Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Russell Libby
MOFGA Executive Director

“The first step … is to make us love the world rather than to make us fear for the end of the world.” – Gary Snyder

I am one of 13 Maine citizens whose bodies were tested last year for the presence of a wide range of toxic materials:  lead, mercury, flame retardants, various plastics and more. When the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine released the results in the Body Burden report in June, I started getting reactions everywhere I went – at Town Meeting, at the school, at the café where my daughter works, but also at the State House and the University of Maine and when I stopped at various farms. Many comments were along these lines: If you’re that bad, I don’t want to know what my levels would be.”  

I’ve struggled a little with what comes next, because I know that addressing all these issues simultaneously, especially as an individual, is difficult. Much of the food we eat now is organic, but not all. I still drive my truck to the office. I use a computer that contains flame retardant. I breathe air that just yesterday was in the Midwest, picking up materials that were put into the atmosphere there. And that’s after a lifetime of exposure to many sources of pollution, from food to work to just living in the world. Growing up, my family ate a little organic food – blueberries from our field, ‘Red Astrachan’ apples from the tree in the back yard, vegetables from my small garden. But the store had no organic options, and produce from local farmers was not first on my mind as a ravenous and growing teenager!  

As I’ve thought more and more about the study, and its ramifications, I’ve focused on three ideas. One relates to what MOFGA is already doing. We support the hundreds of Maine farmers who grow organic food for their neighbors and beyond. Study after study reports that organic food has higher levels of nutrition and of compounds that help our bodies fight illnesses and disease. These farmers also use practices that help build soil fertility and minimize the impact of agriculture off the farm. They provide critical habitat for wildlife of all kinds. You can see many of these farmers at the Common Ground Country Fair, selling their products or sharing their knowledge.

Second, we need to challenge the idea that contamination is just the price of living in the modern world. Contamination is wrong, whether from pesticides that drift across a property line, mercury from Midwestern coal-fired power plants that comes with the winds, or plastics that leach from the materials of everyday life. Until I had my blood, hair and urine tested, I didn’t comprehend in such a deep way how easily materials move through the world. Our bodies were designed to handle and eliminate materials that have been part of our diets for thousands of years. We don’t have systems to process plastics or flame retardants or pesticides. If contamination is the price of modern society, modern society has failed all of us. Policies that permit this contamination are wrong, and need to be changed. This is the focus of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.  

Finally, I think a lot about the Gary Snyder quote. I can be angry about the contamination of my body, and yours, and the widespread contamination of the world around us, and I am. But this afternoon my daughter Rosa and I went out to the orchard and picked enough cherries to make a pie, and later we all had dinner under the maple tree, seated at a rough table made of wood from this farm, while a hummingbird flew buzzing parabolas over the bee balm we planted. I hope you can all find that place that you love and protect it, while we work together to change the policies that allow it to be threatened.