Each year, the Source Awards partner with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association to give agricultural scholarships to three Mainers. These Russell Libby Agricultural Scholarships, which carry $1,500 grants apiece thanks to the generous support of Lee Auto Malls, honor MOFGA’s legendary leader, the late Russell Libby. The awardees are selected in three categories: a MOFGA journeyperson, a Maine high school senior and a teacher or education center.

Albion dairy farmer Matthew Dow and family. Pictured: Matthew Sr., his wife, Amy, and children Little Matt, DaLaney, Emma and Rachel with dogs Belle and Sadie. Kevin Kratka/Kratka Photography. Courtesy of Matthew Dow

MATTHEW DOW, MOFGA Journeyperson

In the risky business of farming, dairy farming may be the riskiest of all, and few enter the profession who weren’t born into it.

Try telling that to Matthew Dow, of SweetLand Farm in Albion. Now 45, he says he knew since he was a boy visiting the cows on a neighbor’s farm and participating in 4-H that he wanted his own dairy farm. “I just loved being around cows,” he said. “It’s something that has always stuck with me.” To this day, when his cows are settled in the barn on a winter’s evening, he checks on “my girls” each night before he goes to bed.

Dow and his wife, Amy, bought their first cow in 2010. They milked it by hand. In 2017, they bought SweetLand Farm, and today, they have 30 milking cows, 13 heifers – and, thankfully, a milking machine. They sell their milk to Organic Valley, and if you eat Stonyfield yogurt, you may have tasted it. The couple’s four children, the ninth generation of Dows to live in Albion, “each have a part (in the farm). They each love it,” he says.

Reached on a beautiful spring day while building fences to keep the cows safe, Dow is full of plans. He’d like to milk 40 to 45 cows; open a processing facility for broiler chickens; build a farm stand, a new sap house and a wood-working shop; and board horses. The dairying operation, he wrote in his application for a MOFGA scholarship, would remain “the backbone of the farm. We have a lot goals and dreams and in 2 1/2 years of being here we’ve just scratched the surface of what this farm can produce.”

He’ll achieve these goals, he wrote, through “HARD WORK! We were told that we could not start out with nothing and build a dairy farm in this day and age. We have. By the grace of God, grit and determination we have and the work ethic that we have will get us to a successful operation.”

SweetLand Farm sits on Route 9. The old barn dates back to 1837. (“What we call the new barn … was built in 1959.”) It took more than two years of searching to find the farm, and now Dow, who has been a scoutmaster and a firefighter, is on his farm, with his family, in his own hometown. He is right where he wants to be.

Madison Jones, pictured here with her neighbor Carol’s Sardinian donkey, Joe by name. She often takes walks with her mom, a dog, Joe the donkey, Jack the horse and Carol. Photo courtesy of Madison Jones

MADISON JONES, Maine high school senior 

How many high school seniors do you know who have mapped out their life plan?

Madison Jones has. Jones, who grew up in Lamoine on Mount Desert Island, intends to stay there. Well, first she’ll go away to college, not far away, to the University of Maine to earn a degree in sustainable agriculture. She says she will return home to start a flower farm. (“I love where I live. I love living on the water. I’m in a perfect spot. I love this state so much. And I love the people in this town.”) She’s already picked out a name – Seal Point Farm, and knows she’d like to fill it with Highland cows, Sardinian donkeys, Katahdin sheep and ducks and chickens.

Don’t dismiss this as the naive talk of a young person romanticizing farm life, complete with cuddly animals. Jones has worked at an area organic flower farm for several years now, planting, cutting, arranging and delivering flowers. “The business aspect has been an eye-opening experience that has taught me about pricing, overhead, taxes, and projected expansion,” she wrote in her application for a MOFGA scholarship. “It is easy to be drawn to the mystique and allure of farming, but I feel I am grounded in reality to make my farm a success.

Jones also has her own greenhouse – a present from her parents for her 18th birthday – and she keeps large perennial and annual flower and vegetable gardens of her own at Seal Point Farm. She jokes about using Miracle-Gro when she started to grow vegetables a few years back, “but now I have more respect for the soil my vegetables obtain their nutrients from.”

What has drawn Jones to farming? Being outside, having her hands in the dirt, getting to know the soil. Getting a tan, she tacks on with a laugh. Also,”the satisfaction of getting a final product,” she says. “I did this! Plant a little seed and then a few months later, ‘Wow I’ve a flower bouquet on my dining room table that I grew all by myself.'”

Elementary school teacher Snow Ross’ current class. She works with them – and the entire school – on an extensive garden program. Photo courtesy of Snow Ross

SNOW ROSS, Teacher

In these days of farm-to-table, Alice Waters and local-food-is-best, lots of people think school gardens are a terrific idea. Kids learn to eat vegetables, to appreciate the natural world, to connect food to the soil, to nurture.

But terrific ideas, especially in schools where teachers and administrators are doing a few other things besides gardening (teaching, grading papers, planning lessons, meeting parents, budgeting), are the easy part. The hard part is the day-in, day-out work of keeping a program going, in this case, Trenton Elementary School’s Growing Up Green Program.

Snow Ross is the recipient of a 2020 MOFGA scholarship. Photo courtesy of Snow Ross

That’s where Snow Ross comes in. Ross, a teacher of two decades at the school on Mount Desert Island, is a passionate advocate for her students and the program, which she describes with excitement and in detail: the greenhouse, a gift from the Rockefeller Estate 15 years ago; the monthly tastings; the freshly harvested vegetables used in the school cafeteria.

“In the spring, the Kindergarten will be planting pumpkins to be harvested next year,” she wrote in her application for a MOFGA scholarship. “Our middle schoolers will be planting zucchini to make zucchini bread in the fall for the whole school. Our second graders are currently vermicomposting and preparing their seedlings for the ever-expanding Pollinator Garden. Third graders are raising organic salad greens for the school lunch program. Some of our classes are getting creative with theme garden beds, including root veggies, eat your greens, three sisters, and a fun ‘purpleicious’ garden bed.”

The garden, is transformative for the students, Ross said, and is embedded in the school. She intends to keep it that way, to ensure that garden and related programming will continue to flourish, and the MOFGA scholarship money will help. The garden, she says, “is part of our culture right now.”

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