Our annual Source Awards honor the achievements of Mainers in the field of sustainability. But recognizing and lending a helping hand to those who are just launching their careers in the field – in this case, literally – is a mission that is equally close to our hearts. It’s why, as part of our Source awards program, we work with the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) to name three winners each year of the Russell Libby Agricultural Scholarship, which go to a Maine high school senior, a Kennebec Valley Community College student and a participant in MOFGA’s journeyperson program, each with a sustained commitment to sustainable farming.

The late, beloved Russell Libby led MOFGA for 17 critical years and had a special passion for training new farmers. These scholarships, for $1,500 each, are in his honor. The awards are generously supported by Lee Auto Malls.

AUGUST DeLISLE, MOFGA journeyperson

Waldoboro resident August DeLisle has taken a long and winding road into farming.

As a student at the University of Southern Maine, he studied theater. After college, he stayed in Portland, working as a bartender, set designer and theater technical director. Several years ago, he returned to his hometown of Damariscotta with his wife, Torie, to open Van Lloyd’s, a bistro with a single-minded focus on local, seasonal and mostly organic ingredients. The couple ran the restaurant for two years.

During that time, they acquired a few backyard chickens in order to supply Van Lloyd’s with eggs. Then they got a few more. Sheep followed, and eventually pigs. DeLisle cared passionately about food, so it was a natural step to care passionately about where that food came from. The leap from chef to farmer, it turned out, wasn’t so big.

In the end – well, really their story is just at its start – the couple sold the restaurant, bought a house with a barn and 7.5 acres (WoodHaus Farm, they now call it) and dove into farming. DeLisle, 28, jumps into everything feet first, he confesses. “It’s a gift and curse,” he said. He is now about to begin in MOFGA’s journeyperson program, which gives hands-on support, training and mentorship to aspiring Maine farmers, “rather than foolishly try to figure it out ourselves,” he said.

“The mission of WoodHaus Farm,” DeLisle wrote in his scholarship application, “is to provide exceptional organic meat products to our local economy, participate in the midcoast agricultural community, and strive for a healthy and balanced ecosystem on our farm through diversified offerings.”

In the short term, DeLisle plans to buy a hay elevator and build a poultry-processing facility – the scholarship money will go toward the latter. In the medium term, he’d like to install an industrial kitchen on the farm for value-added products – ice cream, for sure – to help out the neighboring dairy farms; DeLisle lists some crazy-delicious sounding flavors like dulse-juniper-pine. Ten years on, he’d like to buy more land, more sheep and more pigs. He hopes one day he and his wife can give up their day jobs – he is still cheffing, she works at the library – so they can farm full time.

“I have no doubt that as we go forward, more goals and opportunities will present themselves,” he wrote.

It has been a road of discovery. There was that time the pigs escaped. Last year, was their first season selling at a farmers market, a huge opportunity, DeLisle said. Surrounding farmers have been deeply generous about sharing their expertise. And slaughtering livestock is something DeLisle, who has happily discovered he has a knack for working with animals, is still getting used to.

“You’ve raised this animal. You know it really well. It knows you really well.” He pauses, then adds, “But at the end of the day, it has a purpose.”

DeLisle was never that kid who said he wanted be a farmer when he grew up. Life is surprising. “Though at one point I did consider moving to the West Coast to pursue other careers, continuing my family’s legacy in the (midcoast) area – and in turn building something for future generations – turned out to be a much, much stronger pull,” he wrote in his application. “These days, I simply can’t think of a good reason not to be a farmer.”

“Healthy soil equals a healthy planet,” says Sarah Fallon, who has also proven herself to be a friend to thirsty fowl. Photo courtesy of Sarah Fallon

SARAH FALLON, Kennebec Valley Community College student

Gabriel changed his mom’s life, and not just in the ordinary (if extraordinary) way that children do.

Sarah Fallon, 25, was studying nursing when she was pregnant with her first child, but after he was born, “I became increasingly concerned with the foods that I ate and where they came from,” she wrote in her application for a Russell Libby Agricultural Scholarship.

Her concern led her to explore the farms that surrounded her in Clinton, to shop from them, and finally to think to herself, “I could do this.” By the time her firstborn was 11/2 years old and she had a second on the way, she had quit nursing school and enrolled at Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) to study sustainable agriculture.

Now her firstborn is 3; her second child, also a son, is 1; and she is closing in on her associate’s degree. She plans to enroll at University of Maine in Orono this fall to start on her bachelor’s degree in the same subject.

A class in soil science also changed Fallon’s life, or at least it “changed the way I looked at agriculture, and I threw everything I thought I knew (out the) window,” she wrote in her application. It’s a subject she’s deeply passionate about and, for her, the two – her sons and soil science – are linked.

“It’s said the (world) population will reach some 10 billion in 2050,” Fallon said. “My oldest son will be 35. A lot of people want to leave children money. I would rather leave him healthy soil so he can grow nutritious food for his family. We have to do something for our future generations, and we can do that with farming. Healthy soil equals a healthy planet. We have to start with the ground.”

This isn’t merely talk. If Fallon is thoughtful, she’s also practical, as evidenced by her project to develop nipple chicken waterers, which are pretty much what they sound – a way to supply chickens with water through nipples that they peck when thirsty. Apparently, chickens thrive with nipple waterers, but the system is pricier than a simpler water dish. Here’s the cool thing: Fallon, who works at KVCC’s farm in Hinckley, came up with the idea to 3-D print nipples and is now executing the plan at the farm.

Fallon, who has also put in time at several small organic dairy farms, is equally practical when asked how she intends to spend the $1,500 in scholarship money. Textbooks, she said. More education will give her more science, thus more tools to help persuade conventional farmers to switch to organic practices. She’d like one day to educate conventional farmers on “how simple it is to put good practices in motion.” They can sequester carbon, she said. They can re-generate the soil. They can grow more nutritious and better-tasting food. “It’s achievable. It’s something every farmer can do. They can really make the planet a better place by good practices.”

Or as she wrote in her scholarship application: “After the soil and water have endured decades upon decades of abuse, it is my responsibility as a mother, student and farmer to nurture the soil and bring life back to it.”

Zenaide McCArthy, showing an early interest in farming. Photo courtesy of Lisha Wentworth

ZENAIDE McCARTHY, Maine high school senior

Morse High School senior Zenaide McCarthy has something we suspect every aspiring farmer in Maine (not to mention around the country), dreams of – a farm she may one day be able to call her own.

The farm, about 200 acres in Waldo County, belongs to her maternal grandparents. It has been in her family for five generations, more than 200 years. Lately, it’s mostly a hobby farm. The sheep went when she was a little girl, McCarthy said. The horses were gone before she was born. Her grandparents aren’t getting any younger, and keeping a farm humming is hard work. But McCarthy, 18, has fond memories of hauling grain to feed the cows with her grandfather, bottle-feeding a baby lamb, picking green beans for dinner and wild blueberries for a pie.

“These experiences fueled my desire to pursue an education in sustainable agriculture,” she wrote in her scholarship application. “My goal is to be able to revive and bring new life to my grandparents’ farm and rebuild its production and business. Sustainable farming is not only important to me, but is critical to humanity and the environment.”

Now 18 and a senior at Morse High School, Zenaide McCarthy dreams of reviving her grandparents’ farm. Photo courtesy of Lisha Wentworth

McCarthy lives in Bath with her parents, where she is a member of her school’s garden club and an active participant in a town community garden. She is in the throes of making her college decision, but is leaning toward Green Mountain College in Vermont, where she’d like to pursue a degree in sustainable agriculture with a minor in art. The scholarship money will help.

After college, McCarthy would like to train under her grandfather to learn “the ins and outs of running our farm. To keep small farms like ours from disappearing from our country and to survive for future generations, we need to embrace sustainable practices,” she wrote in her scholarship application, specifying concepts such as wind power, nontoxic pesticides, humane treatment and slaughter of animals, and “reinventing how we currently live.”

“I don’t have any delusions that it is going to be an easy job,” McCarthy said.

Given the steep challenges not merely of running a sustainable farm in a world where most agricultural practices aren’t, but also of climate change, is she hopeful?

“I think that a mentality that one person can’t make a change isn’t a very good one,” she answered. “If everybody feels that way, no one is going to go for it. There are undeniable signs in the environment that it’s deteriorating heavily. I don’t want to add to that. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.”

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or at:

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