Each year, in conjunction with the annual Source Maine Sustainability Awards, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association grants Russell Libby Agricultural Scholarships, one in each of three categories: high schooler, educator and MOFGA journeyperson; the last is two-year program that offers beginning Maine farmers resources, stipends and mentorships. The scholarships, which come with $1,500 grants thanks to the generous support of Lee Auto Malls, are named for the late, beloved 17-year director of MOFGA, who died before his time.

Lila Gaudrault of Cape Elizabeth, 2021 high school Russell Libby scholar. Sharyn Peavey Photography

Lila Gaudrault, high school student

A single book changed Lila Gaudrault’s career trajectory, as she eloquently explained in her application for a Libby scholarship. Here, we’ll let her tell you:

“Advanced Placement Language and Composition is not the kind of class that one expects to be life-altering. It involves learning to write following a strict AP rubric, memorizing countless vocabulary terms, and painstakingly analyzing centuries-old texts. Yet when my English teacher assigned my class ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ as our spring reading book, I found my world turned upside down.”

Gaudrault, a senior at Cape Elizabeth High School and a two-time state champion in cross-country, wrote that the book sparked a realization in her: “I’m meant to farm.”

She took immediate action. She got a job at Jordan’s Farm, down the street from her home, washing and packing produce, stocking shelves and working the register at the farm store. She built a raised-bed garden at a nearby community garden. And she began reading “every book on regenerative agriculture I could get my hands on,” her application went on to say. “That summer (2020), days were spent going from the farm, to the garden, to the books. I was sweat-covered, dirt-stained, and exhausted. It was the happiest I’d ever been.”

Since then, Gaudrault has worked at farms in Maine and Vermont through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), applied for college programs in sustainable agriculture (she’s “99 percent sure” she’ll attend UMass at Amherst), and has plans to apprentice at a farm in New Hampshire this summer. “My overarching goal,” she wrote, “is to open and operate a diversified, self-sustaining farm and provide my community with the food it produces.”

Gaudrault describes herself as a first-generation farmer. She said her parents, both accountants, are not even green thumbs. That gives her a special perspective on her own plans to, pardon the pun, break into the field. Asked at the end of an interview if she had anything to add, she didn’t hesitate.

“Coming from a family where there is no ag experience or no family traditions,” Gaudrault said, “especially with farms always passed through the generations, I’d say to other people of my generation who aren’t from farming families, ‘You can get started in it. You can do it. You can create your own opportunities and there is so much opportunity you can find.”

Emma Lovering, of Brunswick, 2021 MOFGA journeyperson Russell Libby scholar. Photo by Emily Galli

Emma Lovering, MOFGA journeyperson

The biblical Job didn’t have much on Emma Lovering.

The 24-year-old started vegetable farming on leased land at Snowfield Farm in Pownal last summer, the first year of a five-year lease and the first time she ran her own farm. First came the pandemic, with its attendant uncertainties for farmers. Next came a severe drought.

“It was such a crash course,” Lovering said. “I feel like it could only go up from here, knock on wood.”
But being tested seems to have made her more resolute. She set up a 25-person Community Supported Agriculture group (she’d like to double that number this summer). She donated extra vegetables to a pop-up farm stand she organized at Highlands retirement community in Topsham. Lovering had scant cooler space, a small customer base and a vigorous garden. Highlands had isolated and vegetable-longing seniors, including her own grandparents. “It worked out,” she said, laughing. (She intends to remedy her cold-storage problem this summer in part with money from the scholarship.)

Lovering grew up in Topsham in a family that always included cats, dogs and horses, along with the humans. Over the years, she participated in 4-H, attended Wolfe’s Neck agricultural program for teenagers, worked at nearby small, organic farms and eventually enrolled in Kennebec Valley Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture program. A career in farming speaks to her love of animals, the outdoors, “being one with nature – not to sound too lofty – and being independent.”

Also, as she wrote in her application for a Libby scholarship for journeypersons, “organic, sustainable farming on this small scale is one of the few things I can do nowadays that feels like I am actively having a positive impact on both the environmental and physical health of those in my community.” Climate change “was the ultimate factor” that led her to farming, she wrote, adding that as a high schooler, she sought “a tangible way” to help mitigate its impact.

Ideally, Lovering would like 25 acres in Maine to call her own, with luck by 2025, where she could grow vegetables and keep chickens and a few dairy cows, both for “the human joy that they bring,” and the part they play in eating insects and fertilizing the soil. She understands what she is up against. Finding land is, she said, “my biggest insecurity right now.”

That, and climate change. But she remains optimistic. “We still have the capacity to make the change. Even though on a global national level, it’s not the drastic change that I, and I think a lot of environmentalists, would love to see, I’m hopeful for what we’re doing on a small community level. Maine is a great breeding ground. We’ve been able to foster a small petri dish, if you will, of more conscious ways of farming, a more holistic approach to the whole farm model.”

Signe Lynch, 2021 educator Russell Libby scholar. Photo by Grace Ellrodt

Signe Lynch, educator

If you walk by the New Beginnings building in downtown Lewiston one day soon, you might notice seedlings – carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers – lining the window sills. They are the literal seeds for a new project that recent Bates College graduate Signe Lynch and her “really positive and hard-working” colleagues at the nonprofit are helping to nurture.

Lynch, who received the Libby scholarship for educators, is putting the money toward gardens for the building: three raised beds for vegetables and herbs out back and a native garden for pollinators out front (a compost program is also in the works). But the gardens are, in some ways, merely a vehicle to help the homeless and runaway teens that the organization works with.

“Working with your hands in the soil can be very therapeutic,” said Lynch, who grew up in Farmingdale and studied education and environmental studies at college. “Following through on something from seed to finish has many therapeutic properties. Sometimes these youth have been so disenfranchised by the education system, they are reluctant to engage. The garden is such a valuable way to slip in lessons on so many different subjects.”

Through it, she continued, the young people – Lynch mostly works with 15- to 20-year-olds – can learn science, art and English; hone their observational skills, and make many other intellectual connections. It also offers them hands-on opportunities to plant, transplant, nurture, harvest and make home-cooked meals with the herbs and vegetables they’ve grown, “cultivation from seed to plate,” as Lynch put it in her application for the scholarship.

Like any good gardener, Lynch, who also works part-time as the herb garden coordinator at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, stressed the need to build a strong foundation for the garden. They’ll start with basic vegetables, she said, in order “to establish what we’ll have capacity to do in following years. This year is a big experiment. We’re setting it up in a way that’s the foundation for success in many years to come.” She envisions a hopefully not-too-far-off day when the young people at New Beginnings can have daily, tangible experiences with healthy, locally grown food.

Lynch may not see that day firsthand, though. She delayed a Fulbright scholarship last year, but now plans to move to Montenegro in the fall to work as an English language assistant in a science classroom, again uniting her enthusiasm for science and for education, this time on a global stage.


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