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MOF&G Cover Fall 1999

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerFall 1999News – Fall 1999   
 News & Events – Fall 1999 Minimize


Landowners Seek Rugged, Patient, Organic Journeyperson(s)
Global Warming Conference: An Organic Perspective
Agroforestry Conference – Income Opportunities from Your Back Yard
Targeting Toxins
No Hibernation for Black Bear Food Guild


Landowners Seek Rugged, Patient, Organic Journeyperson(s)

How can large, coastal properties with poor soils and/or extensive wetlands provide income and be kept on the tax rolls without being “developed?” That is the challenge facing Lowell & Co., owners of a 600-acre parcel in Corea, in Gouldsboro, Maine. It is also the question Lowell posed to MOFGA last fall.

Since then modest progress has been made. Research suggests that wild cropping, medicinal berry propagation, careful harvesting of some wetland plant species, and growing select medicinal varieties could create an income base … provided a “journeyperson” or persons can be found to help spark the idea and work the land. The owners hope that the journeyperson can develop a model approach so that marginal Maine land is conserved rather than subdivided and developed.

Such persons should be “rugged, patient, organic types with woods experience, botanical interests, and a desire to experiment!” If you fit this profile, or are interested in learnng more about this project, please contact Brian Kent at 207-582-1718 or write to him at 37 Brunswick Ave., Gardiner ME 04345.

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Global Warming Conference: An Organic Perspective

By Sharon Tisher

While U.S. and British researchers reported that global warming has speeded up the melting of two Antarctic ice shelves, which lost nearly 1,100 square miles in the last year (London AP, April 9), 300 Mainers convened in Lewiston on April 7 and 8 to discuss the implications for Maine lives and businesses. The conference, sponsored by 50 groups, including the Coalition for Sensible Energy, the Maine Audubon Society, the State Planning Office, the Maine Chamber and Business Alliance, and Bangor Gas, focused on what can be done in Maine to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier efforts in Maine to address this issue have been undertaken by the Maine Climate Change Task Force, an EPA-funded organization spearheaded by the State Planning Office and the University of Maine, which has developed an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in Maine and is analyzing policy options for reducing those emissions. Sometimes plagued by controversy and dissension, the Task Force has a draft action plan that is undergoing extensive revision. The April 7 conference was designed to improve the quality of the dialogue in Maine about the appropriate response to climate change.

Despite the presence of a few protesters outside of the conference headquarters, coordinator Pam Person was enthusiastic about the results: “I think we gave [the Task Force] a jump start in terms of how to do it at the beginning without getting people mad.” Tufts University Professor of International Environmental Policy William Moomaw focused on the basic global problem: Two centuries of fossil fuel combustion have raised the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere by nearly 30 percent. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide traps heat on the surface of the earth like a greenhouse, raising temperatures, melting polar ice, and raising the sea level.

Meteorologist Cliff Michaelsen told the audience that his research has shown that the average low temperature in southern Maine has increased by 4 degrees in the last 100 years. Joe Kelley, a professor of geology at the University of Maine, said that the current rise in sea level along the Maine coast is “unprecedented in our century.”

An international agreement reached in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 called upon the industrial nations of the world to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The goal for the United States is to lower its carbon dioxide emissions 7% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. In the face of the U. S. Senate declaration that it will refuse to ratify this agreement, Professor Moomaw argued for state and local initiatives for “implementation without ratification: Individuals, institutions, municipalities and companies need not wait for government to act now to protect our future. It is we who will have to act in any case, so why wait for the government. We can begin to implement the Kyoto goals as soon as we leave this meeting.”

On the second day of the conference, participants did just that – in virtual reality. In a policy making game designed expressly for the conference, participants were presented with the whole gamut of emissions reduction options under consideration by the Global Climate Change Task Force, were asked to discuss them in small groups and to vote their choices. The players ultimately came up with a “menu” of options, both national and local, that more than met Maine’s portion of the Kyoto emission reduction goal. Choices approved by a majority of the 100-plus players included raising average fuel efficiency standards for new automobiles, redirecting highway funds from repair to alternative transportation strategies, promoting solar generation for power and heat, and requiring a percentage of electric generation to be by renewable energy sources.

The Organic Perspective

In a panel on Farms and Food Supply, MOFGA’s president, Sharon Tisher, argued that Maine organic growers were more than pulling their weight in planning and advocacy for greenhouse gas reductions. While other sectors of Maine agriculture are focused on developing national and international markets, MOFGA is going “in the opposite direction,” emphasizing the development of local markets for local producers. MOFGA estimates that 84% of our food dollar goes out of state to purchase trucked in products. The added environmental costs of trucking, while not reflected in supermarket prices, clearly shows up in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.

Tisher praised the potential benefits of the “other greenhouse effect,” the emergence of commercial four-season growing in the Northeast, with greenhouses that don’t consume fossil fuels. Tisher noted the keen interest of farmers in Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Vermont at MOFGA’s recent conference on four-season growing and discussed Eliot Coleman’s pioneering efforts in opening this new dimension to Maine agriculture. Coleman has calculated energy consumption comparisons for his method of winter lettuce production versus the cost of importing a head of lettuce from California by truck. The energy “consumed” in Coleman’s production is primarily reflected in the 1 square foot of 6 mil polyethylene greenhouse plastic, which lasts for three years and enables both a spring and a fall crop. The “embodied energy” of that plastic – energy used in raw materials, production, and delivery – for each head of lettuce is 203 BTU. By contrast, the energy consumption represented by the proportionate share one head of lettuce of a semi-tractor-trailer truckload driven 3200 miles from California is 3034 BTU – not even counting costs of truck manufacture, refrigeration unit manufacture, highway construction and maintenance, and pollution costs of burning 582 gallons of diesel fuel (Coleman, Farming the Back Side of the Calendar, 1998).

Panel Moderator David Smith, U. Maine Professor Emeritus of Quaternary Studies, praised MOFGA’s focus on local production for a local population. Commenting on the luncheon served to conference participants at the Ramada Conference Center, Smith observed, “Did you notice where that food came from? We’re Maine people, meeting about the Maine environment, and we should have a right to demand to be served Maine food!” Smith said that during his long tenure as a professor at Orono, he had met with “one University of Maine president after another, about the importance of supporting Maine agriculture by buying Maine food.” The people in charge of University food services still, Smith bemoaned, “don’t think that way.”

New Research on the Benefits of Organic Soils

Organic farming may be an even bigger part of the solution to global warming. In a study reported in the November 19, 1998, issue of Nature, the Rodale Institute reported on its 14-year comparison of organic with conventional cropping systems, focusing on “carbon sequestration.” Carbon sequestration is the ability of different soils to retain carbon. The more carbon that is captured by plants and retained in soils, the less carbon is available to contribute to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The study compared corn/soybean rotations in two organic cropping systems – one using manure and the other composted legumes for fertilizer – and a conventional system using pesticides and chemical fertilizer. While the economic profitability of all three systems was comparable over the past 10 years, the study found significant increases in soil carbon levels over the 14 years in both organic systems, with no significant increase in the conventional system.

Extrapolating the measured differences to a larger scale, the report concluded that if the major corn/soybean growing region in the United States adopted either of the organic cropping systems, soil carbon sequestration would increase by 0.13 to 0.30 x 1014 grams per year, which would be “equal to 1 to 2% of the estimated annual carbon released into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion in the USA.” (L.E. Drinkwater, et.al, “Legume-based cropping systems have reduced carbon and nitrogen losses,” Nature, Vol. 396, Nov. 19, 1998.) In the distant future, if national policy makers work seriously to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this could conceivably mean money in organic farmers’ pockets.

A recent article in the journal of the American Agricultural Economics Association argues that farmers may benefit from the development of a market for carbon emissions, structured like the market for sulfur emissions created by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. Under this market, polluters who find it too costly to reduce their emissions can pay others who can reduce emissions more efficiently. The authors speculate: “If a market evolves for greenhouse gas emissions, those who are now contributing to carbon emissions may be willing to pay others to sequester carbon (remove it from the atmosphere) as a permanent offset to emissions, or as a means of buying time to invest in technologies needed to reduce emissions.” Apparently unaware of the research at the Rodale Institute, the article focuses simply on added carbon sequestering that could be accomplished by adoption of best management practices by conventional farmers. The authors estimate that by adopting best management practices, farmers could sequester an additional 200 million metric tons of carbon per year and could “sell” those tons to polluters on an emissions market for “$4 to $6 billion/year, or up to 10 % of typical net farm income.” (R. Sandor and J. Skees, “Creating a Market for Carbon Emissions: Opportunities for U.S. Farmers, Choices, FirstQuarter 1999.)

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Agroforestry Conference – Income Opportunities from Your Back Yard

You have a beautiful wooded back yard. Ever wonder how to reap financial rewards as well as the peace and quiet your green space provides? Several Resource Conservation and Development Areas throughout Maine and New England are collaborating to present a new and exciting agroforestry conference to be held September 9 - 11, 1999, in Portland, Maine, that could answer that very question.

Income Opportunities from Specialty Products – Agroforestry in the Northeast is the event formerly referred to as Redefining Forestry for the Northeast. This conference will be held at the Radisson Eastland Hotel in the historic Old Port section of Portland. Funding for the conference comes in part from the National Agroforestry Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Traditional agroforestry is a group of practices that combine trees and shrubs with crop or livestock operations to help create more integrated, diverse and sustainable farms and communities. This conference will explore many new and exciting practices for landowners. Workshops include ginseng growing, brown ash basketry, harvesting craft products and supplies, forest gardens, medicinal uses of trees and wild mushrooms, forest foods, and other special products from the forest. Workshops will also address exporting agroforestry products and Fast Track Entre­preneurial Training. Traditional agroforesty topics will be covered as well.

On Saturday, conference goers may participate in workshops or attend the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine Field Day at nearby Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook. Twenty-one, one-hour sessions are planned.

For information about the conference, check www.me.nrcs.usda.gov//ttmercd or contact either the Time & Tide RC&D office in Augusta at 207-622-7847 x 192 or Threshold to Maine RC&D office in Gray at 207-657-3131.

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Targeting Toxins

Maine Toxics Action Coalition [MTAC] is a group of approximately 20 organizations that has worked for several years on the behalf of Maine citizens to highlight and resolve environmental issue pertaining to toxics. It started as the Coalition for a Dioxin Free Maine, which was formed to pass legislation that would remove dioxin from the papermaking process. While that bill eventually failed, the pressure we brought regarding that issue ultimately forced the state to pass [albeit a watered-down version] legislation on dioxin that is the toughest in the nation.

Since that time we have educated citizens about the hazards of eating fish in Maine that are contaminated with dioxin, PCBs, mercury, and other chemicals. We have posted Maine waters statewide with advisories regarding toxics in fish and have created a brochure on the hazards of eating Maine fish. Since the state has not followed through on warning people of its findings that fish are harmful to eat, especially for the most vulnerable of our population – children, nursing mothers and mothers-to-be – we have taken on that responsibility.

The answer is not to restrict one’s intake of contaminated fish. We ought to be able to eat the fish from Maine’s waters without having to weigh the risk. We should be eliminating the problem, not limiting our choices.

MTAC is working on preventive measures in conjunction with educating the public. We will expand our education to all segments of the population. Our brochure on the hazards of eating Maine fish went to 900 health care professionals who treat people in the vulnerable population. We will expand the information that we disseminate and the population to whom we distribute that information.

The Coalition is committed to bringing about a genuine reduction in the use of toxins. The Toxic Use Reduction Act that came up for renewal last year was defeated. A less effective form of the bill was passed this year. However, even though not as stringent, it does allow for more careful monitoring of businesses that use and emit toxins. This can be very helpful to the public and will enable us to pressure businesses to use alternatives to products that pollute our environment. For many companies, the conversion to non-toxic substances has not only been effective, but has also saved money.

While MTAC will further its work on statewide toxics issues, we have invited the Toxics Action Center [TAC] to open an office in Maine. The TAC helps small and large groups fight toxics issues by gathering information, educating, providing organizing assistance, group building assistance and networking and providing experts. The TAC hopes to open in September.

Maine Toxics Action Coalition includes: Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, MOFGA, NRCM, Maine People’s Alliance, AARP, Forest Ecology Network, Trout Unlimited Maine Council, and others. For more information, call 666-3372.

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Black Bear Guild and Bob Spear
Agriculture Commissioner Bob Spear receives a package of pancake mix from Michael Gold of the Black Bear Food Guild.

No Hibernation for Black Bear Food Guild

The Black Bear Food Guild, a vegetable growing operation run by students at the University of Maine at Orono, just keeps getting better. This year, using funds saved from the last two years of produce sales, it purchased a 30' x 50' Harnois greenhouse and has been able to extend its growing season as a result.

The Guild’s seven student workers (and numerous student volunteers during the school year) raise crops on land at Rogers Farm and sell them through a CSA group of 60 shareholders (a shareholder is a household, usually a couple or family or a few roommates). They also bring crops to the Orono Farmers’ Market and to local restaurants and markets. The Guild also produces a pancake mix.

Farming and schooling can be a demanding mix. Planning for the growing season takes place from January through March, then comes greenhouse production, followed by production of warm-season crops outside. “It gets tricky in May during school,” says Michael Gold, a senior this year and head of the Guild. Fall is also busy, with school and raising and harvesting greens from the greenhouse. 

Gold was pleased to meet Maine’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Bob Spear, when Spear visited the University this spring. Gold presented him with the Guild’s pancake mix and a flyer about the Guild.

Gold will finish at UM this year and then “will do more of the same somewhere else – small scale organic farming,” while the Guild goes on.

– Jean English

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