long ago faded. Like Persephone, who headed south for six months of the year, most of life seems to huddle close to earth come winter. We miss the fruits and flowers but still take comfort in knowing that until the coldest days, a multitude of organisms is working in the soil, under the mulch and throughout the compost to condition the ground that will nourish these fruits and flowers again.

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Bob SewallIt’s early July when I write this, and the summer growing season is far ahead of schedule. My blueberries are eight to ten days earlier than in previous years. While one can never plan a season by the calendar, plenty of old sayings help us gauge the progress of our crops. For example: “You can usually hand-pick a quart of blueberries by the fourth of July.”

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Wow! The countdown to Unity has reached small numbers now. I hope you’ll all be pleased with the progress we’ve made in building a new home for MOFGA and the Common Ground Country Fair. Please try to join us in our celebration.

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Fifteen years ago, I was being lectured by my department chairman at a Land Grant University that I must not use the word ‘organic’ in reference to agriculture, or even to gardening, and that I had a responsibility to recommend synthetic chemicals. After the third lecture, I decided to hit the road before they threw me out. This was a trying time for me. If only I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen … Unity.

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