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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSpring 2012MOFGA Notes – Spring 2012   
 MOFGA Notes – Spring 2012 Minimize

MOFGA Staff Profile: Eric Sideman
Small Farm Field Day to be Revived
New Forester at MOFGA
MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee Empty Bowl Supper
Turn Gold into Environmental Justice
MOFGA Joins Trails Coalition
MOFGA Certification Services Produces New Newsletter
New Farmers in Residence at MOFGA
Congratulations to Jim Gerritsen
Condolences


MOFGA Staff Profile

Eric Sideman
Eric Sideman with his onion harvest. Photo by Becky Sideman.

With this issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, we begin a series of profiles of MOFGA staff members – beginning with our longtime organic “Extension Agent” Eric Sideman, who continues in that position, with a focus on organic crops.

Eric Sideman, Ph.D.
MOFGA’s Organic Crop Specialist

When did you start working for MOFGA?

I started working for MOFGA in the spring of 1986.

How did you train for the job?

My training was over decades, as it should be for this position at MOFGA. When I was hired, I was the only technical person on staff. I was supposed to offer support to farmers and gardeners about everything to do with agriculture, e.g., vegetables, fruit, livestock, etc. That needed very broad training.

Gardening was easy. I have gardened since I was a child growing up in the suburbs of New York City. I learned about farming by doing it a bit, and studying it in college. I dropped out of college midstream and worked on a dairy farm in Vermont. There I decided I wanted to learn much more about farming, so I went to Cornell University. My training there was perfect for this job at MOFGA, as Cornell then offered a major in "general agriculture” that offered the opportunity to study all kinds of subjects rather than to specialize. I took courses in vegetable production, soils, entomology, plant pathology, agronomy, dairy and other livestock production, ecology, biology, etc.

However, at Cornell I become especially interested in plant and marine ecology and ended up getting a Ph.D. and teaching at Bates College in a sabbatical replacement position – more training for my job at MOFGA. During the spring term at Bates, I decided to teach something different from biology and ecology, though quite related: the "science of gardening and farming.” I made my first contacts with the Maine agriculture scene doing that when I took students to farms to work for a day and see what it was like. A couple of the farmers I met then were involved with MOFGA, and those connections probably helped me land the MOFGA job.

When the position at Bates ended, I did not want to leave Maine. A friend on the faculty there told me that he heard about an opening at MOFGA, and he thought I should apply. So I applied, returning to the focus of my undergraduate degree to become MOFGA’s "organic extension agent.”

How has your job changed over the years?

When I started working for MOFGA I held the old extension view that my job was to keep up with the science and be able to extend the info to gardeners and farmers. I still do that – in fact probably more than ever; but in my early years the number of certified farms grew fast and took over a great portion of my time. Then I was appointed to the National Organic Standards Board and became involved with organic certification on a national level. I still am a bit, because I am on the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) board and chair its advisory council, but I no longer do much with certification at MOFGA.

Probably the biggest change over time has to do with technology. Helping people deal with pests has become the largest part of my job, and e-mail and digital photography make this much more effective, because people send me pictures and often can get an answer right away. Many times I don't know the answer, but after 25 years in the New England and national agriculture circles, I know where to get the answer. I can send pictures and questions around and get responses quickly.

Can you describe a typical day(s) on the job?

There is no typical day; that’s what I love about the job and how I could stick with the same job for 25 years. For example, this week I answered several questions about soil husbandry when people sent me copies of their soil test results, some with questions about the results, and I advised them on soil amendments and cultural practices. One day this week I went to the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Council meeting at the Maine Department of Agriculture, because I am on that advisory council. One day last week I went to Orono for a discussion about registration of some new genetically engineered corn varieties. I am on the Insect Resistance Management Committee, an advisory committee to the Board of Pesticides Control; we discussed the potential for insects to evolve so that the populations of them in Maine contain more and more genes that impart resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), both the natural formulation that we organic farmers use and the engineered trait. This great discussion centered on the biology of specific insects and which ones are likely to succumb to the selection pressure and which are not; and about the traits that have been put into the corn and whether they will help conventional farmers who want to use them; and mostly about how, if resistance develops, which farmers would be harmed and how. That is MOFGA's concern and involvement. In December I spent almost a week at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference – and I’m on the planning team for that conference.

What is the most interesting question you've answered for a grower?

Probably the one I got wrong. In the early days of my job, I was asked if you could have too much organic matter in the soil, and I said I thought not. Funny that as an ecologist I did not think it through. Now we all know that you can. Organic matter is a source of nutrients, and too much of a particular nutrient in the wrong place can negatively impact the environment, e.g., polluting lakes. It does not matter if those nutrients come from chemical fertilizers of decomposing organic matter.

What are a few concerns of organic growers now?

Maybe it’s the weather or something like that, but there are some diseases and insects that are becoming more prevalent lately. I guess that this is really not new, just some different pests; but some of these could be devastating, and it is a great challenge for growers to keep informed about new pests and management strategies.

If you could tell organic growers one thing, what would it be?

Do not be sucked in by snake oils or magic potions. Organic production is all about producing healthful food in a way that is good for the local community and environment. For me it is different from the agriculture that I was taught at Cornell, which, at the time, centered on maximizing production. I cringe every time I hear or read about products that "increase your yield" and sound like they should be called Miracle-Gro but have a more holistic or "green" name. Be wary of someone giving talks and selling product.

If you have problems, look for the cause and don't try to find the solution in a box or bag.

Where do you see MOFGA heading in the next 20 or so years?

I can only hope it is toward support of rural living. I know lots of people who don't care where their food comes from, or how they heat their homes, or about the plants and animals around them. They are not bad folks; they are just not MOFGA folks. Not everyone wants to live a rural life. I hope MOFGA remembers to live and let live and supports those who want to live that rural lifestyle.

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Andy McEvoy
Andy McEvoy coordinates low-impact forestry work at MOFGA.

New Forester at MOFGA

In January 2012 MOFGA welcomed Andy McEvoy as its Low Impact Forestry coordinator. McEvoy grew up in Maryland and graduated from Colby College in 2009 with a degree in biology. Since then he has participated in various conservation efforts, including endangered shorebird restoration, and mapping the state's flora with the Maine Natural Areas Program. McEvoy cares for a property in Pownal and has been active in MOFGA’s LIF group for three years, where he found that his life-long experience with horses and his academic career in ecology could be paired together. He continues to work in the woods with horses and small machinery throughout southern and midcoast Maine.

At MOFGA he will expand forestry-related learning opportunities and promote responsible woodlot management among the MOFGA membership. You can contact him with questions, comments or concerns about forestry at amcevoy@mofga.org.

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Small Farm Field Day to be Revived

So many people have said they miss Small Farm Field Day (SFFD) that a movement is underway to bring back this popular event. Planned for late this spring, SFFD will teach rural living skills through a variety of hands-on activities. It will incorporate successful aspects of previous years with new features, sequential workshops to develop a progression of skills throughout the day, and a lunchtime panel discussion on topics of local importance.

Small Farm Field Day will be a volunteer-driven, skill-sharing event with its own steering committee. Volunteers and coodinators are needed to share their skills, ideas and energy. The effort to revive SFFD is being headed by long-time MOFGA volunteers Nancy Rosalie (568-7597), Anu Dudley (382-6717) and Rhonda Welcome (876-3672), For more information, please email SFFD@myfairpoint.net or call the above numbers. YOU can help make it happen!

Empty Bowl
Just one of the many beautiful bowls available at the MOFGA-El Salvador Committee’s Empty Bowl Supper on April 28. English photo.

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Beautiful Bowls, Savory Soup, Friends and Music
MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee Empty Bowl Supper

Want to buy a handsome, Maine-made bowl and support the MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee’s work – all for just $15 ($35 maximum for families)? Come to the committee’s Empty Bowl Supper on Saturday, April 28, at 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Miller St. in Belfast.

Each year MOFGA's El Salvador Sistering Committee, thanks to the generosity of the Unitarian Universalist Church, serve this supper to raise funds for the El Salvador Committee’s work. Those funds have helped bring Salvadorans to Maine to tour farms, meet with community organizers and agricultural officials, and participate in the Common Ground Country Fair; helped fund events relating to the Central American Free Trade Agreement for our sistering organizations in El Salvador; and helped with work to prevent mining companies from destroying our Salvadoran sisters' mountains, water supplies, communities and agricultural lands.

Empty Bowl Suppers started in Michigan in 1990, when a high school art teacher helped his students raise funds to support a food drive. A class project to make ceramic bowls for a fundraising meal evolved. Guests were served a simple meal of soup and bread, and were invited to keep the bowl as a reminder of hunger in the world. Subsequently, Empty Bowls developed into a project to support food banks, soup kitchens and other organizations that fight hunger. The Imagine/RENDER Group, a 501(c)3 organization, promotes the project, and Empty Bowl events raise millions of dollars worldwide to help combat hunger.

Please join us for delicious soups, breads and desserts and to socialize. Enjoy live music and take home a beautiful bowl, handcrafted and donated by a Maine potter. For more information, please call MOFGA or check www.mofga.org. Tickets will be available at the door.

Seeking Bowl Donations

MOFGA’s El Salvador Committee is seeking bowls made by Maine potters for its Empty Bowl Supper. Seconds are fine! Anyone who would like to donate bowls may contact Jean English, jenglish@tidewater.net or leave bowls at the MOFGA office. Thanks!

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Turn Gold into Environmental Justice

Please join the MOFGA-El Salvador Sistering Committee’s Turning Gold into Environmental Justice Campaign. Be in solidarity with Salvadoran communities resisting attempts of Canadian and U.S. mining companies to extract gold from Salvadorans’ hills.

This is a David and Goliath issue, a global showdown. The mining companies will benefit by making huge profits as the price of gold and other precious metals continues to rise. The communities will suffer and could become unlivable as they face contaminated air, soil and water. Already communities have been torn apart by this issue, environmentalists have been killed, and lawsuits have been brought against the Salvadoran government under the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

The Round Table against Mining in El Salvador has fought tirelessly against this threat for years and is now trying to get a law prohibiting mining in its country passed in the Salvadoran legislature – the first such law ever. Its efforts were recognized in 2009 when it was awarded the International Human Rights Prize by the Institute for Policy Studies.

The MOFGA-El Salvador Committee is asking MOFGA members and friends if they can stand with us and donate unwanted gold and silver. Let us convert your stale memorabilia or something more precious into a potent force for economic and environmental justice. All proceeds will go to the anti-mining campaign in El Salvador and to the National U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities, which works hard to support the campaign’s efforts. Please call MOFGA at 568-4142 and ask for Jaco for details.

Unity College students a bog bridge at MOFGA
Unity College students on a bog bridge they made on one of MOFGA’s trails. English photo.

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MOFGA Joins Trails Coalition

Last fall, 20 students from Unity College created 2 miles of hiking trails at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center. They also created educational materials related to the trails.

Now MOFGA is one of six organizations in The Waldo County Trails Coalition. The others are Unity Barn Raisers, Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Unity College, Sheepscot Wellspring Land Alliance, and Maine Farmland Trust. Five of these organizations currently manage hiking trails in the region between Unity and Frye Mountain and together maintain more than 40 miles of trails on lands owned by the organizations and by private landowners. The coalition formed to link these existing trail systems and create a trail from Unity to Frye Mountain over the next few years. Among the many benefits of the trail will be recreation, community wellness, low-impact transportation, and educational and economic opportunities.

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MOFGA Certification Services Produces New Newsletter

MOFGA Certification Services LLC produced the first issue of The Organic Sprout in the winter of 2011-2012. The 12-page newsletter covers organic seed (with an organic seed resource list), certification fees, funding opportunities for certified growers, and other articles by certification and agricultural services staff. To be put on the mailing list for a paper copy of the newsletter, contact certification@mofga.org. Read The Organic Sprout online at http://mofgacertification.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/organicsprout2011_12.pdf.

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New Farmers in Residence at MOFGA

Angela and Ben Mackie
New Farmers in Residence at MOFGA Angela and Ben Mackie

Angela and Ben Mackie are the new farmers-in-residence at MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center in Unity. Angela grew up near the tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. She began working at a local farm, Blackbird Gardens, in high school and spent a year in Brazil, including several months at Iracambi, a farm and reforestation center in the Atlantic Rainforest. After a couple of years at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, Angela transferred to Sterling College in Vermont, where she met Ben.

Ben grew up in the only state with which Maine shares a border and has always enjoyed his time in Vacationland. He became romanticized with agriculture in northern California and learned the realities and pleasures of farming through jobs, internships and his studies in the sustainable agriculture program at Sterling College.

Since graduating, Angela and Ben have worked on and managed farms in Vermont, New Jersey and, most recently, Napa, California, where Ben was working on a farm and vineyard, and Angela was pursuing an interest in butchery and charcuterie at The Fatted Calf Charcuterie.

They are thrilled to be back in New England and putting down roots in Maine. Mackie Family Farm will be producing pasture-raised meats, medicinal and culinary herbs, and vegetables in its first year at MOFGA. Come see us during the Common Ground Fair or at area farmers’ markets this summer!

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Congratulations and thanks to Jim Gerritsen for starring in a 4-minute video, “We Are Farmers, We Grow Food for the People,” about the Occupy Wall Street Farmers March (www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsNUqK6saMU&feature=youtube_gdata).

Condolences to the family and friends of …

Carla Brown, who died in November 2011. Carla was a noted commercial perennial grower at her Hidden Gardens in Searsport and was passionate about butterflies.

Bob Langevin, who died in November 2011. With the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger couple, Bob and Mitzi Langevin carved out a lovely organic homestead in a hardwood hollow in Chesterville, where they supplied much of their own food and fuel. Bob was an ardent seed saver and breeder, including of the ‘Deuce’ pepper, a stabilized version of ‘Ace Hybrid.’ –Thanks to Will Bonsall for this information.
 
S. Peter Spalding, Maine businessman and dedicated community leader, who died in December 2011. Peter’s daughter Heather Spalding is MOFGA’s associate director.

Richard J. Stander, who died in December 2011. Richard cared for children in a postwar displaced persons camp in Israel; worked as a psychiatric social worker; established, with his wife, Nancy Galland, the first contemporary organic farm in Hadley, Mass., and developed the original organic certification standards for NOFA-Mass. Richard and Nancy moved to Fiddler's Green Farm in Belfast in 1987, where they grew organic vegetables and milled organic baking mixes and hot cereals. They retired to Stockton Springs in 1997.

Tom Sturtevant, who died in January 2012. Tom was a guiding spirit, sage and source of inspiration for the Social and Political Action area at Common Ground Fair, say area coordinators Gary Lawless and Beth Leonard. “He would be setting up the Peace Action booth, or staffing the Veterans For Peace booth, or hanging out at the Let Cuba Live Booth, or walking around the Fair, being Tom.” To honor Tom’s spirit at the Fair, donations toward a dedicated tree on the grounds are being collected at the Tom Sturtevant SPA fund, c/o Gulf of Maine Books, 134 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine 04011.

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