September 21, 2013

Common Ground fair keynote celebrates female farmers, male MOFGA leader

By Rachel Ohm
Staff Writer

UNITY — The keynote address at today's Common Ground Country Fair was about the role of women in agriculture, but it was dedicated to the family of a man remembered as a visionary in organic farming.

click image to enlarge

Ryan Entwistle, 29, of Hope, stands up with his iPad as he records the keynote speaker, Deb Soule, as she spoke about influential women in agriculture at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity today.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Deb Soule, founder and owner of Avena Botanicals, spoke about about inspirational women in agriculture as the keynote speaker at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity today.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

The Common Ground Country Fair

When: Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Common Ground Country Fair fairgrounds, off Route 220 in Unity.

More information on transportation and getting to the fair, including maps of the area and the fairgrounds, is available at

Cost: Admission is free for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association members, children age 12 and under and handicapped citizens. It costs $10 each day for ages 13 to 64, and $8 each day for ages 65 and over. Only cash is accepted at the ticket gate, although ATMs are available inside the fairgrounds. Bicycling to the fairgrounds saves $2 on admission.

Keynote speaker: George Siemon, co-founder and CEIEIO of Organic Valley, on cooperatives and their future role in agriculture, at 11 a.m. at The Common.

"He was a man who was really important in my life as a farmer, said Deb Soule, today's keynote speaker. "Russell Libby had such appreciation for young farmers and I miss him dearly, as I believe many of us do."

Soule is the founder and owner of Avena Botanicals, a West Rockport-based nationally recognized company that makes organic beauty and health products. She launched the company at the fair in 1985, when it was still held in Windsor, she told the hundreds gathered on the fair common to hear her speak.

She spoke of the many successes and challenges faced by women throughout history and those yet to come, both in Maine and the larger world.

She also remembered Libby, who died in December at age 56, was involved in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which puts on the fair, for 30 years, first on the executive board, then as executive director.

It was the second day of the fair, which closes Sunday. As Soue spoke, fairgoers listened as they enjoyed both unusual and traditional fair food such as squash burgers and vegetable tempura, Maine baked beans and pie in a cone.

Soule, 46, said she was inspired by female farmers, gardeners, artists and beekeepers locally and globally.

"As a woman born and raised here in Maine, I am grateful to live in a state where organic farming and gardening is supported," said Soule, who began her address by thanking the MOFGA staff, over half of whom are women, she said.

Soule, who grew up in Millbridge, began cultivating herbs at the age of 16.

Soule read several lists of women who had an influence on her, including women from MOFGA, Maine and around the world.

Beginning with MOFGA, Soule mentioned Marilyn Wentworth, one of MOFGA's founders and Abbie McMillan, who is known as the birth mother of MOFGA, which was founded in the 1970s.

"We do not have to look far to find women caring for the earth and offering inspiration and leadership," said Soule.

One of the most prominent women to influence views of the natural world was Rachel Carson, author of "Silent Spring," who spent summers in Maine and advocated that plants that are often thought of as weeds be preserved for their value as pollinators.

Soule also mentioned women around the world who are currently influencing agriculture, including Wangari Maathai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work encouraging women in Kenya to grow seedlings and plant trees.

She read from the book "Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India," by Vandana Shiva, who describes women as the providers of food security around the world. Shiva, who is a past keynote speaker at the fair, makes the argument that women have a critical role in sustainable agriculture based on their historical relationship with gathering food from the earth and preparing it for their families.

"I wish I could name every amazing woman that I know and that all of you know, but there is no way to mention all the women across New England and worldwide who are changing the face of agriculture," said Soule, who following her address set up a basket for fairgoers to put the names of inspirational women in as a way to remember them.

Fair Deputy Director Heather Spalding said Soule was invited to be one of three keynote speakers at the fair because of her long relationship with MOFGA and her knowledge of organic gardening.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Russell Libby pictured in 2012

Maine Sunday Telegram file photo


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