UNITY – The keynote address at Saturday’s Common Ground Country Fair was about the role of women in agriculture, but it was dedicated to the family of a man remembered as a visionary in organic farming.

“He was a man who was really important in my life as a farmer, said Deb Soule, Saturday’s keynote speaker. “Russell Libby had such appreciation for young farmers and I miss him dearly, as I believe many of us do.”

Soule is the founder and owner of Avena Botanicals, a nationally recognized West Rockport-based company that makes organic beauty and health products. She launched the company at the fair in 1985, when it was still held in Windsor, she told hundreds of listeners gathered on the fair common Saturday.

She spoke of the many successes and challenges faced by women throughout history and those yet to come, both in Maine and the larger world.

She also noted that Libby, who died in December at 56, was involved in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for 30 years, first on the executive board then as executive director.

As Soule spoke, fairgoers listened as they enjoyed both unusual and traditional fair food such as squash burgers and vegetable tempura, Maine baked beans and pie in a cone.

Soule, 46, said she was inspired by female farmers, gardeners, artists and beekeepers locally and globally.

“As a woman born and raised here in Maine, I am grateful to live in a state where organic farming and gardening is supported,” said Soule, who began her address by thanking the MOFGA staff, over half of whom are women, she said.

Soule, who grew up in Millbridge, began cultivating herbs at the age of 16.

Soule read several lists of women who had an influence on her, including women from MOFGA, Maine and around the world.

Beginning with MOFGA, Soule mentioned Marilyn Wentworth, one of MOFGA’s founders and Abbie McMillan, who is known as the birth mother of MOFGA, which was founded in the 1970s.

“We do not have to look far to find women caring for the earth and offering inspiration and leadership,” said Soule.

One of the most prominent women to influence views of the natural world was Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,” who spent summers in Maine and advocated for plants often thought of as weeds being preserved for their value as pollinators.

Soule also mentioned women around the world who are currently influencing agriculture, including Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work encouraging women in Kenya to grow seedlings and plant trees.

Fair Deputy Director Heather Spalding said Soule was invited to be one of three keynote speakers at the fair because of her long relationship with MOFGA and her knowledge of organic gardening.

“She is really a leader in the medicinal herb community worldwide. She has a developed knowledge of growing, teaching and marketing them,” she said.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com