Russell Libby

The organic farming community is grieving the loss of Russell Libby, who died on Sunday at the age of 56 from cancer. Mr. Libby was known as one of the nation’s leading voices for organic farming.

According to an obituary in the New York Times, Libby’s love for organic farming started in grade school: “What began with his fourth-grade teacher handing out packets of vegetable seeds to her students in Sorrento, Me., nearly five decades ago, evolved into a lifelong passion for Mr. Libby and a deep concern about industrial farming and its use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.”

Mr. Libby was the executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which he oversaw for 17 years, building it into “one of the largest of the organic movement’s state organizations,” reports the Times. Under Mr. Libby’s direction, the group doubled its membership and helped to increase the number of organic farmers in Maine from 85 in 1995 to more than 400 at the time of his death.

Mr. Libby was known for his “Ten Dollars a Week” concept in which local market communities could prosper, he said,  if every household spent at least $10 per week on locally grown or raised foods instead of mass-produced items found in supermarkets. A farmer himself, Mr. Libby, along with his daughters, raised hens for eggs, which were sold in town, as well, he grew apples, pears and cherries.

Beyond his focus in his state of Maine, Mr. Libby was deeply involved in the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, working with Congress to amend the document to help protect the nation’s organic farmers.

Mr. Libby is survived by his wife, Mary Anne; his parents, a brother, Chris; two sisters, Pamela Fowley and Ronda Nichols; and his three daughters, Anna, Margaret and Rosa.

In honor of Mr. Libby, Maine Governor Paul LePage has ordered the state flag to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday.

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Image: USDA