This year Jason Kafka, member-at-large of the MOFGA board of directors, will plant 3,000 pounds of seed potatoes. Last year he harvested three tons of potatoes and 7,000 row feet of alliums – not including the garlic. “Think about that with a hoe in your hand,” he says. When he ponders the growth of his “garden” over the years since he and his wife Barb moved to Parkman in 1981, he admits that “there is a compulsive nature to this, and I got it bad. It’s like there’s a gambler’s excitement to it. When it works it’s wonderful, but it’s also scary. There’s a lot more riding on the line now for me.”
Indeed. This spring he is building a second greenhouse, he owns two tractors, more “implements,” and harvesting equipment: “There’s this horrible spiral. When you start doing more, you have to get machinery to help you.” But he is philosophical about the inevitable failures, like the acre and a half of squash he was growing for Johnny’s Seeds last summer, which was a total loss. “There’s a zen to it. If everything came up good every year it would be terrible.” He is even sure that potato bugs do some good in the world, though what it is remains unclear.
Jason sells most of his produce at the Common Ground Fair to food vendors (remember the onion rings?) and at the Farmer’s Market. It makes for a busy September. Last year he lost 15 pounds. “Getting ready for the Fair, the excitement is incredible. It’s such a high, but the anxiety and sleep deprivation are terrible – but we love it.” He is sure it is the high point of the year for his 13-year-old daughter, Emma. “Anyone who hasn’t experienced the Fair, they don’t know what they’re missing.”
About his work as a MOFGA director, Jason says, “I try to do what I can.” He’s now in his third year on the board: “I attend board meetings, I vote on things, I listen, I try to be attentive.” As one of the few farmers in Piscataquis County, which is sparsely populated with “no coast for money, lots of wood and massive clearcuts,” and as the sole vendor at the Dover Farmer’s Market, “I try to be informed. In some ways,” he says, “I’m just a representative of MOFGA out here.” He says sometimes people are surprised to learn that MOFGA is regarded as the premier organic growers association in the United States, but he is not. “MOFGA has tied it all together: education, apprentices, certification. Joining the gardening with the farming was great – everyone’s involved.”
His own marriage also unites family and gardening, according to Jason. Barb, who teaches full-time at a local elementary school, “still maintains she is a gardener. I’m the one who lets things get out of hand, with row crops and stuff.” When they first arrived in Maine from their native Massachusetts, “Barb was the brain, I was the grunt.” Nowadays there is too much farming for Jason to have a fulltime job driving a fuel truck the way he used to, but he found work driving only in the winter. “Sometimes the Fates are wonderful,” he says. “Sometimes things happen and it all works.”
– Ann Cox Halkett