by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
WHITEFIELD — Chris Hamilton, the new Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s (MOFGA) Associate Director, has been hired to fill a newly created position. The Whitefield resident will be responsible for fundraising, state-level public policy, and some organizational management.
On June 3, Hamilton will step down from MOFGA’s Board of Directors and become part of its three-member management team, along with executive director Russell Libby and Associate Director Heather Spalding. Hamilton spent the past five years serving as director of development for the LifeFlight Foundation, a Maine-based emergency medical helicopter service. Hamilton said he brings a level of expertise in measuring results and outcomes of plans and procedures from his time at LifeFlight.
Hamilton spent nine years with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust on its senior management team, as director of communications and public policy. He said he made many contacts that may be helpful in his new position. Hamilton was also a founding member of the Maine Farmland Trust, and is an active member of Rotary Club International.
Hamilton said 50 to 60 percent of his responsibilities will center on fundraising. Approximately 25 percent of his time will be devoted to public policy on the state level, and the rest of his time will be spent dealing with organizational issues. According to Hamilton, he worked to build consensus among groups to meet common goals, especially in terms of state legislation. At MOFGA, Hamilton said he hopes to promote farm interests in Maine through a strong coalition of farming organizations on such issues as taxation, liability, marketing and more. Although there are some issues MOFGA and farmers do not agree upon, such as pesticide use, they will work together on those they do, Hamilton said.
“Some of the issues we will work for at MOFGA are pesticide and herbicide control – chemical controls in general – and the promotion of organic farming,” Hamilton said. “Our goal is to have 1,000 farms or more as members of the organization.”
On the subject of fundraising, Hamilton said, “There are things in place now that need to be run in a more sophisticated, or formalized, manner. In the short term, I hope to continue to seek grant funding and make sure the process is well maintained. Membership is another large source of income, and I’ll work to organize and formalize that system as well as planned giving, such as inheriting land and funds.”
Hamilton said MOFGA, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last August, has grown considerably. Given the increased membership, educational, technical and certification services, program offerings, and Common Ground Fair, Hamilton wants to grow fundraising in the longer term. In order to do this, Hamilton says he needs to add staff. A membership coordinator and a grant writer would be necessary to formalize both processes. He said there are a number of capital projects also under consideration, such as an education center and training facilities that will require funding.
Hamilton said the startup cost of adding staff is always difficult, but within a year’s time, MOFGA should see fundraising in excess of the additional payroll expense. The investment of additional staff to formalize the membership and grant writing functions would raise quite a bit of much-needed money, he said.
Long-time members of MOFGA, Hamilton and his wife Patti have been involved with the Common Ground Fair for approximately 20 years. They own an organic farm in Whitefield where they raise sheep, goats, pigs, turkeys, chickens and grow vegetables. The Hamiltons are currently in the process of trying to get the necessary permits to open a certified organic dairy kitchen (built in their garage) to process their goats’ and sheep’s milk into cheese and other products that can be sold at farmers’ markets and fairs. Hamilton the state certification process has been confusing. This is one of the things he hopes to improve as part of his new position at MOFGA. The Hamiltons are getting a catering license as well from the Department of Health. They use the food they raise for the catering and dairy businesses.
Chris and Patti have two children, Becca, 22, and Abe, 19. Their involvement with the Common Ground Fair has been a family activity for most of their children’s lives, Hamilton said. He said there was one particular fair when Abe was dressed as a chicken for the children’s parade. The three-year-old’s feathery feet would not stay on, much to his frustration.
“It was really cute. It’s one of those memories that stay with you. The kids would talk about the fair and what costumes they would wear all year long,” Hamilton said.
Patti has coordinated the volunteer meals at the Common Ground Fair for many years. Hamilton said he cooks home fries for the volunteer breakfast.
“It’s fun. I get up at 4:30 to cook lots of home fries with Patti. But it’s a community – a State of Maine community. Sometimes you see these friends only once a year, but there is a feeling of a huge festival of friends staying together,” said Hamilton.
According to Hamilton, MOFGA is special for many reasons, not the least of which is the sense of community felt by its members.
“MOFGA is a wonderful community of people who care about promoting healthy food here in Maine. We all benefit from the availability of healthy, organic foods at farmers’ markets, and the training of young farmers in the techniques of organic farming. We have more gardeners than farmers who are MOFGA members, and they benefit from programs and the sense of community, too,” Hamilton said.
For more information about MOFGA, visit mofga.org/Home/tabid/74/Default.aspx.