By Barbara Damrosch
As I write this it is mid-July, and one of those days when everyone says, “This is why I live in Maine.” Sunny skies, but not too hot. A little traffic, but not too much. Flower gardens burst with color, spared the blistering heat that afflicts summer perennials just about everywhere else but England. You might even say we have an English summer. Sometimes I wish we had an English winter too!
But honestly, I’m glad I live here in any season. The golden days of September are supposed to be Maine’s best-kept secret, although they are well known to the 60,000 or so visitors to our Common Ground Country Fair. Winter brings welcome quiet, but for Maine farmers, of which I am one, it is a time of creativity. MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference in November kicks it off, with a unique swapping of information with our peers. Winter’s a time for reading and thinking about better ways to farm, new crops to grow. Increasingly, it’s also a time for harvesting. In 2000 MOFGA held its first Winter Growers meeting for commercial organic farmers, with eight growers getting together to compare notes. Last year’s gathering, organized jointly with New Hampshire by Eric and Becky Sideman, drew such a crowd of year-round farmers that a large room barely contained us.
Each spring convinces us, once again, that growing food is one of the most important things we can do, and in Maine we are still blessed with farmland. Once the breadbasket of New England, Maine now has farmers sowing wheat again, combining ancient techniques with new. And the rest of New England is looking to us to feed our region. That’s a big responsibility, especially in a state with a small population. Will there be enough young farmers to take up the hoe as the average age of farmers nationwide inches upward? When I look around my own community I feel much hope, because it’s chock full of eager young men and women finding their own farming niches. They bring huge energy and enthusiasm. They’re working hard, but they’re having the time of their lives.
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. It can make Mainers, and the people they feed, healthier – or not. MOFGA is working hard to give sound, organic practices a boost in this state, and beyond. We’ve become a voice that other states listen to.
Being a local farmer is one of those situations where one person can actually make a big difference. And big changes are happening, one farmer at a time.