Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
A Few Words
on Frank Eggert

By Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director

The best part of being MOFGA’s executive director is getting to see what all of you are doing, and sometimes to get a glimpse of how all the pieces fit together. Of course the hardest part of the job is figuring out how to get some of the pieces to fit when they seem to be going in different directions. I thought I’d give a brief overview of how a few parts are going now.

GMO Moratorium. The Maine Legislature this spring considered the idea of a three-year moratorium on GMOs, along with a campaign promoting Maine as a GMO-free state. The Department of Agriculture hosted a panel in early November that essentially concluded that some niches may exist for GMO-free agriculture, and that farmers and businesses who wanted to take advantage of them should be free to do so. CR Lawn did a great job of keeping the discussion on what could be done, rather than on what we think about the whole idea of GMOs in the first place. (Strong opinions were represented on both sides.)

Dairy Task Force. The Governor’s Dairy Task Force completed a report to the Governor, one that essentially emphasizes the importance of putting a floor under a farmer’s income. I presented information on the rapidly growing organic sector, on opportunities for value-added products (cheese, butter, bottled milk), and on the importance of improving forage production on Maine farms. Small pieces of that were included, but I think we missed an opportunity to lay out a future for dairy that is different from the rest of the country, opting instead to try to hold the existing farm base without making any major changes in how we do business. This moves back into the Legislative forum in January, where it’s important to continue to support dairy farmers while looking for long-term solutions. (By the way, 15% of Maine’s dairy farms are now producing organic milk!)

Local Foods. The notion of building support for local foods is a central one in the policy paper for the Governor’s Blaine House Conference on Natural Resources. Stew Smith of the University of Maine is convinced, based on survey data from farmers, that direct marketing already is approaching $40 million a year in Maine, triple the level measured by the 1997 Census of Agriculture. That’s almost halfway to the level of $10 a week for six months! Selling food within the community is central to the survival of Maine agriculture.

Young Farmers. People keep coming up to me and saying, “We bought a farm in ….” At this year’s Farmer to Farmer Conference, I walked into the Sunday morning breakfast and was overwhelmed by how the next generation of farmers has emerged, and how excited they were to be talking with and learning from their peers. Congratulations! At the same time, Susie O’Keeffe at FarmLink has names of dozens of prospective farmers looking for places to get established. Maybe you know of the right situation for some of them.

I recently participated in a gathering of groups from around the country that have local food marketing campaigns, both formal and informal. The subject of how to get local food into Wal-Mart came up, which is natural since that chain now controls 15% of total grocery sales in the United States. I said that we’re really not interested in that discussion – we want to support our farmers and their communities. If Wal-Mart wants local food, and they say they do, they’ll figure out how to make it happen. Our job is to help our farmers and consumers find places where they can meet in ways that are deeper than the ephemeral life span of a big box store. Remember: Wal-Mart didn’t exist 40 years ago, and it won’t exist 40 years from now.

Keep planting seeds. It’s amazing how fast they grow in the right situation.

A Few Words on Frank Eggert

Frank Eggert, MOFGA board president in 1981 and 1982, died at the age of 83 in late October. Frank brought great credibility to MOFGA as one of the first land grant university scientists to research organic foods (in the late 1970s). He was so impressed by what he found (both good productivity, and good people) that he came on board himself and became a great bridge between the academic and organic communities at a time when that was very rare. As president he pushed for MOFGA to have its own technical support staff, an idea that became real several years later when Eric Sideman was hired as the first organic “extension agent” in the country. Frank’s willingness to challenge assumptions and look for the facts was legendary; so, too, was his willingness to step forward and make things happen. Our thanks to Frank will continue for years; our sympathies to Barbara, one of the Wednesday Spinners, and to Frank and Barbara’s family.
MOF&G Cover Winter 2003-2004