the MOF&G Online
President’s LetterAs I sit down to write, I have a startling revelation: This is my last President’s letter. In January, I turn over the helm to Eric Rector, biologist, creator of our web site, prize-winning chef, and organic gardener and animal husbander. It’s been a whirlwind two years, full of challenges and projects that kept all of us very busy and very enthused. It’s nice to wind up this term at a time of year, post-Fair, when we traditionally get many accolades. An e-mail from our friend The Humble Farmer: "The Common Ground Fair is the high point of my summer…Everyone there seems to be one of my friends…[Y]ou’d have to go to Cambridge to find as much IQ assembled in one such small area…Your web site is a great help to anyone wanting to find out about MOFGA and The Common Ground Fair. It is very well done. If anyone were to ask me, I would have to say that MOFGA is the most important organization in Maine." John Cole’s column in The Maine Times ("Maine – the way food should be"): "the French-fries I bought at a small booth on that perfect Friday afternoon were the very best I have ever tasted…At my advanced years, it’s no small thing to experience such an epiphany."
In the area of pesticide regulation, my special interest, it’s nice to be able to point to a few milestones as I depart: the first Critical Pesticide Control Area for human chemical sensitivity, the first Board of Pesticides Control member who’s a certified MOFGA grower and the initiation of a major effort to reduce pesticide use in school. In genetic engineering, a major Board effort this summer has distributed nearly all of our 50,000 free mini-issues on healthy food and genetic engineering. We’ve been getting praise from all corners of the country. We produced what is probably the world’s first musical puppet play about GE food, and performed it at six fairs and events over the summer and fall. Working with our puppet master Kathy Lyons, playwright and director Tamela Glenn, and an extremely talented group of high school performers, was a thrill.
Recently I’ve had great fun working with Heather Spalding on the Information Quest game and contest for school groups at the Fair. Heather created the game two years ago – a scavenger hunt to find answers to questions by interacting with exhibitors and farmers at the Fair. This year we turned it into a contest, inviting school groups to submit scrapbooks that present their answers to the Quest and creatively describe their experience at the Fair. The contest was generously supported by a grant from the Captain Planet Foundation, and gift certificate awards donated by FEDCO Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The winners this year, I’m very proud to announce, were the Appleton Village School, Benton Elementary School, the Islesboro Central School, Mt. Vernon Elementary School, and Toddy Pond School. Their scrapbooks present a totally delightful, child’s-eye view of the experience of the Fair. They’ll be on exhibit at next year’s Fair, and a selection of pages from the winners will be published in our spring issue of The MOF&G.
So, many thanks for the chance to serve the "most important organization in Maine" (or was it the country?).
Farm Policy and Organic Farmers
For many years we in MOFGA liked to think of ourselves as separate from the big farm policy discussions that take place every five years in Washington. The Farm Bill was about the big farmers in the Midwest, and didn't have much impact on what a small vegetable farmer in Maine might be doing. We were busy building our own world of local markets and connections with consumers.
The 1990 Farm Bill changed all that. For the first time, organic became a part of U.S. agricultural policy. Now, at the end of 2000, we're about to see the results. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to release a final rule for the National Organic Program before the end of the year. That rule will have a big impact on the way MOFGA does business, on the decisions that our 240 certified farmers will be making, and on the buying options of many thousands of consumers. The production standards that they are proposing are substantially in agreement with those MOFGA has been using for a number of years. The major difference will come in the way that USDA tries to make certification an arms-length program.
Our first certification program, in 1972, relied on farmers to go inspect other farmers. Through the years MOFGA has maintained that basic connection between farmers and the program. Farmers have been a key part of the certification program; farmers have served as inspectors; the MOFGA Board includes farmers, who help make the decisions about standards. We're concerned that the USDA regulation, when released, will require a substantial change in those connections.
Industrial manufacturers have adopted uniform standards to allow products to move around the world and be compatible. One of these standards, ISO 65, deals with third-party certification, and is the basis for current USDA accreditation practices. Essentially ISO 65 requires walls between the inspector and the inspected party. These go well beyond the conflicts of interest we already watch, like not sending buyer to inspect seller, or allowing the farmer being reviewed to be part of the review of her application in the committee. They essentially prohibit most financial or policy relationships between parties, meaning farmers would need to be held at arms' length from MOFGA, their certifier.
This seems to me to be another example of the industrial mindset creeping into every aspect of American society. During the election campaigns this year, there was general agreement within the two major parties that America is part of a global economy, with trade and technology closely related. Anything that increases trade is good; anything that slows trade is bad. Yet I fear we will be losing a lot when USDA requires certification to operate with enough walls to ensure lack of personal contact.
One of the common elements in this year's forestry referendum was the notion that certification according to good standards was a preferred alternative to more regulation. By the end of the year we'll see whether certification via regulation is going to be a workable option for MOFGA and for Maine's organic farmers.
Two Leaders and a PioneerOne of the things that we learn early on farms is that there is a cycle to life. Crops grow, mature, and are harvested. Animals are born, grow, and die. After a while we look around and realize that we're part of the cycle, too. Over the past few months MOFGA has lost a few "organic pioneers."
Mollie Birdsall died August 26, at Horsepower Farm in Penobscot. For 28 years Mollie was the glue that made Horsepower Farm go. She was a pioneer in the Blue Hill Farmers' Market, which celebrated its 25th birthday this year. She was an organizer of the Wednesday Spinners, joining them for 23 consecutive years in showing the visitors at Common Ground Country Fair the whole process of spinning, from wool to finished product. Mollie and Paul have hosted over 120 apprentices through the years, and she kept up with them afterwards. Mollie was a key organizer of the Hancock Organic Growers Cooperative in Blue Hill, and as Scott Howell said, she got things done. Several hundred people joined Paul and his family at a memorial celebration at Horesepower Farm in September, and a granite bench was dedicated in her name at this year's Fair.
Eldridge "Bud" Wallace died on the eighth of September. An organic farmer in Leeds for many years, Bud didn't hesitate to tell you what he thought worked, and what didn't, and then go out and show you why. He sold for 27 years at a roadside stand on Route 202, and built the soil there to a high level of fertility. Bud, too, hosted apprentices through the years and had a big influence on those who passed through. He believed in working hard and getting done on time, and shared his experiences freely with all who passed. His wife, Barbara, remains at the farm.
Finally, an organic "pioneer," Eugene Carpovich of Fayette, died August 26 at 94 years of age. When the dominant mindset was to find chemicals to kill any insects, Eugene started looking for alternatives. A scientist, born in Russia, he experimented and began finding alternatives. He did some of the earliest research on sticky traps for codling moth, and wrote articles in the late 1960s and early 1970s for ***Organic Gardening*** magazine that helped in the transition to organic orcharding for many. There are many friends of MOFGA who have passed on through the years. What they have in common is their desire to make the world better. Our thanks and sympathy go out to the families of Mollie Birdsall, Bud Wallace, and Eugene Carpovitch, and the many other workers for organic agriculture.
Seven Steps Toward Spiritual and Economical FeastingAn ***MOF&G*** reader asks: How can I afford to buy organic food? Here are some suggestions.
First, make sure you get everything you can out of your garden. Nothing will lower your food bill more--by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars--than growing your own fruits and vegetables. Cultivate a fertile soil while minimizing expensive inputs. Use interplanting and succession planting to maximize yields. Use cold frames, tunnels, greenhouses and other structures to extend the growing season. (My neighbor has covered his parsley with a "solar saw horse"--a saw horse covered with plastic--to extend the harvesting season.) Pot up mature or nearly mature greens or herbs or sow seeds in pots in midsummer and grow the plants on your windowsill for extra harvests. Thanks to the inspiration of MOFGA member Nellie Davis, I have a cucumber vine, started in a pot in mid-July, growing and fruiting on my windowsill now. Thanks to the inspiration of ***MOF&G*** writer Roberta Bailey, I brought in a potted celery plant from the garden in October and am still using its stalks. Store carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, squashes and other root and bulb crops. Can, dry or freeze whatever you can without going crazy.
Second, buy your food directly from growers. Visit farm stands and pick-your-own operations. Go to the farmers’ market--and if you don’t have one close to your home, help start one. Supporting local growers helps their bottom line and yours. In my area, farmers’ markets are extending their sales seasons by moving into local greenhouses in the fall. Do you have seasonal businesses in your community? Maybe a farmers’ market could use such buildings in the off season.
Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm--another way to buy directly from growers. Even now, you may be able to join one that offers winter shares of storage crops. Again, if your area has no CSA, get together with other buyers, look for a farmer, and start the CSA yourselves.
Third, buy in bulk and buy items when they’re in season and/or on sale. I’ve gotten organic flour and oats for 49 cents a pound.
Fourth, avoid processed foods or process them yourself. This is where my grocery bill escalates, as I look for and often buy convenience foods and impulse items for my family. Boxed cereals for breakfast and fruit bars or other treats for lunchboxes add up fast--especially if you buy quality, organic foods. Make your own granola, cookies, and other goodies. Eat oatmeal. Bake bread--and warm up the house in the process, instead of using that fuel to drive to the store and buy bread. By processing your own foods, not only will you save money and fuel, but packaging too. Even organic goodies come surrounded by plastic and cardboard.
Fifth, consider giving (and receiving) food as gifts. As the holiday season approaches, ask: Wouldn’t lots of people on my list appreciate that gorgeous, deep red-orange Rouge Vif d’Etampes squash sitting at the co-op more than they’d like the latest in plasticware? Wouldn’t they like a pie made from the Long Pie pumpkin that grew in the garden last summer? No gorgeous squashes in your area? Give a gift certificate to a local farm or farmers’ market, or give seeds. Forget "the gift that keeps on giving." Give the gift that goes away. Think about giving food, or beeswax candles, or products that are easily composted or recycled when the recipient is finished with them.
Sixth, pay the price. If you grow your own food, you know the work required to cultivate a garden or farm of any size. The planning, risks and work to which farmers are subject deserve to be rewarded. I’m sure MOFGA members know this and I may sound preachy, but I know how inconsistent I can be about food prices. I’ll balk at paying 50 cents or a dollar for a piece of fruit, but turn around and spend a couple of dollars on a movie--that turns out, more often than not, to be a dud. Once, an M.D. asked me why organic food was so expensive. I should have asked him why my daughter’s last physical cost $120, yet she never saw a doctor! Why would a doctor who drives a $15,000+ car and lives in a $250,000+ house flinch about paying a slight premium for healthful foods? Because we’ve been conditioned in the United States to expect cheap food--and expensive, non-preventive medicine.
Finally, when you do pay the price, enjoy the shopping and relish the eating. My favorite way to spend a Saturday is to go to the farmers’ market with no shopping list, buy the most delicious goods I can find there from people I know and like, make a dinner out of these foods, and savor every bite. Picture this: a dried apple wreath centerpiece; an appetizer of spring rolls; a main course of smoked chicken, fresh salad, and chanterelles sautéed in organic butter, olive oil, white wine and salt; a fresh apple pie for dessert--grown, picked and baked by one farm family. An expensive feast? Not really, when you buy directly from farmers. Less expensive, in fact, than a movie and dinner for two at a mid-priced restaurant. And having grown and stored so much of your own food, you can afford to spend like this sometimes.
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