Maine Grange Farmer’s Initiative Sets Its Bar High
The Maine Grange Farmer’s Initiative, formed this past August by two members of the Maine State Grange, Toby Martin of Islesboro and Steve Verrill of Poland, is stepping up to take a leadership role by showing how farmers in Maine can join other Mainers in a common effort to overcome global warming through Maine’s growing awareness and increasing focus on climate control, energy and the environment.
Though the Farmers’ Initiative has just begun its work, its core concept of uniting growers and support systems of all stripes together is one that also may have potential to reach beyond the Pine Tree State and find common ground in New Hampshire and Vermont.
Martin, a member of Valley Grange in Guilford, is chair of the Islesboro Energy Team, which focuses on community energy in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and holds an annual regional energy conference, and he also sits on the Islesboro Energy Committee, which is responsible for Islesboro’s municipal energy efforts in collaboration with the island’s Select Board. Verrill, a third-generation farmer who raises vegetable and fruit crops as well as beef cattle, served as CEO (president/state master) of the Maine State Grange, now sits on the Maine State Grange’s five-member Executive Committee, and is president/master of Poland’s Excelsior Grange.
The Grange has been around a long time. It began just after the end of the Civil War, driven by the social and economic needs of the nation’s farmers, who built Grange halls where widespread farming families could gather. The Grange gained national strength, developed farmers’ cooperatives, challenged businesses, railroads, and advocated for rural progress, including rural free delivery of the mail.
The Maine Grange Farmers’ Initiative aspires to be Maine’s 21st century equivalent of what the Grange accomplished in the 19tth century. Its mission, like that of the parent organization, is to “strengthen individuals, families and communities through grassroots action, service, education, advocacy and agriculture awareness.”
Those attributes apply directly to the Farmers’ Initiative in Maine, where Grange farmers, non-Grange farmers, and Maine individuals, families and communities can take local grassroots action, promote farming education, advocate for high farming standards, and expand awareness of how farmers, associated organizations, businesses and the public can follow positive practices at every level.
Both Martin and Verrill are convinced that land-based and aquatic farmers of every sort across Maine, in collaboration with nonprofits, businesses, and local and state government agencies, can make a significant impact and contribute to the kind of collective statewide effort that will bring Mainers together in overcoming climate change.
It begins with ensuring that Maine growers will commit to pure water, soil and air, and phase out the use of pollutants that are harmful to the health of plants, animals and humans, generate greenhouse gases, or otherwise contribute to environmental harm. With more than 1,000 Grange members in Maine, many of whom make up the state’s pool of new, experienced and retired farmers, the potential for the Farmers’ Initiative appears both promising and relevant for Maine.
The Farmers’ Initiative, working with Grangers and others around Maine, is committed to doing its part bringing people together to carry out its mission, working for Maine’s growers, consumers and economy, in conjunction with offsetting negative climate issues. It has already begun, and has caught the attention of the leadership of the National Grange’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
A member of Valley Grange in Guilford, Toby Martin is co-founder of the Maine Grange Farmers’ Initiative. He works with nonprofit organizations whose missions drive grassroots community involvement in Maine and New England. He lives in Islesboro, where he represents groups involved in energy, the environment, the library, arts and culture. He is a published poet, playwright, essayist and editor, and contributes regularly to online and print media. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and view the Maine State Grange website at mainestategrange.org.