Russello Libby ’78
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 72, No. 3, Spring 2001
If you've ever attended the Common Ground Country Fair, the annual "celebration of rural living" held by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), you're following the same path that Russell Libby '78 embarked on in 1977. That September, Professor David Vail, Russell's advisor, suggested he might enjoy an event happening in nearby Litchfield. After a short jaunt on his '62 Lambretta motor scooter, Russell put his kickstand down in the middle of Maine's growing organic farming movement. Two decades later, the scooter is gone, but Russell is still there.
Since that first visit to the Common Ground Country Fair, Russell has gone from curious fairgoer to fair master. He's now Executive Director of MOFGA, the largest state level organic organization in the country. Now 30 years old, MOFGA focuses on farm interests, specifically, preserving and enhancing the agricultural economy in Maine by finding ways to keep farmland available for farming. The organization cultivates relationships between farming and community, landscape and environment, and counts over 3300 members.
In the span of three decades, organic farming in Maine has grown to the point where organic farms account for nearly 4% of all farms, the highest level in the United States. Maine also possesses one of the highest densities of farmers' markets and locally owned natural food stores in the country. This combination helps to build a strong network for locally grown foods.
Along the way to his current post, Russell worked on national level economic policy for the National Center for Economic Alternatives (now Economic Policy Institute), but eventually decided he could have a bigger impact working on issues in his native Maine. He added a master's degree in agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maine in the mid-1980s, and spent ten years as Research Director at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Resources before moving to MOFGA in 1995. Not unfamiliar with MOFGA before taking its highest post, he'd served as a board member since 1983, including two years as president.
During the last five years, MOFGA purchased 210 acres of farmland and forest for a permanent home in Unity and Thorndike, Maine. With a major push, a dozen buildings were built and the first Common Ground Fair at the site was held in 1998, just 12 hours after construction ended. This September 21, 22, and 23 will mark the 25th Anniversary of the popular fair, (and 24 years since Russell's first!). You're likely to find him somewhere near the Exhibition Hall, and he welcomes folks to "stop by and say hello."
Living what he teaches, Russell, and his wife, Mary Anne, and three daughters, live on Three Sisters Farm, a small organic farm in Mount Vernon, Maine, where they keep small flocks of sheep and chickens, raise vegetables and flowers, and make maple syrup.
For more information on the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, visit www.mofga.org.