Imagine you are at the helm of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, a longtime local advocate for organic agriculture and defender of rural life that in recent years has garnered national influence. Would you rather focus on growing membership, promoting the benefits of eating organic food or expanding organic production in the state?

What are your favorite programs? The apprenticeships for farmers? The Common Ground Country Fair? The educational workshops?

This year, MOFGA’s 11,000 members, as well as the public, will get a say in the future of the organization through an intense strategic planning program that got underway over the summer. The organization has launched an online survey that also will be available in print form at the Common Ground Fair next weekend. The survey will be open until Sept. 30.

The association has been through strategic planning at least two times since 2002, but those efforts were the usual crafting of goals and objectives for specific programs over about a five-year period. This time around, the staff is taking a deeper, more long-term look at where it is going, within the context of a changing culture and evolving membership.

“We’re looking into foundational aspects of the organization – our vision, our values – trying to get a better sense of what folks in the organic community in Maine hold dear to themselves, and their hopes for the organization as well,” said Executive Director Ted Quaday. “It’s a little deeper than our normal strategic planning effort.”

The strategic planning mission began in early August with four meetings at Good Will Hinckley spread over four days. A couple hundred members of MOFGA and the public attended. They talked about specific programs as well as the organization’s vision, values and mission. Each meeting elected two representatives to move into another, more focused conversation on Aug. 31, guided by a 60-page document developed by the facilitator, Good Group Decisions. (Altogether, there are about 30 people processing data for the strategic planning program, Quaday said.)

Next comes the survey released on Sept. 15. The so-called “all representatives group” elected in the first four meetings will come back together later in the fall.

The move from simple, program-based planning to a more formal, long-term strategic planning process is emblematic of how the organization itself has evolved over the years, from a ragtag group of organic farmers and gardeners with common interests to a more mainstream organization whose mission speaks to many demographics.

Quaday said that so far, they’re finding that there’s a lot of agreement on what MOFGA is all about, at least through members’ eyes: It’s a strong supporter of the organic gardening and farming community. There is concern “very deep within the organization” about the survival of rural communities and the financial health of Maine farms, he said.

But part of the challenge of this exercise is that the membership – and Maine itself – have evolved and become more diverse since MOFGA was founded 43 years ago. Awareness of organic food and farms has grown exponentially over the past 10 to 12 years, Quaday said, dating to the arrival of national organic standards that “really opened the door to a lot of growth within the organic community, and that has had an interesting impact on society in general.”

The membership is “becoming more aware,” Quaday said. “There are more and more people becoming members just because they support organic agriculture, or they want to be able to get organic food and they see MOFGA as an advocate working actively working to make that happen. We also have a growing contingent of young farmers coming into the state, and we’re working directly with them. The organization is evolving constantly, and staying connected to that kind of group can be challenging in itself, understanding where they’re coming from.”

And things are still changing fast, within the context of larger issues such as climate change. In addition to spreading the word about organic farming, members now also care more about the environment, food issues in general, and the health of their children. They want to see organic gardening and consumption of organic foods promoted through the broader prism of environment and health, Quaday said.

“I would say that’s the most crucial part of the conversation at this point in time,” he said, “is seeing where our work needs to be focused.”

The development of the organization’s new vision, mission and values statements should be concluded by December. Then the group will create a new work plan that looks forward long-term, but is flexible enough to adjust to changing technology and the growth and development of the organic industry.

“Worldwide there’s increasing awareness of the importance in paying attention to how you’re producing your food, and I would expect those changes are going to continue,” Quaday said. “We need to be flexible in terms of what we’re seeing in our movement, so we can stay relative to it.”