Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Meet Grace Keown – Operations Assistant and Information Manager for MOFGA Certification Services, LLC

Grace Keown. Photo by Don Pendleton

Grace Keown. Photo by Don Pendleton

June 1, 2016

Grace Keown, operations assistant and information management staffer for MOFGA Certification Services LLC (MCS), grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Arizona, New York and parts of New England. She and her family moved to Maine in 2004 to homestead and live more sustainably and simply in the Dixmont hills, where they're revitalizing the soil, restoring a 100-year-old apple orchard ('Wolf River', 'Arkansas Black' and unidentified), raising poultry for meat and eggs, and offering a small farm-share to the local community from their high tunnel.
 
Keown earned a bachelor's degree in studio art and art history from SUNY/Stony Brook University and an MBA from Dowling College. She is an active artist and member of the Valley Arts Alliance, and has taught workshops in watercolor, drawing and wire-jewelry making. Keown won MOFGA's 2008 Common Ground Country Fair art contest with her Hay Barn illustration, and her Oxen Team art appears on the 2013 poster.
 
Q. You're an interesting mix: an artist who also sits at a desk and computer for hours each day helping our certified organic growers in diverse ways. Does your art help balance your long days in the office?

I guess you could say that having too many interests has always been a fault of mine, and thus my life has evolved to being a jack-of-all-trades, as focusing on one thing is just too limiting for me. Call it what you will, adult ADHD, but I'm never bored, that's a given. I feel very fortunate that I've been able to work for MOFGA all these years – knowing that my efforts really count for progressive change with an organization that is doing crucial work is extremely satisfying. I don't think I could ever go back to working just for the bottom line, as I did previously within "corporate America."

Being an artist is who I am, and I never regret having taken that path and getting my education in a creative field – it has served me in innumerable ways. And, I've been able to apply many design and creative skills to various projects at MOFGA. My technology side – I'm a bit of a nerd – is also indulged with my current position focusing on database management and design, web and Adobe applications.

Q. What does your job with MCS entail? How do you help our growers?

My official title is operations assistant/information management – a newly created position that will address several areas that were identified as needing more support. Among those are development, maintenance and documentation of the MCS database; working closely with the specialists on file preparation for annual reviews and a variety of projects that encompass communication and promotion of MCS to its certified producers and the greater community, as well as ongoing administrative work as it pertains to the program.

 Q. What is the most challenging part of our certification program? What's the most rewarding part?

Organic certification is a rigorous process, but MCS has worked diligently to develop a program that focuses on ease and transparency. There's quite a bit of paper chasing (both real and digital) and many moving pieces to coordinate and oversee by all our staff. The most rewarding part for sure is seeing the number of certified producers in Maine continue to grow, and to be part of a program that offers exemplary service and makes the process of becoming certified organic so efficient and positive.

Q. Given your jobs with MOFGA (and your husband, Don Pendleton's, job there as buildings and grounds assistant), your winning designs for the Common Ground Country Fair art contest and your family's long involvement with the Fair, you have a broad understanding of MOFGA. Can you summarize that understanding in any particular way?
 
You could say our relationship with MOFGA began while we were still living back on Long Island, New York. We'd identified Maine as the state we wanted to relocate to for many reasons. Finding that MOFGA was such an incredible presence here certainly confirmed that decision. I started working with MOFGA back in 2006 as a volunteer, and was recruited as Fair assistant for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Then MCS asked me to join its staff part-time in 2009, and it's been ongoing since. I am still amazed at the breadth of MOFGA's work, and the sheer dedication and passion of its staff and volunteers, who all work tirelessly to bring its mission into the world.

Q. Have you been able to attain the degree of homesteading that you anticipated when you moved to Dixmont in 2004? What has or hasn't worked?

That's a very good question, and we've learned some hard lessons that derived from our original goals when we first moved to Maine. The largest lesson for us, at least, was balance and letting go. I am sure there are some folks out there who have success with producing most of their own needs – and my hat goes off to them – but we found ourselves stretched very thin after a few years and realized we had too many projects going. It became very stressful and expensive, and wasn't sustainable to the degree we'd hoped, in terms of time and money.

What we found works is finding your enjoyment, determining what brings the greatest return on your investments and focusing on those areas. We also had to adapt to our land, which is rolling hills with very few flat areas. We'll never have lovely open fields with endless rows of vegetables – one can dream – but niche area growing, an extended season high tunnel, some raised beds and continuous soil improvement and expansion of our growing areas allow us to produce for ourselves and offer back to our local community via a small farm-share we run spring through late fall.

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