Congressman Mike Michaud visited the Blue Hill Peninsula on Saturday, October 22, touring Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot in the morning and then sharing a potluck lunch at the Halcyon Grange in North Blue Hill, where he answered questions on the state of food and farming in Maine.
Heather Retberg, of Quill’s End, introduced Michaud, saying he was a “voice for us, far away from here,” and pulled written audience questions out of a basket to read to him. Michaud also solicited “live” questions during the noontime meal. Many questions concerned community self-determination of its food supply.
“My general philosophy [is] I think local farmers and farmers’ markets are important in Maine and across the country,” Michaud said.
However, what became clear is just how much global economics and federal agricultural policies affect Maine farming and the food we put on our tables.
For local farmers who support local food sovereignty, and who helped pass a local food ordinance in four Peninsula towns earlier this year, these are exactly the forces that they feel exert too much influence over their working, and eating, lives.
“I think we can move forward with food sovereignty issues, especially in rural areas with farmers’ markets,” Michaud said, although food safety issues need to be addressed “in a way not burdensome to small farmers.”
He stated that there is a larger food safety issue, especially concerning contaminated food coming in on ships that aren’t checked, or, if they are checked and turned back from U.S. waters because of spoiled or contaminated food, simply “turn around and try again.”
He called himself a “strong proponent” of having food grown locally to control quality and create jobs.
“The more we can enhance agriculture here in Maine and across the country, the better off we’ll be,” he said.
How do small, local farmers deal with federal subsidies that favor large, corporate farms, setting a price floor that small farmers cannot meet?
This one citizen question started an explanation of the philosophy behind the North American Free Trade Agreement (to raise the standard of living in three countries, “especially Mexico, and help solve the immigration problem”) and how currency manipulation counteracts the benefits of tariff elimination.
Trade acts, in general, set parameters for what U.S. trade representatives can negotiate under trade deals, Michaud said.
“There is a disconnect between those in a position to affect trade deal negotiations and what’s happening in the real world,” he said. He called for people within federal agencies to push for change. “Anytime you try to get the federal government to do anything, it’s a long haul,” he said.
The subject of genetically modified crops was another popular question, and why the U.S. will not pass regulations requiring labels for genetically modified food, as is the case in western Europe.
“I don’t think we’re going to see anything restrictive,” coming out of Congress, Michaud said. If anything, less regulation, not more, is the Congressional trend.
“The key is to educate elected officials and bureaucrats,” Michaud said. “You have to have agencies with you, not against you.”