Tuesday October 23, 2012 | 09:57 AM

Photo courtesy of MOFGA

Since 1995, Russell Libby has been the face of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, working with farmers, building coalitions among food producers and lobbying lawmakers in Augusta and Washington, DC. Last week came the news that he was stepping down from the position of executive director and transitioning into the role of senior policy advisor. In recent years, Libby has been battling cancer.

To honor Libby's years of service to the organization, MOFGA hosts a pie social in his honor Nov. 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity.

The potluck pie social is open to all. Those who attend are encouraged to, but don't need to, bring a pie, such as a fruit pie, a savory pie, a chicken pot pie, a pizza pie or an ice cream pie. At 2 p.m. the social will feature a surprise unveiling of art by Robert Shetterly.

During Libby's tenure, MOFGA grew to become the largest state-level organic association in the nation. The nonprofit now counts more than 6,500 households and businesses as members, attracts more than 1,500 volunteers each year, certifies more than 400 farms and processors as organic and employs more than 30 people at its 400-acre education center in Unity, which is home to the annual Common Ground Country Fair and many other events.

In a prepared statement, MOFGA board president Barbara Damrosch said: "For as long as I’ve been involved with MOFGA, Russell has been its head, heart and soul, and it is with deep gratitude for these years of leadership that the board embraces his new role. We are thankful that he is willing to continue to lend his wisdom to all our endeavors."

Heather Spalding, the organization’s current deputy director who joined the organization in 1997, will serve as interim executive director when Libby steps down on Nov. 2.

Also in a prepared statement, organic farmer and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said: "I've known Russell for years and I'm honored and proud to be able to call him a friend and a colleague. He has contributed a wealth of knowledge and skills to his many years at MOFGA. His contributions to sustainable farm policy have been substantial and I can't think of anyone else in the country who has done more to advance the cause of organic farming. We are lucky to have such a thoughtful and dedicated advocate and public servant here in Maine. Even though Russell is stepping aside as executive director, I'm glad that the farmers and consumers of Maine - as well as policymakers around the country - will still have the benefit of his experience, knowledge and humor."

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

In a letter to members, Libby reflected on his years of service to MOFGA both as executive director, and before that, a board member.

"I have to say that the piece I’m proudest of is that we have been able to bring together a highly competent staff who are helping to change Maine agriculture, day by day," Libby wrote. "We have infrastructure that we could only dream about 30 years ago - the Common Ground Education Center - which is so full of possibilities that it can, and will, shape much of what we are doing in the future. But we also have brought literally thousands of people into the organization, trained many new farmers, and continued to push on a wide range of policy initiatives."

In his new role, Libby will continue to press for policy changes that favor organic and sustainable food systems.

The Common Ground Education Center is located at 294 Crosby Brook Road. For more information about the pie social, call 568-4142.

Photo courtesy of Jean English

About the Author

Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.

Meredith can be contacted at 791-6332 or mgoad@pressherald.com
On Twitter: @meredithgoad

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