More than a dozen Maine communities have already adopted local food sovereignty ordinances, beginning with the landmark legislation in the tiny town of Sedgwick in 2011. But without the state recognizing their authority to do so, the municipal ordinances had minimal real-life impact at the time. The newly passed state law changes everything.
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The cost of setting up production according to state regulations in most areas of the country is unrealistic for small producers. Creating a licensed facility can cost tens of thousands of dollars, making it out of the question for small family farms wanting to sell small batches of homemade pickles or raw dairy products made on the kitchen stovetop or a few dozen humanely processed meat birds. But the new food sovereignty law allows purchases of those kinds of products to be overseen by towns and cities, setting the stage for far more opportunities for farmers and freedom of choice for consumers. If the fast-growing list of Maine municipalities creating laws to allow such activity is any indication, government intervention in farm-to-table food sales could soon be a thing of the past.
What Opponents Are Saying
Not everyone approves of the new law. There has been some pushback from some state entities, as well as from some farmers and food-producing organizations. They fear that food safety is at risk, along with product reputation. Allowing food to be marketed directly to consumers without any inspections or safety measures in place could set us back into a bygone era when the risk of foodborne illness was far greater than it is today, according to some opponents.
Supporters of food sovereignty, however, applaud the way it will allow people to interact personally with food producers and make their own decisions about whether or not they trust their food handling practices.
Food sovereignty proponents in Maine and across the nation have long been advocating for the wisdom of people being allowed to take control of their own health and safety choices. Well-known farmer and food freedom advocate Joel Salatin has written extensively about the value of transparency in food production—instead of letting the government decide whether his own poultry processing facility uses safe handling practices, he encourages consumers to come see for themselves.
There are a few caveats. The law allows for sales of food products only within the community, meaning that farmers in very small towns will still have a very limited pool of possible customers. And if the world’s best goat cheese is made in a farm kitchen a few towns over, it will still not be legal to purchase it directly.
Rules for farmers’ markets will likely not be affected. Being comprised of an aggregate of farmers and products from several different towns, they will still use state guidelines. However, many vendors at commercial markets represent larger farms for whom the licensing procedure is more manageable and is already in place.
Maine’s new food sovereignty law is by no means perfect. But for those seeking the ability to buy and sell food the old-fashioned way, it is a great place to start.
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