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A Big Small Solution?
With the Presidential campaign now centerstage, we're hearing mostly about big solutions. I thought it would be fun to think about what we are able to do, individually and together, to make a difference.
The Common Ground Country Fair is MOFGA's attempt to show off what's happening in rural Maine, focusing on organic agriculture but extending well beyond. Over the past 24 years, we've been able to pull a wide variety of farmers, crafters, people who work with the natural resources of Maine, and people who work with those people, together to "celebrate rural living with MOFGA."
One idea we hope people take from the Fair is that this is something that we can do throughout the year. It's great to see people load up on storage crops at the Farmers' Market, to get their garlic for fall planting, and to make a connection with someone to add beauty to their daily lives. Even better is when we see this kind of activity continuing beyond the Fair.
For the past few years, I've been trying to get people to think about little steps that they can take that will make a big difference. I settled on the idea of "$10 a week" as one that everyone can relate to within his or her current food buying strategy. It began in Mount Vernon, where I live. When we started a small farmers' market there, the idea was to estimate the total impact we could have if everyone stopped by and spent $10 a week. In our little town, it added up to over $100,000 a year, during the summer and fall months. That's money that flows outside the community now that could be staying.
When I extended the idea to Maine as a whole, the numbers got really big. For half a year, it's about $125 million, and we're providing maybe $15 million a year of it now. For a full year, it's $250 million. That's half the farmgate sales in an average year, and it's mostly sales farmers aren't making, and purchases consumers are making somewhere else.
So, when you consider your choices for November, think hard about who's supporting your values. Support candidates who will work for a sustainable food system, and a viable rural economy. Meanwhile, you can do your part by investing $10 a week in the future of Maine agriculture.
President’s LetterReflections on the Board of Pesticides Control
Seven years ago, Jean English first asked me to report on the Board of Pesticides Control for this paper. I’ve stuck with the job ever since, and I’d be the first to admit that it’s been both fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating because, however "routine" many of the Board’s actions come to seem after a while, what they do is really at the cutting edge of the clash between human health and the environment on one hand, and business (including agricultural) interests on the other. Frustrating because too often I’ve seen the economic interests (as in short term profits, and long term ecological costs) win out. Frustrating because there is just too much to do to get a handle on pesticide use in Maine and to reduce it meaningfully, too little money and leadership from the state, and too little time for the unpaid, volunteer Board that directs pesticide control in Maine.
Accordingly without much hope I agreed a year ago to represent Debbie and Bruce Brown and their daughter Codey in the first BPC petition based on human health for a Critical Pesticide Control Area in Hope. I expected the case to be a challenge, in which we’d air some critical issues, and would bravely go down in defeat. The concept of multiple chemical sensitivity was a strange one to most of the Board, one that raised suspicions of quackery, of "alternative medicine," and fears of environmental extremism. The credo the Board operated under mostly was that pesticides were always "safe when used as directed"--for everyone. And this petition ran up against Mom and apple pie in Maine--the farmers "property right" to farm with pesticides.
Well, I’ve told the story over the course of the year in this paper. In the end, I was surprised. Thanks largely to the leadership of (now retiring) Chairman Alan Lewis, "property rights" came to mean something else, too: the right of a homeowner not to be exposed to her neighbors’ pesticides. The Board’s rule may be imperfect in its attempt to protect this right, but it is an honest and serious effort to do so. Under the rule, the Browns don’t have to worry about being awakened in the morning by helicopters spraying toxic organophosphates, or any other liquid pesticides, within ½ mile of their home. There’s a process to restrict and oversee their neighbors’ pesticide use, and to review it annually. As Board attorney Thom Harnett (also retiring) observed, "This may be a plan that gets better and better every year, but to wait until you get it perfect could take forever." Codey doesn’t have that long.
This may be the first time in the United States that a pesticide regulatory agency crafted a special regulation to protect a chemically sensitive individual. In a letter supporting the proposed rule, Arnet Jones, Chief of Environmental Risk for the EPA Office of Pesticides Programs, stated that he was "not aware of particular instances where state or local governments are considering actions to provide additional protection against exposure to pesticides." The Brown family and I are thankful for the time, effort, courage and thoughtfulness with which the Board addressed this petition.
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