MOFGA leader makes push for buying food locally

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LEWISTON — Russell Libby believes big grocers’ ability to fill fruit and produce aisles with almost any food at any time has dulled shoppers’ wits and dinner-table variety.

Taste buds are dying, he said.

“It’s all those little nuances,” said Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Try Maine apples, for example.

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“In September, October and early November, a McIntosh is a superb apple,” Libby said. “The rest of the year, it’s a good apple.”

The reason? The fruit grows soft even in the best storage conditions, he said.

“You have to ask, ‘What is right for the right season?’” he said.

For the folks who want to learn, there are a growing number of options, Libby said Thursday at the Great Falls Forum, a monthly lecture series at the Lewiston Public Library.

“I’m really encouraged by what’s going on,” said Libby, a gray-bearded figure dressed in farmer plaid.

Part of the initiative aims to break some of the corporate consolidation of food production and distribution. It also aims to lessen the use of genetic engineering to make more fleshy livestock or fatter fruits and vegetables.

Libby’s talk was part of the Lewiston-Auburn reading initiative, “One Book/One Community.” Events have focused on the themes arising from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.” The nonfiction book relates Kingsolver’s yearlong effort to eat only locally produced food.

Libby encouraged people to buy locally through one of his organization’s growers.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association started in 1971 with only a dozen farms and a single farmers market. Today, MOFGA represents about 400 farmers with food available directly to consumers at about 95 markets.

People also can buy shares from about 150 farms statewide in community-supported agriculture systems. Currently, about 6,000 Maine families buy CSA shares, but they represent only a small percentage of food buyers.

About 95 percent of people buy most of their groceries in supermarkets, Libby said.

Besides flavor, people lose a connection to the food and its connection to the elements, said Libby, a poet and the owner of Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon.

The poet-farmer quoted Robert P.T. Coffin, a fellow Mainer, Pulitzer winner and foodie.

“We eat from the air, the sea and the Earth,” Libby read. “People forget that.”

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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