Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 13, 2014
Brooklin residents debate merit of local food ordinance
Will be voted on from floor at town meeting
Matt and Tania Allen talked about how the local food ordinance may benefit them at a recent public hearing.
by Faith DeAmbrose
A public hearing drew only a handful of Brooklin voters out of their homes on Monday, March 10, to discuss an upcoming ordinance slated for the April town meeting. The Local Food and Community Self-governance Ordinance will be acted on during the business portion of town meeting, allowing voters to discuss the merits from the floor before accepting or rejecting.
Similar ordinances have passed in neighboring Blue Hill, Brooksville, Isle au Haut, Penobscot and Sedgwick, as well as other Hancock County towns, all aiming to exempt food producers from licensing requirements, provided the sale is between the farmer who produced the food and a willing consumer for home consumption. It also covers sales occurring at farmers’ markets and seeks to protect traditional food-related events such as bake sales and community suppers from licensing requirements. The latter was acknowledged to not be an issue in the state of Maine, but supporters of the ordinance claim that it has been an issue in at least one other state.
The ordinance clearly had supporters in the room, and even drew proponents from nearby towns who had ushered the ordinances through their own town meeting processes. Brooklin supporters including Matt and Tania Allen, Olenka Folda and Hendrik Gideonse presented their reasons for supporting the ordinance, before opening the floor to discussion.
Gideonse said voters should support the ordinance for three specific reasons:
“Protecting traditional food ways,” supporting local farms, and “standing with other municipalities” that have already passed the ordinance.
He said the passing of the ordinance would send a “political message to the state and the feds that this is important.”
Others in the room were not convinced the ordinance would change anything.
Resident Sharon Lendvai asked how many farmers there were in Brooklin that weren’t selling now and would benefit from the ordinance. Gideonse said “there is no way of knowing.”
Tania Allen, who had a run-in with the state last year over the feeding of goat milk-based formula to her grandchild, said that with the passage of the ordinance she might be inclined to sell the surplus milk from her goat or a cow to neighbors. She said that others might come out as well and do the same. “Doesn’t it just make sense that this should be allowed?’ she asked.
Brooklin Inn owner Chip Angell said he did not believe his business would benefit from the ordinance and said he would continue to source his ingredients from locally licensed farms.
Lendvai then asked about the relationship between the ordinance and state law since it attempts to run contrary to the state’s licensing standards.
Gideonse said that there has yet to be any case law associated with the ordinances.
“I know there are many people committed to this, but I feel as if you could put your time and energy working toward changing [the legal structure] instead of trying to side-step it,” said Angell.
Despite the fact that there were no guarantees that the ordinance would have any authority if it were to be challenged, supporters pointed to the fact that there are changes being made to the laws governing the food system that mirror the ordinance. “Adoption sends a message,” said Gideonse, adding that changes are beginning to take place in Augusta and that local legislators are working to that end.
“Having a local food system is the only way for [food production, distribution] to be sustainable into the future,” said Gideonse.
A copy of the ordinance can be found at localfoodrules.org.