Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Portrait of Russell Libby by Robert Shetterly, from the Americans Who Tell The Truth collection.

By Ted Quaday, MOFGA Executive Director

Members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association know to a person that Russell Libby dedicated his life to growing the organic food movement here in the state he loved. He served as MOFGA's executive director from 1995 to 2012. Nationally he was a leading spokesperson for organic farmers in organizations such as the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture and the National Organic Coalition. His was a visionary voice aimed at creating a better home for all and a community able to thrive long into the future. It was a vision he articulated on more than one occasion in calls to action such as this: "It is our shared responsibility to leave this place better than we found it … a place of beauty, a place that gives us great pleasure throughout our days."

Russell certainly shouldered his share of the responsibility, in particular when it came to shaping MOFGA as an educational institution focused on providing beginning farmers with the training they'd need to become effective organic food producers.

Building on MOFGA's longstanding apprenticeship program, Russell imagined an educational approach based on the idea that successful farmers can mentor the next generation by providing hands-on learning in farm fields, orchards, pastures and – every once in a while – in the classroom. He turned this vision into reality through MOFGA's journeyperson farmer training program, an educational endeavor that has produced more than 200 skilled farmers over the last decade.

Russell's commitment to education was strong and unflagging, and that is why it is such a tremendous pleasure to note that MOFGA has joined with MaineToday Media (Source) and Lee Auto Mall to create the Russell Libby Agricultural Scholar Awards. The awards are envisioned as an annual scholarship program to help educate young people intent on studying organic and sustainable farming methods in Maine.

As Russell's widow, Mary Anne Libby, noted in a recent interview, "The scholarship gives people the chance to get the knowledge that Russell felt was so essential to being a good steward of the land."

Under the program, MOFGA will work with MaineToday Media to review applications and award three $1,500 scholarships per year. The scholarships will go to a Maine high school student who plans to study agriculture at a Maine college or university, a sustainable agriculture student at Kennebec Valley Community College and a current new farmer studying in MOFGA's journeyperson program.

MOFGA's goal is to raise $100,000 to support these annual awards, and donors can double the impact of their gift because a generous donor has pledged to match each dollar contributed. I hope each MOFGA member and others who worked with and loved Russell will join us in helping to honor the memory of this visionary Mainer who understood the clear connection between farming in concert with nature and our health as a human community.