Remembering Russell Libby

  • Posted by: karl
Russell Libby portrait by Robert Shetterly
Russell Libby portrait by Robert Shetterly

This week we mourn the passing of one of the greatest Mainers we have known personally, Maine Organic Farmer and Gardner Association’s former executive director Russell Libby. We didn’t know Russell well, certainly not as well as many, but we knew him, and he was a hero to us, as he was to many. Russell did more for organic sustainable agriculture, and agriculture in general, in Maine than anyone I know. One of the reasons we decided to take up farming in Maine (in addition to the fact that I grew up here) was the support system and resources that existed in Maine for new farmers and young farmers, and much of that is thanks to Russell’s work and advocacy. He will be greatly missed.

This afternoon I’ve been reading from Russell’s book of poems Balance: A Late Pastoral. I had planned to attend the memorial for Russell in Unity today. But last night one of the goats went into heat, and had to be taken to Saco this morning to be bred. And with yesterday’s terrible news from nearby Connecticut, I wanted to stay home and close to Charlotte, Bea and Sadie. Staying home to take care of farm and family, I think Russell would have been fine with that.

Two poems in particular jumped out to me just now:

Sometimes I think I’m the only person embarrassed
by the shrinking of the fields, saplings becoming trees,
sugar maples I hope to tap one day
creeping into the pasture nearest the barn.
Yet if we’re supposed to think seven generations forward,
shouldn’t we also go back at least a few?
I found George Washington Gordon’s walking stick
in the haymow of the old barn,
a short piece of apple wood deliberately shaped to the job
over several growing seasons.
If a man about five foot six could clear this land,
lay stone walls,
haul and hew timbers,
raise the big barn,
milk cows by hand twice a day,
plow with oxen,
pitch on,
stow away,
work taxes out by building roads,
and keep doing it for fifty years,
it seems the very least I should do
is keep the stone walls in clear view.


And on the following page:

My shelf is bulging with seed catalogs
and all I can see ahead is
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Author: karl