Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

By Jean English, Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

In the fall of 1988, when I started working for MOFGA, 41 growers were certified organic – a big number then for a state with a small population. One staff member, Eric Sideman, and a certification committee oversaw the certification process. I was so grateful to have landed in a state that gave such support to organic!

Chris Grigsby reports in this issue of The MOF&G that MOFGA Certification Services will finish 2019 with over 580 certified operations – 546 certified organic, 37 certified clean cannabis. That work takes a staff of nine and a management committee of five. My gratitude only grows for their work and for all organic producers – especially after Carey Gillam’s keynote speech and the Public Policy Teach-In at MOFGA’s 2019 Common Ground Country Fair.

Gillam, author of “Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science,” talked about the “pesticide dependent food production system created by a handful of powerful corporations that say we shouldn’t worry about the risks that come with these pesticides.” She described those risks, focusing on Roundup herbicide and its active ingredient glyphosate. Excerpts from her talk appear in this MOF&G, the entire speech is on MOFGA’s YouTube channel, and we also review her book in this paper. Close to 300 million pounds of glyphosate are used in the United States each year, Gillam noted – on nonorganic crops that have been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide, on some nonorganic grains to promote drying before harvest, between rows of such crops as nonorganic almonds and oranges, in parks and landscapes and on school grounds. The International Agency for Research on Cancer says the herbicide is a probable human carcinogen with a specific association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma – hence the more than 11,000 plaintiffs fighting Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) in court, with some big wins for the plaintiffs.

These are not fun facts, said Gillam. Or as my Dutch friend and coworker Jaco Schravesande-Gardei says in her second language of English, “It’s not all moonshine and roses.”

The teach-in at Common Ground (also excerpted in this paper and posted on YouTube) covered the inadequate regulatory process for pesticides by discussing the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, banned in 2001 for homeowner use because of its toxicity. Under President Obama, the EPA was in the process of banning it in agriculture, but in July 2019 the Trump administration overturned that action. Panelists talked about this neurotoxin that is known to affect children’s brains, about its use on over a dozen crops, its presence in Arctic fog and as residues in produce, and a history of false advertising by Dow Chemical alleging its safety. Gillam noted in her keynote that Dow Chemical gave $1 million to the Trump inaugural fund, its high-ranking people met with the Trump administration, and the ban on chlorpyrifos magically went away. This kind of inappropriate influence has been going on for decades.

Yikes, pass the organic moonshine! And thanks again to the certification staff and organic producers for giving us alternative, healthful choices. Their work does bring sunshine and organic roses.

Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides said during the teach-in, “I’ve spent about 30 years playing whack-a-mole with various chemicals. We get chemicals banned over decades, but the real solution is a systems change. That’s what we do under the Organic Foods Production Act … why we need alternatives, why we should support organic and the transition of conventional farmers to organic.”

I’ve been sold on organic for decades, but the Common Ground Country Fair reinforced my commitment. Thanks to April Boucher, our Fair director, to her staff and to about 2,000 volunteers for making the Fair happen year after year.