Here's a Way to Eliminate the Regulators and Lawyers, and Build Community At the Same Time: Organize and Declare "Food Sovereignty," Like Sedgwick, Maine
Maybe the citizens of tiny Sedgwick on the Maine coast were listening to the calls of Dave Milano, Ken Conrad, and others for more trust and community, and less rigid one-size-fits-all food regulation.
On Saturday morning, Sedgwick became likely the first locale in the country to pass a "Food Sovereignty" law. It's the proposed ordinance I first described last fall, when I introduced the "Five Musketeers", a group of farmers and consumers intent on pushing back against overly aggressive state food regulators. The regulators were interfering with farmers who, for example, took chickens to a neighbor for slaughtering, or who sold raw milk directly to consumers.
The proposed ordinance was one of 78 being considered at the Sedgwick town meeting, that New England institution that has stood the test of time, allowing all of a town's citizens to vote yea or nay on proposals to spend their tax money and, in this case, enact potentially far-reaching laws with national implications. They've been holding these meetings in the Sedgwick town hall (pictured above) since 1794. At Friday's meeting, about 120 citizens raised their hands in unanimous approval of the ordinance.
Citing America's Declaration of Independence and the Maine Constitution, the ordinance proposed that "Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing." These would include raw milk and other dairy products and locally slaughtered meats, among other items.
This isn't just a declaration of preference. The proposed warrant added, "It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance." In other words, no state licensing requirements prohibiting certain farms from selling dairy products or producing their own chickens for sale to other citizens in the town.
What about potential legal liability and state or federal inspections? It's all up to the seller and buyer to negotiate. "Patrons purchasing food for home consumption may enter into private agreements with those producers or processors of local foods to waive any liability for the consumption of that food. Producers or processors of local foods shall be exempt from licensure and inspection requirements for that food as long as those agreements are in effect." Imagine that--buyer and seller can agree to cut out the lawyers. That's almost un-American, isn't it?
This from a press release put out after the vote by supporters:
"Local farmer Bob St.Peter noted the importance of this ordinance for beginning farmers and cottage producers. 'This ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors to try out new products, and to make the most of each season's bounty,' said St.Peter. 'My family is already working on some ideas we can do from home to help pay the bills and get our farm going.'
"Mia Strong, Sedgwick resident and local farm patron, was overwhelmed by the support of her town. 'Tears of joy welled in my eyes as my town voted to adopt this ordinance,' said Strong. 'I am so proud of my community. They made a stand for local food and our fundamental rights as citizens to choose that food.'"
The ordinance comes up for a vote in three other Maine towns upcoming--Penobscott, Brooksville, and Blue Hill.
(Thanks to Deborah Evans, a Sedgwick area farmer, for providing information for this post, and the photo above.)