Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, by Michael Pollan
Death by Supermarket, by Nancy Deville
Balance: A Late Pastoral, by Russell Libby

King Corn
The Organic Opportunity, by Chris Bedford
The Real Dirt on Farmer John



In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan
Penguin, 2008; 256 pgs.; $21.95

If you have been a dedicated organic grower (or eater) for the past few decades, participating in the local farmers’ market or CSA or selling to the cafe down the street, then what Michael Pollan advocates in his latest book, In Defense of Food, won't be new to you. MOFGA's current executive director (truth in reporting: I am related to him) has been promoting “ten dollars a week” (spent on locally-produced food) and has been asking “Who's your farmer?” for years.

Don't let that deter you from reading Pollan's book. The author says right up front that seven words encompass the entire message of his book: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This great message is even printed on the cover of the book jacket.

But the back story makes a great read. Pollan wants us to enjoy eating but shows just how difficult it is in our contemporary world. We are by now at least somewhat aware of the dangers of pesticides and factory farming. Here, Pollan illuminates our growing reliance on nutritional science, our anxiety around fat and calorie intake, the idea that adding nutrients to processed food makes it healthful, and how efficiency is a major factor in diet. So much information removes us from a simple, straightforward, commonsense approach to eating.

Because lab science has allowed us to isolate particular nutrients from particular foods, we extract those from their original (usually plant) sources and use them to fortify what we once easily identified as “junk food” – to the point of absurdity. Companies add vitamins to sodas and various nutrients to almost every sweetened, processed breakfast cereal. Nutrients available to us in a carrot or an apple are isolated in a lab, are deemed desirable, and show up in bread or potato chips.

But Pollan reminds us that the whole (carrot or apple) is greater than the sum of its parts. My favorite sentence in the book: “Who knows what else lies deep in the soul of a carrot?”

Laboratory science, and our ability to measure any substance, is neither subtle nor exact enough for us to understand just how the myriad vitamins, carbohydrates, sugars, minerals, fiber, etc., in a carrot interact to allow us to reap the benefits of them all when we take a bite. Pollan reminds us that the carrot is of course infinitely better for us than a bag of veggie chips, no matter how much vitamin D we crank into that bag and no matter that its trans fat content is zero.

Pollan's discourse is, as always, well researched and full of common sense and good will. He uses science, culture and tradition to point out that we still have a lot to learn, but that meanwhile we can relax, eat real food and trust that it brings us what we need (and want). We can be pretty smart when it comes to traditional foods. “The olive oil with which I eat tomatoes makes the lycopene they contain more available to my body.” Also, it is pleasant to eat.

Nutritional science has taught us that problems arise because of too much of a bad thing. Researchers long thought that saturated fats in animal products were responsible for high rates of heart disease and cancer in certain populations. Now they show that reducing those fats (using skim milk and low-fat cheeses, for example) doesn't significantly reduce disease. So, Pollan asks, what causes these diseases? Animal protein itself, or the particular type of iron? A combination of these and other factors we haven't discovered? Don't we just need to look at the food as a whole and give it a smaller role in our general diet? Pollan suggests looking beyond the lopsided thinking of “too much of a bad thing” and looking at the possibility that we just aren't getting enough of good things, and those good things are more than a list of nutrients. If we get enough good stuff from a basic, varied, whole food diet, then, says Pollan, eating a few veggie chips or an occasional dessert is something to enjoy and celebrate. Forget the guilt.

Pollan gives us a straightforward treatment of the food and nutrition industry. He reminds us that what we don't know is as important as what we do know from research so far. His thinking is clear and his research accessible (and fascinating).

This fun and reassuring book removes guilt and angst and labels. The author urges us to relax, sit at the table and share a meal. Eat food that isn't particularly polysyllabic. Eat food your parents would recognize. For a host of reasons – some of which we may not yet understand – a potato from your garden or your neighbor's garden is better to eat than a packaged potato product no matter how many nutrients were injected into the latter.

This book reminds us of a place where organic meets slow food meets local; it reminds us that we can sit at that table under the maple tree and serve a meal without worrying about being purist, trusting that it is bringing us some of what we need. Mom would be proud.

– Mary Anne Libby, Mt. Vernon, Maine

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Death by Supermarket
The Fattening, Dumbing Down, and Poisoning of America
by Nancy Deville
Barricade Books, N.J., 2007
339 pgs., $16.95

The message of Death by Supermarket is that “if we stopped eating all factory food and ate only real food we would calm the irrational craving that compels us to eat these injurious substances. Real food is organically produced meat, fish, poultry, dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts that could (in theory) be picked, gathered, milked, hunted, or fished.”

Instead, the food industry, says Nancy Deville, adds sugar, corn syrup, aspartame, processed soy products in abundance, trans fats, MSG and other questionable items to our diets…and then the diet and medical industries step in with “cures.”

Deville devotes at least one chapter to each of the substances above, noting how federal agencies came to allow them despite their problems; how a diet industry (often promoted by famous personalities) profits from the resultant obesity and heart problems; and how the medical industry profits from treating obesity, heart problems, diabetes, neurological disorders and more.

The author notes, for example, that the introduction of high fructose corn syrup “parallels the 47 percent spike in Type 2 diabetes and the 80 percent increase in obesity in the same time period.” She wonders about a possible link between increased soy consumption and increased thyroid problems.

Deville disavows the link between blood cholesterol levels and heart disease and instead urges readers to reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates to promote heart health and general health. She explains how a high carb diet (often common in low-fat diets) results in chronically high insulin levels in the blood, which are implicated in Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Death by Supermarket will have you going beyond the decades-old advice to “shop the edges” of supermarkets; instead you’ll seek (or continue to seek) real, organic foods that are most commonly found at farms, farmers’ markets, food coops and such.

This book is in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English

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Balance: A Late Pastoral
by Russell Libby
$10 from Blackberry Books, 617 East Neck Rd., Nobleboro ME 04555; [email protected]

Among my favorite poets are Billy Collins, Mariana Tupper, Gary Lawless and Russell Libby. What a joy to see a collection of Libby’s work in Balance – A Late Pastoral.

Here Libby celebrates all that is around him and his Maine farm and family: sheep, apples, hay, neighbors, stone walls, sugar maples…and birds. Lots of birds, their songs, variations on their songs, symphonies of their songs. Libby has a good ear for what’s going on out there.

Some of the poems are short and promising:

My shelf is bulging with seed catalogs
and all I can see ahead is
Some run a page or so, such as “A Long Dream,” in which Libby meditates upon the fragility of Maine’s farms, which may just survive through “barely enough persistence.” We see friends in this and other poems. “A jazz guitarist grows seedlings … An economist shears sheep.”

The logical, mild-mannered Libby reveals his darker side and his enemy in “Night Flight” – probably my favorite of his poems, because I feel less alone with my anger and frustration over conventional agriculture knowing that Libby, too, finds that “Sometimes this pacifism is really difficult, especially at 3 a.m. when true intentions shine through.”

Humor is one balancing point of A Late Pastoral. Libby recalls talk of Wilhelm Reich’s “ability to call clouds together to form rain, clouds that would have passed over our farm an hour after they dropped rain around him.” He describes the selection process used to build a flock of sheep suited to his farm: “ewe stray from flock, ewe die.”

Poems about how we “engage ourselves in the world around us” and “experience life this directly” affirm Maine (and beyond) farmers’ and gardeners’ choices that make our lives, our work, so real and rewarding. Enjoy some quiet, reflective time with this book; you’ll feel fulfilled.

– Jean English

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King Corn
90 min.
Mosaic Films, Inc., 2007
$19.95 from

This entertaining, often amusing documentary follows college buddies Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis as they go from Boston to Iowa, discover their roots, and plant an acre of genetically-engineered corn using all the modern, non-organic technology available. As the crop grows and after harvest, they learn disturbing facts about subsidized U.S. agriculture, high fructose corn syrup, corn-fed meat animals, the American diet – and its concomitant health problems for consumers (such as diabetes) and for the feedlot animals that eat corn. Cheney and Ellis end up buying “their” acre of corn land and finding a creative way to stop it from contributing to the demise of cows and humans.

The Corn Refiners Assoc. disagrees with many points made in the video to the extent that the association comes up as the top hit in an Internet search for “King Korn,” directing consumers to the refiners’ site, which says, “New research continues to confirm that high fructose corn syrup is no different from other nutritive sweeteners.” Guess they’ve never tasted Maine maple syrup.

– Jean English

The Real Dirt on Farmer John
83 min.
$16.95 & S&H from

Director Taggart Siegel’s film shows Illinois farmer John Peterson’s 25 years of attempts at farming – first taking up where his father stopped upon his sudden death, when John Peterson was in high school; failing during the farm crisis of the ‘80s, traveling to Mexico, then returning and trying again – this time selling vegetables to the community; eventually failing at that, returning to Mexico, and returning once again for a third farming enterprise – a CSA called Angelic Organics that became so successful that its members bought the farm next door to Peterson’s so that the CSA could expand. Peterson, says MOFGA member Bambi Jones, inspired her to become a farmer, and Angelic Organics is now one of the largest CSA farms in the country.

The video is about more than farming. It shows a divided community of hippies from the ‘60s, artists, college students, girlfriends and Peterson himself, working hard to farm, confronted by rumor-mongering neighbors and police. It is a history of social movements and prejudice as much as one of farming. The movie will make you laugh, cry and sigh and will add to your faith in community supported, organic agriculture.

– Jean English

The Organic Opportunity
Local Organic Food as Economic Development in Woodbury County, Iowa
by Chris Bedford
Center for Economic Security, Montague, MI 49437
25 minutes, $30

Woodbury County, Iowa, has an innovative economic development campaign centered on supporting local, organic agriculture. The Organic Opportunity tells about that campaign, beginning with a brief description of the modern U.S. diet and its dependence on unsustainable, industrialized agriculture and long-distance shipping, including bringing over half of our fresh fruit and over 20% of fresh vegetables from out of the country – with less than 0.2% being sampled for safety.

Woodbury County, after significant losses of farms, farm income and farm infrastructure – despite having some of the richest soil in the world – countered the debt-producing industrialization of farming by setting up a farmers’ market in Sioux City, “selling exclusively healthy, humane, home-grown food.” In the first season, 2004, the market’s 16 farmers sold over $400,000 worth of food.

An indoor, winter market quickly followed, and that space also became a community center, restaurant and deli serving local, organic foods. A cooperative grocery store opened. An enlarged market, restaurant and European-style covered outdoor market is planned, with $1.5 million from the state.

When demand for local, organic food exceeded supply, the county passed the first local tax incentive in the United States to promote organic food production, providing property tax rebates for five years to farmers who converted to organic. Later the county mandated purchase of local food by county institutions that served meals – shifting $281,000 in local food purchases to local farmers. The county now offers organic land to small organic farmers cost-free for the first three years and with an interest-free loan for the remainder of the mortgage and a free lot in town where farmers can build their homes.

A Leopold Center study in 2007 found that food grown in organic rotation in Woodbury County generated 52% more gross sales, 182% more personal income, and 56% more jobs per thousand acres of production than a conventional corn-soy rotation.

“Our motto is,” says Penny Fee of Sustainable Foods for Siouxland, “’A community of trust built around food.’ If you can trust the source of your food…you can trust that place, and it becomes a real community…”

This film is an excellent introduction for local municipalities to food issues and solutions to those issues. It’s just long enough, has just enough statistics, and shows, through successes in Woodbury County communities, how much development, security and community can come from promoting local, organic food production.

The video is available in the MOFGA library.

– Jean English

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tells how to organize a buying club from scratch, lists buying clubs looking for new members, and tells how clubs can receive Crown O' Maine price lists. This work, which includes spreadsheets for ordering, was done as part of Crown O'Maine's ongoing Buying Clubs project. To learn more, contact Marada Cook,
[email protected] (Maine Feeds Maine newsletter, March 2008,

The Organic Seed Alliance ( has resources for producing seed and doing variety trials.

A good site for information on organic beekeeping is

For information on non-timber forest products, see

Using an email discussion group, Maine greenhouse growers can share IPM ideas and contact pest management experts at the Maine Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension's Pest Management Office for help with identifying and managing pest problems. To sign-up, e-mail [email protected]

The New England component of the Northeastern IPM Center provides pest management information at

Project BudBurst ( invites citizens to collect data on leafing and flowering times for native plants. Scientists use the data to learn how species respond to climatic variation locally, regionally and nationally, and to detect impacts of climate change by comparing historical data. (ATTRA Weekly Harvest Newsletter, Feb. 27, 2008,

If Your Farm Is Organic, Must It Be GMO Free? Organic Farmers, Genetically Modified Organisms, and the Law. Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG). Free download at Printed copies ($11) from 1-877-860-4349.

Plants for pollinators has planting guides and details of National Pollinator Week (June 22-28) events:

The Livestock/Carnivore Conflict Prevention Listserv links producers interested in non-lethal, humane techniques to protect their livestock from conflict with large carnivores. To subscribe, send a message to: [email protected]

Clean Energy Farming: Cutting Costs, Improving Efficiencies, Harnessing Renewables. The free publication tells about farmers who are improving energy efficiency while saving money. Download or order at

“Grower to grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farm,” by John Hendrickson, Univ. of Wisc.-Madison, (, 2005, gives mean gross and net income per acre and hourly wages paid to farm owners in a study of 19 Wisconsin farmers, all but one organic, from 2002 to 2004. Generally, smaller farms netted more per acre (about $4,600 for farms of 12 acres and under, vs. $3,757 for farms over 12 acres) but earned less per hour ($4.96 for farms under 3 acres; $7.45 for 3- to 12-acre farms; $11.36 for farms over 12 acres).

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MOF&G Cover Summer 2008
MOFGA members receive our quarterly newspaper The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener as a benefit of membership. Become a member today! It can also be purchased at news stands.