The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has announced a fundraising campaign aimed at creating a $3 million endowment for its farmer training programs.
The group’s leaders announced Wednesday that the 43-year-old organization received a $1 million gift in January from the New York-based Partridge Foundation.
It’s the largest single monetary gift MOFGA has ever received.
The grant comes with a challenge: The Partridge Foundation will give another $1 million if MOFGA can raise $1 million on its own by the end of 2015.
Ted Quaday, MOFGA’s executive director, said the group didn’t publicly announce the $1 million gift until this week because it wanted time to plan a fundraising strategy.
“This is a huge opportunity for us,” he said. “We wanted to put together a strategy, and see who we need to reach out to.”
The Partridge Foundation awarded the money to “seed MOFGA’s work in encouraging a new generation of organic farmers,” according to a written statement from the foundation.
The statement adds that the grant reflects foundation founder Polly Guth’s “deep interest in healthful food and farming in her native New England.” Guth is a native of Manchester, New Hampshire, and her foundation has made grants to Maine organizations before, including several smaller grants to MOFGA.
Quaday said that MOFGA’s farmer training programs have been funded by a combination of federal money and foundation grants, but those sources aren’t always available each year.
Creating an endowment will help ensure the future of the training programs, which cost about $300,000 a year, Quaday said.
The group has two types of farmer education programs. One is an apprenticeship program.
About 1,700 people have learned the basics of farming through that program since it began in 1979, said Chris Hamilton, MOFGA’s associate director.
The two-year “journeyperson” program is more intensive, said Hamilton, and has trained some 200 people in organic farming and farm business practices over the past decade.
People who went through that program have started 150 new farm businesses, and 89 percent of the graduates are still farming in Maine, Hamilton said.
Based in Unity, MOFGA was started by people in the “back-to-the-land” movement who wanted to share ideas.
Today, besides the farmer training programs, MOFGA runs technical assistance and organic certification programs and organizes the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: