MOFGA receives $1 million gift to help train more new farmers

Posted July 23, 2014, at 3:02 p.m.
Last modified July 23, 2014, at 7:51 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — A farming organization with a strong grassroots history announced Wednesday that it received a gift of $1 million to help support and train new farmers, the largest financial donation in its history.

Officials from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association said that they were thrilled with the gift from the New York City-based Partridge Foundation, which also pledged an additional $1 million to MOFGA if the Maine group can raise a matching amount over the next 18 months. All the monies are to be used for MOFGA’s new farmer programming.

“This is really exciting,” Kamala Grohman, the development associate for MOFGA, said Wednesday. “It will be able to fund this program for years to come.”

She said that over the decades, more than 1,700 people have gone through the organization’s apprentice and new farmer training, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who was an apprentice in 1975, the program’s first year.

According to Grohman, the Partridge Foundation has made other, smaller gifts to MOFGA in the past. The philanthropic family foundation was established by John and Polly Guth, who own a house on Sutton Island near Mount Desert Island. In a written statement, foundation officials said that the organization strongly supported farming.

“Partridge Foundation is proud to seed MOFGA’s work in encouraging a new generation of organic farmers,” the statement read. “The matching grant format of our award promotes both our founder Polly Guth’s deep interest in healthful food and farming in her native New England and her zest for launching good small projects into broader-based appreciation and support.”

The Partridge Foundation has made significant gifts to other Maine institutions and organizations over the years, including $3.5 million to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor since 2008 to fund a sustainable food systems program and to expand work in sustainable agriculture.

The foundation also has made it possible for the Rockland-based Island Institute to create a position as a resource for all the year-round island communities to help increase local food production and consumption.

In a 2011 issue of COA Magazine, Polly Guth said that she grew up on a New Hampshire farm, and when food shortages were feared during World War II, her mother said that the family would survive and help their neighbors survive. She expanded the farm, and Polly Guth said she had good memories of collecting eggs, milking a cow and raising vegetables, cattle and chickens.

“Both my parents were original environmentalists,” she said in COA Magazine.

That background is a good fit for MOFGA, founded in 1971 by people including back-to-the-landers, with a mission to help farmers and gardeners grow organic food, fiber and other crops, protect the environment and support rural communities, among other goals.

Grohman said that 89 percent of the organization’s journeyman farmers have stayed to farm in Maine.

“Into the future, we want to expand this program,” she said, adding that they will work hard to make the matching $1 million pledge.

“It’s big for us, though. We’re really pushing,” she said. “I think we’ll do it. It’s amazing how loyal our supporters are. The whole farm-to-table movement is huge right now — knowing what’s in your food, that you can trust where your food comes from. That is so important.”

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