By Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director
I think about these questions often as I travel around the state. For every major issue that confronts us, there are approaches that tie us more deeply to the existing economic system, one that is in many ways at the root of the problems. There are also possibilities that would give us both more independence and a deeper sense of community. These possibilities, taken together, form the basis of the Organic Maine that I see as our shared future.
As I write this in November, oil prices are approaching $100 a barrel. Is this because of Peak Oil? Maybe, says a recent German report. Or a weakened dollar? Definitely, say the financial pages. Increased demand is definitely part of the story, too. What would continued high prices or lower availability mean for Maine? The community-based solution, the “Organic Maine” solution, begins to shorten supply lines, to look at how to make local food more easily and widely available, to think about how organic systems can lower the fuel input to food production systems.
Closely related, and intertwined, is the growing discussion about climate change and its impact on our daily lives. For the first time in 24 years, we had a 150-day growing season in Mount Vernon this summer. That follows two springs where we had over 15 inches of rain in May, and couldn’t really plant many crops until well into June. With uncertainty comes increased risk. What will it take to adapt and adjust while we work to prevent more damage in the future?
David Fleming and Lawrence Woodward from the Organic Research Centre in England wrote recently about the need for ‘flexible diversity’ as part of the solution to oil problems, to climate change, to rebuilding our local food systems. I agree. That, to me, is why we greatly need to develop relationships among farmers and fishermen, among the people who eat and those who grow and produce food, and, yes, to deepen our understanding of people in similar and different situations elsewhere. We need to learn from one another, and that can happen only if we talk and communicate – as MOFGA and the fisheries group, Penobscot East Resource Center, have been doing.
For me, after participating in the Body of Evidence study and report this year, an Organic Maine is also a less toxic place, a place where we unhook ourselves from the use of toxic materials in many forms and ways. I am excited about the green chemistry movement that is occurring in Maine and beyond; about the push to make safe “plastics” from potatoes grown in environmentally sound ways, for example.
Obviously, an Organic Maine is about the food we grow, share and eat as well. Several recent MOFGA gatherings (the food vendors’ meeting, the joint steering committee/board meeting) featured the bounty of what is available if we look. Local, seasonal, organic is the heart of what we do. I really like a guide that I first heard from MOFGA member and grower Paul Volckhausen a few years ago: 80% from here, 20% from people we trust elsewhere. That is a goal that we can all work toward. Right now we are almost at the reverse – 20% from here, and 80% from away.
Sharing is an important part of an Organic Maine, too: sharing our food, our stories, our experiences, and, yes, our concerns about where we are and where the world might be going. Our Farmer-to-Farmer Conference is a prime example of such sharing. This year the conference was full, as successful and enthusiastic growers of all ages shared a weekend dense with information, full of hope, and bounteous with Maine organic food. Farmer-to-Farmer could be a model for “Organic Maine” agritourism weekends at our state’s wonderful resorts.
We can fear the changes that are in front of us, and it is easy to do so; but we can also look at the changes and possibilities ahead as part of the grand adventure that we are all experiencing. After sitting with MOFGA member John Bunker at his outdoor table two years ago, I went home and built my own crude table out of cedar logs and pine boards that now sits under the sugar maple in the yard. More and more, it is the place where I start my day. During the growing season, I watch birds splashing in the birdbath, see which flowers are blooming, note what the weather looks like for the day ahead. Often we find ourselves around the table for meals, for quick visits with neighbors as they walk past, for the day-to-day happenings that tie our lives together. As the leaves fall, I sit and watch as new views open beyond the orchard and the sugar maples, off to the pines and hills to the south and east
As we work to build an Organic Maine, as we work to build this local and organic food system, we need to remember that we are part of a larger world, and we need to find ways to build joy into all that we do, the joy that comes from sharing our lives with others. This, too, is part of the Organic Maine that is both our present and our future.
Wishing you all the best in the year ahead.