Maine organic farmer’s group director dies from cancer

Posted Dec. 09, 2012, at 6:45 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 10, 2012, at 9:01 a.m.
Russell Libby in Sept. 2009.
Russell Libby in Sept. 2009.

UNITY, Maine — Russell Libby, the longtime director of MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, died Sunday after battling cancer for a year, a staff member confirmed. He was 56.

According to the organization’s website, Libby became involved with MOFGA after attending the 1977 Common Ground Country Fair, the annual MOFGA public event.

Libby joined the MOFGA Board of Directors in 1983, serving as president for two years. He became executive director in 1995.

“He has led MOFGA’s growth over the past decade as the organization moved to the new Common Ground Education Center in Unity, expanded the agricultural services and education programs, and created a subsidiary to run the certification program,” according to MOFGA’s website.

The organization moved to newly constructed buildings in Unity where it had enough land to also host the fair, which previously had been held in Windsor.

“He was really instrumental in that whole move,” said Jean English, longtime editor of MOFGA’s newsletter. The organization had a solid base when Libby took over, she said, but “he ran with it and expanded its influence.”

English said Libby, “had the brain of an economist,” and could manage the organization, “and he had the heart of a poet,” which let him relate to all sorts of people.

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Russell for many years — first at MOFGA and more recently as Congress has worked on the latest reauthorization of the Farm Bill,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement Sunday night. “Throughout, I have always looked up to Russell and relied on his wisdom and knowledge on everything from the operations of our farm to changing national policy. He was one of a kind, and his passing is a terrible loss to the entire state.”

On Libby’s Facebook page, Ron Beard of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension wrote: “Russell Libby died as he lived … growing to wisdom, sharing his heart, inspiring his friends and colleagues with his courage and his humor … journey now to rest.”

Libby also served for ten years as research director at the Maine Department of Agriculture. He also served on the boards of the Agricultural Council of Maine, the University of Maine Board of Agriculture, Maine Farmland Trust, Eat Local Foods Coalition, National Organic Coalition and FEDCO Seeds.

He held a degree in economics from Bowdoin College and a master’s in resource economics from the University of Maine. With his wife, Mary Anne and three daughters, he operated Three Sisters Farm in Mount Vernon, where he served in town government and on the school board.

In 2007 Libby published a poetry collection, “Balance: A Late Pastoral.”

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Mt. Vernon Elementary School with a potluck meal immediately following.

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