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"When we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases."
- Michael Pollan
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MOF&G Cover Fall 2011

 


  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerFall 2011Letters   
 Letters – Fall 2011 Minimize


A Chemical Assault
Shopping at Wal-Mart to Eat at the Common Ground Fair
Fair Director Responds
Friends of Maine’s Mountains: Mountains Restore our Souls
Green Thoughts from a NIMBY
Socialized Agriculture

A Chemical Assault

To the Editor:

Most mornings, I am awakened by the sounds of songbirds, ospreys, and in the distance, loons; another beautiful morning in Penobscot.

But sometimes the sound of helicopter blades shatters the peace of the morning; they have arrived to spray pesticides on nearby blueberry fields.

How can good, hardworking people still think that spraying huge quantities of poisonous chemicals on land can be good for anyone? Chemicals that get into the soil and into nearby bodies of water. Chemicals that kill, poison, and are known to cause cancer. Who makes this decision? Why are “they” allowed to do this? Don’t I have rights as a nearby resident?

Why don’t all growers want to at least try to grow blueberries organically? How can anyone still thinks spraying synthetic chemicals on our land is good?

My mind shifts to an image that comforts me as I hear the helicopters every year. I imagine my children sitting around a dining room table. I am long gone, and they are grandparents.

My son (now grandpa) says to his grandchildren, “When I was young, I remember waking up on a beautiful spring morning in June and hearing the sounds of helicopters. Do you know what they were doing? They were spraying poisonous pesticides on the land around where I lived.”

One grandchild asks, “Why?” 

“Because then, people thought it was good to spray synthetic chemicals on blueberry crops. If they could kill weeds and insects, they would yield a bigger crop, make more money and live happily ever after. They didn’t realize that years of spraying these chemicals could sicken people who harvested or ate the blueberries, and people and animals that lived nearby.”

He then says, “Do you know, we used a word for some food then – ‘organic.’”

“What does it mean to have organic food, Grandpa?”

“It meant the food was not sprayed with synthetic chemicals.”

His grandchild responds, “Isn’t that just called food?”
 
I smile at this image. Surely, just as we no longer do many things the way they were done years ago, we will soon evolve so that synthetic pesticides are no longer used on food. I know this. There will no longer be organic food, only food.
 
I respect the hardworking blueberry farmers. We are all trying to do the best we can: Raise our families; stay healthy; keep a roof over our heads. I just wish we could do it without synthetic pesticides.

Joanne LaCarrubba Steenberg
Penobscot

 
Ed. note: Cultural controls for blueberry pests, and toxicity ratings for pesticides approved for use on blueberries (including some for organic production), are summarized at http://umaine.edu/blueberries/factsheets/insects/209-insect-control-guide-for-wild-blueberries/ and http://umaine.edu/blueberries/files/2010/05/PesticideChart-Herbicides.pdf.

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Shopping at Wal-Mart to Eat at the Common Ground Fair

To the Editor:

I have always loved the food at the Common Ground Fair. A disturbing change threatens that – and the principles and values that forged the vision of the renegades who put the first Fair together.

Guess what it is? The price. Last year, I went to a booth offering 7-inch sausage sandwiches – unapologetically – for $9. Huh? A family of two adults with four children under 12 would pay $54 for a lunch of six sausage sandwiches.

Do you want the next generation to carry on the MOFGA vision – without Wal-Mart? Of course you do. Maybe the vast sea of attendees misleads one into thinking people will never stop coming. If the Fair becomes populated by vendors of expensive stuff and New York City-priced food, the day may come when most of the cars in the traffic jam have out-of-state license plates – and don't even think the traffic is a problem.

The Fair has always been a respite from a culture of unhealthy food and expensive stuff that eventually just gets thrown out. Not when sausage sandwiches cost $8 or $9. Not when felt puppets are sold at double digits – but that's a different letter.

If food vendors continue to price food as outrageously as they did last year, parents will no longer bring their kids, or worse, will not buy them the food for sale – all prepared on elegant principle but completely unaffordable.

Please don't make goodness the sacrificial offering at the alter of money.

I offer a radical solution to keep this year's 4-, 5- and 9-year-olds experiencing the gratifying taste of real sausages and good food that they grow up aspiring to eat or raise!

The solution: Every food vendor is required to sell a "Kids under 14 eat free when accompanied by an adult" item and a "Family priced item" so that two adults and their children – no matter how many – can buy the item for under $20.

Seeding the values of the Fair by feeding the young and helping their parents afford it is the long view.

The Common Ground Fair has always been about the long view – not just the math of "number of sausages sold x $9 = take for the day.”

Thank you for listening. Hope you will work on a solution.

Regards and appreciation,

Susan Cook
Bath, Maine


Fair Director Responds

Mindful that an outing to any event, particularly for a family, can be expensive, MOFGA’s staff, volunteers and food vendors work diligently to provide a host of options for locally sourced, organic, healthy, delicious and affordable foods at the Common Ground Country Fair.

Many food vendors offer meals in the $4 to $6 range. For example, borscht soup, pad thai, pizza, and a variety of vegetarian dishes are available for $4 to $5 per serving.

Unique to Common Ground, all the fixings for a picnic are available to fairgoers from vendors at market prices in the Farmers' Market, Agricultural Products area and Maine Marketplace. Borealis is on hand with freshly baked breads, the Farmers' Market teems with fresh produce, Smith's Smokehouse has sausage and cured meats, and this year the Maine Cheese Guild will offer cheeses from its members. We are even adding a second farmers’ market, at the south end of the Fairgrounds by the Pine Gate, to expand these offerings.

Fairgoers are also welcome to bring a picnic from home, or to volunteer at the Fair and get a free meal in the volunteers’ Common Kitchen.

Plus, instead of charging $1 to $2 for a 12-ounce bottle of water, Common Ground provides fresh, clean drinking water free to all fairgoers at 10-plus drinking water stations, all outfitted with a water bottle filling faucet.

Eating at the Common Ground Country Fair can certainly be done affordably, but indeed, not all choices are bargains, nor are they meant to be. They are intended to be a good deal and a fair deal that reflects the true cost of growing and producing real food. No one is getting rich off the proceeds, let alone MOFGA, irrespective of attendance numbers. The only entity we could squeeze in order to achieve lower prices is the farmer, and that’s not a sustainable tactic.

We couldn’t agree more that it is desirable to promote and encourage lower-priced, quality food to the fullest extent possible. But forcing vendors and their local farmers and producers to take the hit to keep prices to the levels of industrial food is not a wise policy. So, in addition to promoting the long view by encouraging local connections between farmers and food vendors, we also take the wide few by providing a broad menu of options to keep Fair food and the Fair affordable, honest, delicious and accessible for generations to come.

Jim Ahearne
Fair director

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Friends of Maine’s Mountains: Mountains Restore our Souls

To the Editor:

Robert Skoglund should have done his homework on mountaintop industrial wind before sending his strange letter to The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener (June-August 2011).

Under the heading "With Friends Like These..." Skoglund labels Wilton-based Friends of Maine's Mountains a corporate-financed public relations agency against mountaintop turbines. He has the second part right. But calling Friends a corporate PR company is nuts. It is instead a grassroots group of hikers and others who cherish our mountains and are aghast at the shortsightedness of leveling and blasting miles of mountain ridges to erect nearly 2,000 450-foot-tall turbines that flash red in the night.

Skoglund suggests that Friends of Maine’s Mountains should back off and leave energy development to "scientists" who "truly understand the long-range ramifications of the issue ….” In fact, science is on the side of industrial wind opponents. The 2,000 mountaintop turbines that corporations want to build in Maine will produce less than 5 percent of our electrical grid needs – virtually all of that power shipped to Boston.

In his letter, Skoglund describes having a conversation with a "well spoken" man at a country fair booth who was distributing anti-turbine flyers by Friends of Maine's Mountains. The volunteer happened to be a lawyer by profession, a coincidence Skoglund cites as proof that Friends is a PR firm working for corporate turbine bashers. Does he really mean that?

Mr. humble Farmer, I’m afraid you have it upside-down. Friends of Maine’s Mountains, like Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, Friends of the Highland Mountains and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, are groups of common people trying to stop the subsidy-collecting mountain slayers. Your anger would be better directed against propagandists hired by corporations such as Independence Wind, First Wind, Caratunk, and Iberdrola, the Spain-based wind turbine promoter that owns CMP.

A reader of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener might ask what mountaintop wind turbines have to do with organic agriculture. They are linked. Organic farming improves soil. It produces healthy food and leaves the earth a better place. Similarly, our undeveloped mountain ridges restore the soul of civilization-tired people. They are fantastic features of the earth that cannot be improved upon and should be left alone.

Lloyd Ferriss,
Richmond, Maine
Member, Friends of Maine’s Mountains

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Green Thoughts from a NIMBY

To the Editor:

I understand and share Mr. Skoglund’s concerns about oil and nuclear fired power plants, but we need to give the same scrutiny to industrial wind power. Wind isn't a substitute for oil or nuclear; it's too erratic and requires backup. And for what we're putting into it, wind produces only about 20 percent of total use – about what we could expect from conservation. This was demonstrated in Juneau, Alaska, in 2010 when the town was forced to go on expensive backup diesel; the increased cost prompted conservation and reduced energy use by 20 percent almost overnight. Since most of Maine's wind power is to sell to Boston, we're basically trashing Maine so that Bostonians won't have to conserve.

Wind turbines are more than 400 feet high – eight or 10 times higher than the tallest nearby tree. The blades make a loud WHUMP noise. They have flashing red lights at night. They burst into flames periodically, causing forest fires. They kill thousands of birds and bats – as much as 60 times more than industry claims, according to research published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Their transmission lines are 125 feet high, and massive, made of crisscrossing steel beams. Visually they resemble a strip industrial park. The associated electromagnetic fields are considered a carcinogen.

Is this green energy? Do we really have to buy corporate America's slogans about "the clean energy of wind?” Green energy is small and local, like that little windmill in your backyard or the solar panels on your roof. But it doesn't scale up, and these windmills are huge. Think major clear cutting, roads into the wild country, mountaintop removal. Building them takes so much oil, dynamite and cement that they'll never pay back their carbon debt in this lifetime. To corporate America, industrial wind is the greatest thing since Halliburton's military contracting. But anybody who loves Maine or who worries about Peak Oil or the national debt needs to think hard. True green energy is critical. We can't afford the time, money or resources to get this wrong.

Thank you to Friends of the Highland Mountains and others who are working so hard on this and to the 47 Maine legislators who listened and voted for Maine's citizens. Better luck next time.

Sally McGuire
Carthage, Maine

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Socialized Agriculture

To Ye Editor:
 
When an elderly man was killed in a tractor accident, many people wrote letters to the editor of a Maine newspaper about how wonderful it is that a few of the old men who “worked hard to make this country great” are still out there tilling the soil.
 
Here’s an example of what we’re talking about here: “It amazes me how a 84 year old man is still out there scratching a living, while people a third of his age are always looking for a free ride. They will never replace you old timers.”
 
You probably know even more old men who would still be raising chickens or cows if multi-national agricultural conglomerates had not created an environment that makes small Maine farms either illegal or unprofitable.

You’ve read that in the past 16 years 10 percent of these mega-farms have received 74 percent of all U.S. government welfare, or over $150 billion. Hoorah for the “free ride.”

You’ve read that these big farms receiving help from the government are owned by the likes of Washington lobbyist Gerald Cassidy, NBA star Scottie Pippen, oil billionaire Lee Bass or Senator Michele Bachmann.

Ever heard of this Senator Michele Bachmann? She seems to be pushing her way to the front of the line with her hand out when it comes to our lopsided version of socialized agriculture.

One of the first things a tourist notices in Northern Europe is the large number of small productive farms. Here in Maine we are more likely to see fallen-down barns.
 
Can you guess why?
 
The humble Farmer
St. George, Maine

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