After some initial confusion, a local food ordinance will appear on the ballot as a referendum question at the annual town meeting next month.
The confusion stemmed from issues concerning state requirements and the town’s local election process.
Town Clerk Amber Bakeman received the petition with the required number of signatures seeking to have the proposed ordinance placed on the warrant. It was presented on January 23, which met the town’s 45-day deadline to be included on the warrant and in the town report.
The selectmen, however, were concerned about a state statute requiring local ordinances dealing with farming operations to be submitted to the state Department of Agriculture 90 days prior to hearings and a vote on the measure. The selectmen were notified in 2011 that they had not followed that procedure for a proposed ordinance regarding aerial spraying of blueberry fields, and earlier this month expressed concern about violating the state rule. At that point, they decided not to schedule the vote at town meeting.
“We thought we had a problem with that 90-day thing,” Selectman John Gray said Monday. “But that turned out not to be the case.”
After meeting with State Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville), the selectmen reconsidered their earlier decision. According to Gray, Chapman, who had signed the petition for the local foods ordinance, argued that the ordinance didn’t deal with farming operations as specified in the statute. There was also a question as to whether an executive body such as the agriculture department could overrule the local election process.
“We looked it over again and decided that maybe it didn’t apply,” he said.
The reversal came in time for the selectmen to include the proposed ordinance in the town report and on the ballot at town meeting. Gray said the vote will be by referendum on the Monday before town meeting when voters elect town officers.
This will be the second time the town has voted on a local food ordinance. Along with the neighboring towns of Penobscot, Sedgwick and Blue Hill, Brooksville voters weighed in on the ordinance two years ago. Although the other three towns adopted the ordinance, Brooksville voters rejected the measure by a nine-vote margin.
The purpose of the ordinance, according to the text, is: to provide citizens with unimpeded access to local food; enhance the local economy by promoting the production and purchase of local food; protect access to farmers’ markets, roadside stands, farm-based sales and direct producer-to-patron sales; support the economic viability of local food producers and processors; preserve community social events where local foods are served or sold; and preserve local knowledge and traditional food ways.
In practice, it seeks to exempt local farm products form state licensure and inspection requirements when the products are sold by the producer to a willing consumer.
The required public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 14, at the Town House.