What do a New Hampshire pizza dough maker, a Brooklyn-based artist and a cranberry farmer who lives south of Boston have in common?

All of them have products or crops certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. They’re part of a small group of farmers and food producers based out of state that have chosen to be affiliated with MOFGA’s organic program for a host of reasons, ranging from convenience to cachet to serious loyalty to the nearly 50-year-old organization and its brand. Of the 538 producers MOFGA certifies, 36 are out of state. In many cases, these are Maine land owners who live outside the state, like a handful of wild blueberry growers, or the 15 maple producers who live in Quebec but tap Maine trees. But there are also people who are either farming or making something out of state and opted for the MOFGA label to prove their products are organic.

Charlie Reid of Stone Wall Farm in Nottingham, New Hampshire, about 10 miles west of Durham, falls into that last category. He’s also the first non-Mainer ever to get MOFGA certified. A regular attendee at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair (which starts Friday), Reid joined MOFGA as a member in 1993. As a guy who started out organic farming in 1968, before that term was even much of a thing – “we referred to it as growing food without chemicals,” he said – he’d been something of an outlier, but MOFGA gave him a sense of community. In 2006, as he was renewing his membership while at the fair, he asked some board members if they’d consider certifying a farm that wasn’t technically a Maine farm.

“And they said, ‘No one has asked,’ ” Reid said.

Technically, there was nothing stopping them. “Certification can pretty much go anywhere in the United States,” said Dave Colson, MOFGA’s agricultural services director. “Of course, the cost of doing that is higher.” MOFGA charges certification fees on a sliding scale, based on gross income, and with farmers like Reid, there is no need to charge more for travel costs; the drive down to visit for the annual certification process isn’t any further than Aroostook County. But if you were farming in, say, Hawaii and asked for a MOFGA certification, it would likely cost more than it was worth in terms of paying for the certifier’s travel expenses.

Reid said the MOFGA organic label costs him about $600 more than it would to use New Hampshire’s program through the state’s department of agriculture, but he’s fine with that.

“MOFGA spends their money on educating people on how to grow food organically, whether it’s for your backyard gardens or commercial business,” Reid said. “They do hundreds and hundreds of workshops every year. No other certification organization does that. I would rather see my money go to an organization that spends their money on that.”

“The other certification processes are almost like you are dealing with a police force,” he said. “It is almost like they have a badge and a gun on their hip. MOFGA is not like that. They are like a family.”

Reid grows between 75 and 100 types of vegetables at Stone Wall Farm, which he purchased in 1976. He sells mainly at health food stores and farmers’ markets in New Hampshire, including at the one in Portsmouth, where he proudly displays his white metal sign emblazoned with the MOFGA symbol. Does it have much of an impact on shoppers?

“Any organic certification gives you a leg up,” Reid said. “But people don’t understand the whole MOFGA thing, unless they are from Maine.”

Aimee Good, an artist and Aroostook County native, worked closely with MOFGA when she began growing garlic more than a decade ago. Photo courtesy of Aimee Good

For Brooklyn artist and part-time garlic farmer Aimee Good, an Aroostook County native who grew up on a potato farm, that connection to her home state and its legendary organic association was key. She went to Colby College in the 1980s, and MOFGA and the annual fair were “a huge part of my life,” she said. “I was super-jazzed about MOFGA.”

The late Russell Libby, who was the executive director of MOFGA for many years, was a generous mentor and steady inspiration for her.

“I would try to see him or talk to him at least once a year,” Good said. “He was always charging me with, ‘Aimee, you are the next generation, what is your role going to be?’ ”

As she moved away to Boston and worked as an artist, her work centered on food and farming, what she calls a “narrative investigation into my childhood.” She often found that conversations she had about food systems always seemed to connect back to MOFGA. Her projects included series of feeding troughs and bread baking installations in galleries.

Her dad and grandfather before him were conventional farmers, but Good wanted to explore the benefits of going organic on that family farm, even just a portion of it. She started more than a decade ago, using visits to Maine to prepare a 2-acre plot her father had left fallow for many years. She worked with MOFGA closely and, in 2009, planted her first crop of garlic to harvest in August 2010. By then she was living in New York – where she is the director of education and community for the nonprofit The Drawing Center. She sold some of her crop for seed within Maine, but she also sold the MOFGA-certified table stock to private chefs in New York, from a booth at the Brooklyn Flea and to curated CSA programs in New York.

“Mainly, I would bring it down here,” Good said. “My physician loves the garlic. She would buy it and put a little basket out in her office.”

For Good, the garlic business gives her a way to bridge markets between “the deep rural and the deep urban.” She didn’t plant last November, but will likely do so in future years. And two years ago, she started marketing and selling organic Maine Grain products to chefs and food stores in New York. “I send as many emails as I can fit into my day,” Good said. “I’m doing what I can for my peeps, for my state of Maine.”

A box of MOFGA certified, Good Dirt Garlic headed to the Natoora produce company in New York City. Photo courtesy of Aimee Good

STATE OF MIND

Rick Woodward, who lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts, southwest of Boston, represents that category of farmer who lives out of state but returns to tend his or her fields. He has a 2-acre cranberry bog in Albany Township and spends most of October up in Maine, harvesting, and the entire MOFGA certification process takes place in Maine. In the spring, he comes up to weed and get organized for the next season.

“The car kind of knows its way,” he said.

When he and his wife bought the land about 25 years ago, they planned to retire there. “Then the price of cranberries went down the tubes,” he said. He’s not getting rich, but the MOFGA certification enables him to sell at places like the Portland Food Co-op and to bring some product back to Massachusetts to Debra’s Natural Foods in West Concord. “They like the label,” Woodward said.

Then there’s Darrell Robinson’s MOFGA-certified slaughterhouse and processing facility, which is based in East Conway but crosses the Maine border into Fryeburg. The building sits on the state line. He’s been certified organic by MOFGA since 2011 and regularly toys with stopping. He keeps renewing the certification because of customers who have become friends, who raise beef and pork in Maine and need an organic slaughterhouse in order to sell an entirely organic animal. Old Narrow Gauge Farm in Alna is a customer and so is Brook Ridge Farm in Lyman.

“I mainly just do it for them,” Robinson said. “Honestly, there is no money in it.”

He said he recently told his farmer friends he was tired of the paperwork and inspection process. But there was pleading, like from one farmer who called him up and said, “Darrell, then I’d have to drive all the way to Dover-Foxcroft.” So he sticks with it. And, he admits, the inspectors are thorough, and the label is to be trusted.

DUTCH AND ITALIAN

A couple of the out-of-state certified producers came to MOFGA randomly, without any particular love of the state or affection for the organization. For Kees Overgaag, who manages Charlie’s Redhouse Farm in Winchedon, Massachusetts, it was all about a language barrier.

His brother, Paul Overgaag, wanted to find a better means of sourcing organic local foods for his two restaurants in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Charlie’s Kitchen and The Red House. When the brothers took over the farm, the previous owner was leaving to take a job as an organic certifier in Massachusetts. That created a conflict of interest, whereby the previous owner wouldn’t be able to work with them for several years. Casting around for another entity that could certify it organic, Kees Overgaag reached out to MOFGA and discovered that MOFGA had a certifying specialist, Jacomijn Schravesande-Gardei, who just happened to be from the Netherlands and who still spoke Dutch fluently. This made him very happy.

“My English was worse than it is now,” Overgaag said.

After the alloted years were up, the brothers decided to stay with MOFGA. Neither menu touts the MOFGA affiliation, Kees Overgaag said.

Tim Gyorda has the unusual distinction of being the only out-of-state, MOFGA-certified pizza dough maker. His company, Pro Dough Company Inc., is based in Manchester, New Hampshire, but serves stores, including Hannaford, throughout the region. He produces “millions and millions” of pounds of pizza dough, distributing to a total of about 350 stores and pizza restaurants.

Three years ago, he decided, after getting many requests for it, including from Hannaford, that Pro Dough needed to make an organic dough. MOFGA was the only certifier that had any availability, and it had good references. The organic product (50 cents more than the regular) is less than 1 percent of what he makes, and there’s no flavor distinction. All the ingredients – water, flour, yeast and salt – are organic, although not from Maine. The MOFGA label, which is on the package, doesn’t seem to be a particular selling point, he said.

“People don’t really pay attention,” Gyorda said. “I have done demos at grocery stores, so I have met people who are buying them. But as long as they see that USDA organic label, I think they are assuming it’s all good.”

He feels bad for the certifier who has to travel down to inspect his kitchen every year. But she or he usually does it on the same run that they’re visiting Charlie Reid at Stone Wall Farm and Kees Overgaag in Winchedon. As for Gyorda, he’s learned a lot from the process, from the way an organic maker deals with pests to the kind of Clorox he can use in his kitchen and still be organic (some scents don’t qualify).

“The whole thing has taught me a lot about my business in general,” he said. “And I have been in business for 30 years.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

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