The Source Awards partners every year with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) to award agricultural scholarships to deserving Mainers, in honor of MOFGA’s legendary leader, the late Russell Libby. These scholarships, for $1,500 each, are awarded in three categories: Maine high school senior; teacher, school or education center; and MOFGA journeyperson. The awards are generously supported by Lee Auto Malls.

Anna Libby, daughter of Russell Libby and educational programs specialist at MOFGA, says this year’s winners are “an inspiring bunch,” but she also praised the quality of all the entries from people trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle and pass along to others their love of growing things.

“We loved reading all the stories from educators this year,” Libby said. “My father planted his very first garden after being given some seeds from his fourth-grade teacher. I love imagining all of the students whose own journeys are beginning, and will be influenced by, one of these projects in their own schools and communities.”

Kathryn Brayson, Russell Libby scholarship winner, at her school’s animal and agricultural sustainability club. Courtesy of Kathryn Brayson

KATHRYN BRAYSON, Maine high school senior

The passion that Kathryn Brayson of Milford has for organic agriculture began when waste from the farm down the road from her childhood home contaminated her favorite fishing spot, turning it into “a lifeless swamp.”

In more recent years, Brayson worked on a horse farm and became a regular at the Common Ground Country Fair, the annual tribute to the organic lifestyle hosted each year by MOFGA. She started an Animal and Agricultural Sustainability Club at her school. The club petitioned to reduce the use of plastics in the lunch room and to start an indoor garden. As an intern at the University of Maine’s Composites Center last summer, she experimented with composite materials that are plant-based, releasing no plastics into the environment.

Along the way, Brayson, now 17,  has developed an interest in agricultural research, particularly genetics research. She wants to search for new techniques in farming that “strike a balance between ecological preservation and industrial relevance.”

“One of the hardest parts of organic farming is being able to keep up with inorganic farms that use harmful chemicals and genetically modified livestock products,” Brayson wrote in her scholarship application.

Brayson would like to focus her research on effective alternatives to genetically modified plants and livestock. “I think that organic farming is really underestimated because it’s being outshined by all these new genetic engineering techniques,” she said, “but I think the public doesn’t know a lot about the side effects of some of these techniques.”

Brayson hopes to earn a degree in animal science at the University of Maine-Orono, and plans to use the Libby scholarship to support herself as she pursues internships that help her move toward her goals. She says she’ll be focused on research in grad school, but eventually would like to obtain a doctorate in veterinary medicine, with a concentration in dairy science and a minor in agronomy, and open her own practice.

Her long-term goal is a lofty one: To be “revolutionizing” the way Maine’s organic farms compete with conventional agriculture.

 

Kelsey Herrington, Russell Libby scholarship winner, harvests carrots by hand at Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough. Kelsey Kobik

KELSEY HERRINGTON, MOFGA journeyperson

Kelsey Herrington, 32, grew up wanting to be a doctor, not a farmer.

She grew up in a liberal, back-to-the-land farming community in Washington state, but her own family did not farm. As a pre-med student, she was interested in public health from a holistic perspective, “but once I started studying, I was more interested in why people were unwell, and that led me to food systems and agriculture.” So she focused on sustainable agriculture, and eventually earned a master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy.

After college, Herrington apprenticed at a livestock farm in Vermont, where she helped raise grass-fed beef and lamb, and pasture-raised pork and poultry. During that experience, she said, “I realized I liked the work and believed in what they were doing, and instead of being an advocate I wanted to be a farmer.”

After a stint on a year-round vegetable farm in upstate New York, Herrington moved to Saco with her husband in 2011, and together they founded Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough.

Herrington said they plan to put the scholarship money toward the purchase of a mechanical root harvester. (The farm grows carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes and parsnips.) Older models run about $10,000, she said, and newer models as much as $50,000. “This money will definitely be going right into our farm savings account,” she said.

As Herrington explained in her scholarship application, her dream has always been for Two Farmers Farm to become “a model for a family farm that can thrive economically, ecologically, and socially. Mechanization is a big step towards that dream.”

The harvester would allow the farm to supply its customers with more food, and be more economically productive. It would also give its workers more skills.

“When we replace low-skilled jobs with high-skilled jobs, our workers are happier,” Herrington said. “The work is easier on their bodies, and we can afford to give them more pay and benefits. When our workers are happy, the farm thrives.”

 

Incredible Edible Milbridge coordinator Pammy Dyer Stewart shows spacing of green beans to first graders. Courtesy of Incredible Edible Milbridge

ZABET NEUCOLLINS, Teacher, school or education center

Though NeuCollins’ name is on it, this award really honors a group of people who are trying to change the way their community eats and ensure that no one goes hungry. NeuCollins is an avid gardener, educator and community outreach coordinator for the Women’s Health Resource Library, the organization that started a community-wide project called Incredible Edible Milbridge (IEM).

Milbridge is a small, coastal fishing village in Washington County where 33 percent of children live in poverty, 67 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and families often cannot afford to buy fresh food, according to their scholarship application.

The idea for the IEM project project came from nurse practitioner Chris Kuhni, executive director of the Women’s Health Resource Library, who found herself caring for patients with a host of health issues related to hunger and poor nutrition. Started in 2013 as a handful of raised beds, the project now includes 24 in-town pocket gardens and a 14,000-square-foot garden at a local motel. This spring, the community will break ground on a 15,000-square-foot garden, and an adjacent children’s garden, at the Milbridge Commons Wellness Park. They’ll put the Libby scholarship money to good use – buying seeds, seedlings and tools to support the children’s garden.

The IEM project provides free vegetables to anyone in the community, the idea being to eliminate the stigma of traditional food banks. Much of the work involves gardening with children, which helps the project connect with their parents and teachers. In the gardens, NeuCollins said, “we ask them to harvest a meal for them and their families. Some people come every day and harvest a little, and some take more.”

Any leftover produce is put into a shopping cart and left outside the local grocery store, where anybody and everybody is invited to take some home.

Michael Hayden, a local vegetable farmer who owns Folklore Farm and grows vegetable seedlings for the gardens, brings vegetables to a local residential home for seniors.

“But the whole point of Incredible Edible Milbridge is having these gardens in town where people can come and harvest,” NeuCollins said. “This food is available for everyone, no matter your background or walk of life.”

The group hopes eventually to start school gardens at the local high school, and develop a comprehensive school curriculum with cooking and preserving classes, a course in sustainable agriculture, and more – using the gardens as learning labs.

NeuCollins says she has enjoyed watching her neighbors get pushed out of their comfort zones by participating in, for example, a worm composting class. But mostly, she says, she finds the Incredible Edible Milbridge project “incredibly important” for the health of her community.

“The more we engage with the world around us,” she said, “the more we are curious about life outside our own, the more we learn to approach life and the problems that arise creatively, conscientiously and patiently – which I believe gardening can teach us – the more our communities will become stronger, healthier and more resilient.”

 

 

 

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