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by Rich Hewitt
A local town committee is seeking support from communities around the state for the Local Food and Community Self-governance Ordinance that residents adopted last year.
The Sedgwick Community Self-governance Committee this week e-mailed letters to town offices throughout Hancock County as a first step toward reaching out to municipalities throughout the state and urging them to adopt similar ordinances. The committee, composed of Mia Strong, chair; Bob St.Peter, Richard Greenfield and First Selectman Neil Davis was appointed by the selectmen to “…encourage, educate, and otherwise spread affirmative information regarding the meaning of the LFCSGO,” according to the letter.
Greenfield said, in an interview on Tuesday, January 10, that the committee hopes to encourage enough communities in Maine to adopt local food and self-governance ordinances to force the state legislature to establish state law that protects individual rights to sell, purchase and consume locally produced foods. If enough town pass such ordinances, he said, the state could then adopt legislation that would bring some uniformity to those individual efforts.
But, he said, it should begin on a local level.
Voters in Sedgwick adopted the food and self-governance ordinance unanimously at the annual town meeting last year. Several other Hancock County towns—Blue Hill, Penobscot and Trenton—along with the Waldo County town of Hope, adopted similar ordinances. The ordinances seek to exempt locally grown and processed foods from state licensing and inspection requirements provided they are sold directly from a producer to a willing consumer.
The letter is the latest response to the state’s suit against Dan Brown, a farmer in East Blue Hill. The Maine Department of Agriculture charged him with several violations of state law for selling farm products, including raw milk, without required state licenses. Brown’s supporters have rallied on the town green in Blue Hill and also have sponsored an online petition asking Gov. Paul LePage to drop the suit.
“It’s in response to the suit and the activity in the Farmer Brown business,” Greenfield said Tuesday. “But it’s been in the back of everybody’s mind. We have to prod the rest of the towns so we can get a critical mass of towns passing these ordinances and get the state to do something.”
The letter went out from the Sedgwick Town Office and carries the authority of the town. According to Greenfield, it is an effort to bolster the local ordinance.
“We have passed the ordinance and we have an obligation to enforce the ordinance,” he said. “This is being done voluntarily, at no cost to the town, and will help us to have a backup for our ordinance.”
While the ordinance protects farmers and their right to sell their products, Greenfield said the ordinance and letter writing campaign are also aimed at protecting the consumer.
“It protects my right to buy the food I want to buy and to make my own decision about from whom I buy and what I buy,” he said. “To me, that is the most important part.”
The state has a different view and has argued that local communities are bound by state law and cannot ignore state regulations. The ordinances and the letter e-mailed this week assert, however, that the right of the people to establish local ordinances that trump state law is inherent in the Maine Constitution.
The e-mailed letter quotes the state constitution several times, noting “The city council of any city may establish the direct initiative and people’s veto for the electors of such city in regard to its municipal affairs…provided it shall not take effect until ratified by vote of a majority of the electors of said city…”
“That’s what we’ve done,” Greenfield said. “That’s what the ordinance does.”
The letter warns that “traditional food ways have come under attack…” across the country, citing instances in several states where church suppers and festival food booths have been targeted by various state officials. Although there have been no reported efforts in Maine to regulate those types of activities, Greenfield said there is concern that, in the current climate, there soon could be.
In the e-mailed letter, the committee argued that the more towns that adopt an LFCSGO, the more leverage communities will have to protect not only food choice in those communities, but also those traditional fairs, festivals, suppers and bake sales that are so abundant in Maine.
“The LFCSGO is designed …to protect the rights of all citizens in the individual towns to do what they have always done – buy or share food where and with whom they choose,” according to the letter. “It allows people to make informed decisions by buying food directly from the farm of their choice, and from farm stands and farmers’ markets. It also allows us to maintain our traditions of serving food at church suppers and buying locally produced foot at benefit dinners and bake sales.”
The letter ends by urging the towns to consider adopting an ordinance and the committee offers to provide help in crafting one.
Greenfield said the committee initially targeted towns in Hancock County because e-mails for most of those towns were readily available. The committee is working on getting e-mail addresses for other municipalities in Maine, but Greenfield said he is not sure how many they will be able to do. Time is short, he said, because many towns make ordinance decisions at their annual town meetings, many of which take place in the spring.