UNITY – Officials at the country’s largest organic farming association are hoping more applicants will seek its top post.

Melissa White Pillsbury, organic-marketing coordinator at Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, said the organization is casting a wide net for an executive director.

“We would love to get as many submissions as possible,” she said. “They are some big shoes to fill, but we’re not necessarily looking to fill shoes. We’re looking for the next generation of leadership.”

Since October, MOFGA has been under the direction of interim executive director Heather Spalding, after its 17-year leader, Russell Libby, stepped down. Libby, who had been diagnosed with cancer, died in December.

Within days of his death, Libby was the subject of a New York Times obituary, and flags throughout Maine were lowered to half-staff by order of Gov. Paul LePage. An endowment fund in Libby’s name raised $30,000 for the association in less than a month.

Libby’s stature loomed so large in the organic farming community, it’s possible that some potential applicants are intimidated by the legacy, White Pillsbury said. Those people need not apply.

“We really need someone who is going to rise above it and persevere,” she said. “We definitely need someone with a strong, engaging personality, someone who is a people person and can lead.”

Associate Director Chris Hamilton said some might perceive Libby as a tough act to follow, but Libby would have said otherwise.

“He was certainly well respected and loved here at MOFGA, but he would be the first to admit that he had his strengths and he had his challenges, and there would be people who can follow him and do a great job. He very much wanted that to happen.”

White Pillsbury belongs to a 10-member search committee, made up of MOFGA board and staff members. The group will begin reviewing a “healthy number” of applications this week, but there is no deadline for submissions, she said.

The ideal applicant will advance the organization’s goals of helping farmers and gardeners “grow organic food, fiber and other crops; protect the environment; recycle natural resources; increase local food production; support rural communities; and illuminate for consumers the connection between healthful food and environmentally sound farming practices,” according to the job posting.

Hamilton said the selection process will be transparent.

“MOFGA has always operated as a large tent. It’s a big membership organization and the members will have an opportunity to meet with the finalists,” he said.

Spalding, who worked closely with Libby for more than 15 years, is not seeking to fill the slot permanently, Hamilton said.

Under Libby’s leadership, MOFGA became the country’s largest state-level organic association, with more than 6,500 members, 418 certified organic farms and processing operations, a 400-acre year-round education center, more than 1,500 volunteers and 32 employees, according to previous reports.

Libby directed the development of MOFGA’s Common Ground Education Center.

Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at: