Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Disturbing Forest Service Timber Harvesting Plan for Maine
Does Organic Need a New Label?
MOFGA Responds

Disturbing Forest Service Timber Harvesting Plan for Maine

To the editor:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized 75 years ago the importance of forests in environmental health when he said, "Forests are the lungs of our land." How much more important now to keep our national forests intact and thriving, as live, healthy trees keep carbon out of and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

I hope the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will change its plans for harvesting timber in the Stoneham, Maine, area of White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). Harvesting for this "Albany South" project is scheduled to begin in late 2015.

Stoneham resident Frank Robey walks that area of WMNF twice daily, exploring, learning, mapping and photographing stonewalls, cemeteries, cellar holes, wildlife trails, vernal pools, which oak trees are producing acorns this year, which brooks run all winter. His video camera captures the activities of beavers, raccoons, moose, coyotes, deer, fox and bear while he is at home. USFS personnel cannot spend such time learning the intimate details of the area they plan to harvest.

Robey says 125 stands are scheduled for harvest, 15 to be clear-cuts the USFS says are between 10 and 30 acres. Remaining cuts are described as group selection, single tree selection and seed trees. The largest area of selective cutting is 118 acres. Including roads for logging trucks and skidders, more than 3,000 acres will be disturbed.

Several years of road building and logging will disrupt local wildlife and residents – unnecessarily and inadvisably, I believe. That forest and its inhabitants are thriving without USFS management by cutting, but USFS says cutting is necessary to keep the forest healthy and attract wildlife.

USFS personnel are decent people, educated and doing what they've been taught, working for a huge government organization notoriously resistant to change. But it is time for a course correction, time to manage national forests by keeping them alive and healthy to benefit all beings instead of cutting them for lumber.

Proponents of lumbering say trees grow back. True, eventually, but much of the stored carbon will be released into the atmosphere. Studies show that it takes 140 years to replace carbon currently stored in 100-year-old trees. After the machines with their noise and stench leave, what's left? Destroyed wildlife habitat, displaced animals, silted brooks, ravaged peace and beauty.

USFS will issue its environmental analysis this spring, followed by a 30-day public comment period. Meanwhile, learn more about this project at and comment to Patricia Nasta, Androscoggin Ranger District, 300 Glen Rd., Gorham, N.H. 03581, [email protected].

– Joyce White
Stoneham, Maine


Does Organic Need a New Label?

Long time supporters of organic farming need to realize that the ground is shifting under their feet. Rapidly. Ever since the USDA (and by association the industrial food lobbyists) was given control of the word, the integrity of the "USDA Certified Organic" label has been on a predictable descent to irrelevance. The organic community initially insisted on integrity and thought they had achieved it. Unfortunately, they permitted the foxes to manage the hen house. We now have 4,000-cow dairies with no real access to grazing and 1,000-acre vegetable fields fed on "soluble organic" fertilizers of suspicious provenance. But, even more dismaying (I can hear the death knell of organic integrity ringing in the distance), we also have, although few are aware of it, organic hydroponics.

How can that be? There isn't any soil in hydroponic production. One of the appeals of organically grown food is based on the high nutrient status of plants grown in a biologically active fertile soil with all its known and unknown benefits. Well, that is what most people think organic production is all about because the original government definition of "organic" stressed "soil biological activity" as one of the processes enhanced by organic practices. Dismayingly, the USDA rewrote that definition in 2002 to remove any reference to the word "soil." And the trend is straight downhill from that point on. Big money is presently being invested in "vegetable factories" and "vertical farms" where production is hermetically sealed in huge warehouses filled with LED lights and nutrient pumps. That frightening picture is the future of "organic" as defined by the USDA.

Despite the strenuous objection of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which was supposed to set standards, the director of the National Organic Program (NOP), Miles McEvoy, has unilaterally declared the legality of organic hydroponics. And many of the organic certifying agencies jumped right on the bandwagon and have been certifying hydroponic operations. Come on folks, you are not in charge of organics anymore. The bureaucrats and the lobbyists have taken over. I realize MOFGA is not one of those agencies certifying hydroponics, but what will you do when the produce from "vegetable factories," set up in old warehouses in Maine cities and certified by some other agency, begin putting your local growers out of business?

I saw the handwriting on the wall back in the '90s when the USDA first got involved. That is why I have never certified. I saw no future in battling the inevitable – the cheapening of standards and increasing influence of industrial food. I argued that we should find a new word. The time has come for MOFGA to show some initiative and start certifying a new label. We all know what the real standards are and we need to demand them. The first battle has been lost and if you don't take action you will certainly lose the war.
– Eliot Coleman
Harborside, Maine

MOFGA Responds

It's no easy task to write a response to a letter to the editor by Eliot Coleman, but I realize that after 13 years at MOFGA, it's my turn.

For the most part I think the National Organic Program has done a good job, especially considering what an enormous undertaking launching an organic standard for an entire country is. I am not a statistician, but with well over 19,000 certified organic operations1 in the United States, it is not surprising that a few have been controversial. Over the years I have met a lot of folks working for the NOP as well as for other ACAs (accredited certifying agents), and every one of them takes his or her job seriously and wants to do the right thing. Mistakes happen and gray areas in the regulation exist. Anyone who has done organic certification work, even before there was an NOP, knows that 90 percent or so of a standard falls into place pretty neatly and is not too difficult to agree upon, convey and enforce. About 10 percent, however, can be murky, sometimes harboring massive disagreement.

One of the latest hot topics in organics is hydroponics. Truth be told, the NOP has permitted hydroponic operations to apply for organic certification under the crops scope for years. There are whole sections of the standard (e.g., land history, buffers, crop rotation, soil fertility management …) that don't apply to hydroponic operations, and in some ways this makes them easy to certify. What it lacks in land-based considerations, it makes up for in material inputs. In some ways it is not that different from certifying seedlings or certain quickly grown and harvested crops or containerized greenhouse production, all of which MOFGA Certification Services will certify, and the difference between these and hydroponics is the use of compost or compost blends, which, although closer to soil than coir or glass wool, should still not be confused with real soil. Where do we draw the line? It is hard to tell sometimes. Guidance would be good.

In March the NOP announced that it is seeking nominations for a task force that will deliver new guidance on hydroponics to the NOSB in 2016. This is good news. Even better news is that Eric Sideman, MOFGA's organic crop specialist, is throwing his hat into this ring. Sideman served on the NOSB from 1997 to 2002 and has nearly three decades of experience working with organic crop producers as well as in matters related to organic certification. If there is to be organic hydroponics, it needs to be based on a "production system that integrates cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling resource, promote ecological balance, and conserves biodiversity."

ORGANIC has arrived. It's a worldwide agricultural movement and a commonplace label on grocery stores. Europe has more than 11 million hectares (more than 27 million acres) of organic farmland – 27 percent of the world's total; Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and nearby islands) has more than 17 million hectares (more than 42 million acres) in organic.2 Compare these numbers with North America's 3 million organic hectares (7.4 million acres). Its prominence on U.S. store shelves trails that of many European countries, but that is likely to change. Scientific studies on the positive impacts of organic farming and organic eating on the environment and on human health are increasing in number. This alone is cause for celebration. Ditching the term now is a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. While a new label may gain traction in small marketplaces in Maine, many of our organic producers need markets that go beyond their hometowns. If we want to see significant farmland in Maine not only remain farmland but also be farmed organically, we need to participate in larger national and international markets. For these purposes, USDA-accredited certification services are required.

– Mary Yurlina
Director, MOFGA Certification Services LLC