Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Meet Jean English

Editor of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, 1989-2020

Jean English

Jean English

September 2020

This is the last issue of The MOF&G that Jean will edit, after 32 years on the job. Tim Nason, who has been working for MOFGA even longer than that (see Jane Lamb’s feature about him in the January-February 1994 issue of The MOF&G), conducted the interview.

I’m still amazed that you as editor of The MOF&G continued the publication in a form that was idealized so many years prior, without us talking about it all that much. Our working relationship just seemed to happen of its own accord  (without disagreements, misunderstandings, changes in direction, etc.) and without us seeing one another more than once or twice a year, if that.

I was so lucky to have stepped into a job that had so much structure in place already, thanks to you and previous editors (especially you and Pam Bell). Our division of labor, with you doing the layout and me doing the writing and editing, has been wonderful. If I had to think about layout and get the finished product to the printer by deadline, my brain would explode.

What inspired you to become involved in the organic movement and in MOFGA?

During graduate school at UMass in the late ‘70s, I started learning about the problems with synthetic pesticides used in conventional agriculture – and about groups that were promoting alternatives. Fellow students often mentioned MOFGA, even telling me that I should go to Maine after graduation. I graduated during a recession and during a time when hundreds of people were applying for each available job, so I took the first job offered. It was with the University of Kentucky (UK), where I was not allowed to use the word “organic.” I lasted only 18 months there before my husband and I decided to move where we wanted to live instead of living where we had jobs. We came to Maine. About 10 years later, UK started educating about organic. The New England states had been ahead of the curve.

What particular interests or talents have you brought to MOFGA and how have they been expressed?

I hope I’ve been able to transfer and publicize the breadth and depth of so many MOFGA members’ expertise. When I was at UMass and UK, I saw so much research and expertise in farming that wasn’t always getting out to growers. In Maine I was (and remain) in awe of what the organic farmers, gardeners and homesteaders have learned and accomplished – without a lot of help in the beginning (although Charlie Gould and Frank Eggert of the University of Maine were great resources) but with a lot of sharing.

Also, during grad school I edited journal articles with my advisors and learned to “omit needless words,” as William Strunk admonished in “The Elements of Style.” Researchers at that time had to pay by the printed page then to have their work published, so they had to be brief to stay within budgets. That seems to have changed with online journals.

Working for a local weekly newspaper in the mid-80s also helped hone my writing skills.

I had been interested in photography since my undergraduate years, so the opportunity to photograph farms and farmers, gardens and gardeners, and crops was wonderful. Tim: What has kept you involved and motivated for so many years?

I love the MOFGA community – its friendliness and, as mentioned, its sharing nature. I have loved having a job that matches my philosophy so well. I also loved being able to work from home while raising my kids. When the job was smaller, I could do it on nights and weekends while my husband was with the kids, and I was free to spend weekdays with them. The increasing recognition of the value of organic over the years and the increasing availability of methods of organic cultivation have also been inspiring.

How do you feel you have succeeded in your work?

I hope I’ve brought interesting, useful and sometimes entertaining material to our readers through my writing and that of our staff and contributors. I’ve also helped build a library of photos for MOFGA.

Is there more work you would like to do? If so, what?

There’s always more work to do! I hope to finally have the weed-free garden I’ve always envisioned and to stay on top of taming the invasive species that have crept into our woods and landscape over the years (one problem with having a lot of woody plants and of not cultivating). I would like to organize my photos and get better at photography instead of just taking snapshots. I’ll remain involved in the MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee. And while Anna Libby will take my place as MOFGA’s representative to the Hills to Sea Trail Coalition, I’ll continue as a member-at-large there – and may even finally finish hiking the trail.

What will you miss about being so deeply involved with MOFGA when you retire?

I’ll miss the day-to-day interactions with MOFGA staffers and The MOF&G writers – all my pen pals. I’ll also miss being an intermediary in the flow of information – but at the same time I won’t miss the constant filling of my email inbox. I look forward to seeing this wonderful community in person at the 2021 Common Ground Country Fair.

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