The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Director of Development and Membership, Meghan Metzger, has worked collaboratively to change the organization’s policy for receiving gifts of land to enable transfer of these land gifts to tribes and/or indigenous entities. Meghan’s work is part of an organizational vision for advancing equity and justice both internally and within the food and farming ecosystem in this land we now call Maine. You can find more about MOFGA’s equity and justice work HERE. First Light interviewed Meghan after learning about this inspirational policy change at the June 2 Walking Together event to learn more about how this change was realized. MOFGA’s Land Gifts Acceptance Policy is included.
*Updates expected on this website in October, 2023.
Through both Wabanaki REACH and Community Centric Fundraising (CCF), Meghan Metzger learned about land return and rematriation, especially returning White-held land to Indigenous communities. This, as well as MOFGA’s strong and growing equity infrastructure, led to her exploration of organizational policy change for accepting land offered by private individuals to MOFGA as a gift. As of December 2022, MOFGA has implemented a new policy for navigating these “land gifts”, one that centers the return of land to Wabanaki communities.
Before joining MOFGA in 2021, Meghan had resonated with and embraced the values of CCF. “For the first time, I was learning about a fundraising model that felt authentic to who I was and how I thought about the world,” she said. One of the primary tenets of CCF is resource sharing and organizational partnerships, that is, larger organizations supporting and lifting up the work of less-resourced ones. Meghan brought this framework to MOFGA, whose leadership under Executive Director Sarah Alexander was embracing and cultivating equity and justice work. “It meant a great deal to me to join an organization that was already deeply engaged in this work–with all-staff Wabanaki REACH trainings, ongoing equity and social justice learning groups, developing and implementing a theory of change, and staff and board participating in the First Light Learning Journey.”
MOFGA has included staff at all levels and departments in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training, and encouraged everyone at the organization to engage in this work. Over the past several years, with leaders including Sarah; Beginning Farmer Program Specialist, Bo Dennis; Programs Director, Ryan Denett; and others, the organization has worked both internally and externally within the food and farming ecosystem in a variety of ways to learn, share, and understand their role in equity work. MOFGA’s Board is also composed of several people with a background and track record for championing justice for their communities.
This holistic focus on justice and equity has meant that Meghan is not only included in the work, but also has had the opportunity to participate on the equity stewardship team, which facilitates MOFGA’s justice and equity work internally and externally. This team acts as a sounding board and offers strategy support so staff can feel confident taking equity actions in their own realms of work. Being able to do this as a development director is significant, because as Meghan clearly articulates, “So often fundraisers don’t ask to be at the table or are not invited to the table because it seems incongruous [with fundraising].” She says development departments are often the last to join these efforts and equity work and fundraising typically happen in silos. Meghan is also passionate about shifting away from seeing fundraising as the “necessary evil” that organizations have to engage in to do everything else.
These structural organizational aspects have laid the groundwork for Meghan to innovate. She explains that Maine agricultural land tenure is in a moment of transition. The 1970’s organic homesteading movement in this land we now call Maine has partially been the result of inexpensive land easily purchased by those who had the resources to do so. That land, originally stolen from Indigenous communities long before the advent of the modern organic movement, has gained substantial value since the 70s. Now, with many farmer elders retiring, we are in a time of significant generational land transfer. “This was the time to pause, reflect, and think about how the MOFGA community could continue to build a more just and sustainable future.” How could changing MOFGA’s “land gift” policy help build more just land distribution in what’s now Maine?
Meghan transparently described that the largest challenge to rethinking MOFGA’s policy was the untangling of her own relationship with nonprofit fundraising, acknowledging that this is deeply rooted in a scarcity mentality and competition. She admits to worrying that by ceding control of these resources, the organization would be letting go of a substantial funding source. “How would that impact my fundraising goals? How would this impact our budget? But even as I asked those questions, I felt their deep roots in White privilege and realized I needed to accept the discomfort of letting go, trusting in the mindset of community abundance, and even more so, the importance of collaboration and mindful partnership as a White-led organization.”
Meghan consulted with Sarah, who was wholeheartedly supportive of changing the organization’s land gift policy. Together they assembled a committee including board and community members–with representation from the Wabanaki community, homesteaders, landholders, and MOFGA staff. “The representation of these communities was so critical,” Meghan outlined, “and we were resourced as well by conversations Sarah had already been a part of within First Light and with partner organizations around rematriation.”
Together with this committee, Meghan brought a proposal to the MOFGA Board of Directors, who offered feedback and edits. The new Gifts of Land policy (included below) was approved last December. The policy centers on full rematriation, meaning parcels of land offered to MOFGA are offered first to Wabanaki communities without cost or encumbrance. Should the land not be an area of interest or priority for tribal groups, the policy outlines varying opportunities for resource sharing between entities as an alternative option. “In truth, the entire process was surprising in the best possible way. I cannot express how grateful I am that it has all been incredibly smooth and deeply inspiring. There wasn’t a single moment of push-back from MOFGA staff or board members.”
According to Meghan, the first donors she spoke to about this change had been trying to figure out how to support Wabanaki tribes through their estate plans. “For them, this met two priorities simultaneously, and they were thrilled. I have been inspired time and time again by our community members who trust in MOFGA and find meaning in ceding control of their land in service of a legacy that focuses on restoration,” she said.
Meghan has shared this policy with organizations in First Light as well as other fundraising peers across the nonprofit sector. She says it has been met with genuine curiosity and enthusiasm. This work has also spawned learning and relationship building with a diverse range of land trusts and organizations like Land in Common and Land for Good, who are embarking on similar organizational journeys around land justice.
Meghan is grateful for MOFGA’s connection to a broad community of landholding members who trust deeply in the organization’s work and vision. “This is, I hope, an example of how an organization with power (history, trust, organizational resources, strong networks, name recognition) can, in turn, trust and share resources with partners who can best make decisions on the stewardship of the beautiful land we now call Maine and home.”