Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Meet Chris Grigsby – Director, MOFGA Certification Services, LLC

Chris Grigsby. Photo by Grady Richman

Chris Grigsby. Photo by Grady Richman

Chris Grigsby was born in Waterville and raised in Southern Maine. After college he settled in the Portland area, working for seafood and produce distributors before relocating to the Midcoast with his wife and son and beginning work as general manager at the Belfast Co-op. Moving from retail back to his wholesale roots, Chris joined the team at Crown O' Maine as operations director before joining MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) in December 2016. He and his family homestead in Appleton.

Q. After a year and a half on the job with MCS, how are things going? Do you have a set routine and an established protocol for certification operations, or are things ever-changing?

A. Things are going very well! I really enjoy the work, and the part we play in assuring eaters out there that choosing products that are certified organic by MOFGA means the operation’s claim has been verified for compliance. As for routine, the process is very similar among clients, but the circumstances are most times very different. Within the four production scopes – crop, wild crop, livestock and handler – are a lot of different scenarios unique to a particular operation.  

Q. What is the makeup of the MCS staff now?

A. We are a year round staff of nine, with responsibilities varying widely. Our certification specialists also conduct inspections and unannounced inspections across all scopes, conduct sample collections, and perform material and compost reviews. Our administrative staff deals with all aspects of the operations, including IT, database, website, producer interactions, publications and filing. During inspection season, our team of inspectors ranges between 15 and 20.

Q. What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for organic certification – and for growing the number of certified organic producers in Maine?

A. Great question! In many ways I feel the challenge and the opportunity lie in the same place ... the market. The challenge is how crowded the market is, with every producer and food slinger elbowing their way to the front trying to be noticed. The opportunity lies in succeeding in getting to the front. If we can create the demand in the market by making ourselves noticed, we will then create the opportunity to grow the amount of food purchased and the number of certified operations in Maine. We have seen a significant increase in food production of value-added products in the state, and I see that as an area of potential growth. And for every processor or product we certify, there is the potential for some or all of the certified organic ingredients to be sourced locally.  
 
Q. You have such broad experience with the food system in our state. Do you see any broad themes or opportunities related to that system?

A. I tend to come down on the optimistic side on this. Many organizations (including MOFGA) and individuals along the way have changed the consciousness of consumers. We’ve seen a shift toward wanting to know where our food comes from. Direct-to-market models are now the norm. We’ve seen huge growth in home gardening, backyard chickens, etc. We’ve achieved success! This success has created market opportunities for organic agricultural products, but the opportunities also create competition for that market. We may have to look past our traditional markets. I think a strategic approach to tapping into the larger markets where most of the state and region access their food could help to create new markets for organic producers. If we can continue to build on this theme through messaging, consumer education and advocacy, we could see consumer demand shift even more toward regional organic production. There is a lot of momentum right now, and if harnessed properly, that could continue to result in a further shift back to a regional based model. But we’ll have to roll up our sleeves and dig in!   

Q. What are some of the interesting crops that MCS certifies, other than food?

A. I’m sure this isn’t all of them, but hops, flowers, medicinal herbs, native perennials, Christmas trees and wreaths come to mind. In addition, MCS administers MOFGA’s clean cannabis program, which completed its first year beyond pilot in 2017. We currently certify operations producing medical cannabis, hemp and processed products.  

Q. Are you excited about the 500 percent growth in the number of MOFGA-certified organic kelp producers in the last five years?!

A. Yes, although that large percentage is a bit deceiving, given five years ago we were at one! That said, the growth and production has been on a steady rise, and we have seen application numbers increase in 2018. The announcement of the Maine Seaweed Exchange as well as the number of applicants points to a likely continuation of growth in this production area.  

Q. Can you tell us a little about your life outside of MOFGA? About your family, home, garden and straw bale house?

A. I live a pretty quiet life for the most part (aside from occasional gigging in a rock band). We have 11 acres in Appleton, of which 1 1/2 are lowbush blueberries and gardens of mixed vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees. We fell in love with the land and area (and the blueberries!), and set out with our designer and builder we met at the Common Ground Country Fair to build our straw bale home. The house is a post-and-beam hybrid with straw bale infill. The idea is to use the benefit of thermal mass, with the walls over 18 inches thick. It works wonderfully! 

MOFGA Staff Interviews

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