Progress in Augusta

May 14, 2015

  Tuesday May 12, 2015 was a very good day for small farmers and their patrons in the Maine State Legislature.  The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry met to have work sessions on four local food rights bills.   
The results were extremely gratifying for those of us who have worked so hard to protect the people of Maine’s rights to practice their traditional food ways.    Each of these bills seeks to advance the principles and the content, partially or in full, of the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance (LFCSGO) now passed in 13 towns in Maine.  While local control of food continues to spread outward from town to town in Maine, we now have a visible sign that the community governance of food may be ready to move upward to the state level as well!
These are just preliminary results but the strong support of the committee will go a long way to helping these bills pass on the floors of the House and the Senate.  Some legislators are very confident the bills will pass, but some suspect they could still be derailed by the unpredictable and unseen forces of Augusta politics. Don’t stop working on passing the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance if your town is considering it; it may prove more important than ever.

LD # 925  An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers

Summary: This bill facilitates direct sales between Maine farmers and consumers. It allows persons preparing food in their own homes to sell directly to consumers or to offer homemade food at certain events without being licensed as food establishments.

NOTE:  A bill sponsored by one of our strongest allies in the House Representative Ralph Chapman was voted out of committee with a strong Ought To Pass with only one Representative voting against it.   [On 5/14 this bill was brought up again and the restrictions on where these transactions could take place, i.e. not at farmer’s markets, were reinstated and the vote was unanimous.]

LD # 1291    An Act To Promote Food Self-sufficiency for the People of the State

Summary:  This bill directs the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, in coordination with various state agencies, to develop and administer an agricultural jobs network linking farms and facilities that process agricultural products grown in the State with available workers who are involved in farming or a local food industry or who are required to perform community service and to develop an educational marketing campaign to promote food self-sufficiency by encouraging the public to grow gardens, to raise farm animals and to preserve garden-grown food. This bill also requires the department, to the extent practicable, to purchase food grown, harvested, prepared, processed or produced in the State when purchasing food for an emergency or supplemental food program for elderly or low-income persons.

NOTE: Representative Craig Hickman’s bill that covers all our bases and was voted out of committee with a unanimous Ought to Pass with a slight amendment to clarify language about end consumers.  In section 4 it contains the local food sovereignty language.

LD # 1376    An Act To Establish a Local Food Producers and Processors to Consumers Pilot Program

Summary:  This bill establishes the Local Food Producers and Processors to Consumers Pilot Program. The pilot program exempts local producers and processors in the towns of Blue Hill, Brooksville, Penobscot, Sedgwick and Brooklin, all of which have adopted local food self-governance ordinances, from all state licensure and inspection requirements with respect to the production and processing of local foods for sale directly to consumers. The pilot program is repealed in 2022. Each year the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is required to submit a report on the pilot program to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over agricultural matters including any assessment of or comments about the pilot program provided by interested persons, including producers, processors and consumers participating in the pilot program. Upon receipt of the report, the committee may report out a bill relating to the pilot program.

NOTE:  This bill was sponsored by Senator Brian Langley and was voted out of committee unanimously Ought to Pass.   The towns listed are some of the first to pass the local food sovereignty ordinance and were chosen because of their geographic closeness allows for the easy forming of a local food council.

LD # 1284    An Act To Expand the Local Foods Economy

Summary:   This bill requires the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to administer programs to support the expansion and coordination of the use of fresh Maine foods in aggregated and institutional markets, including school food service programs.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is directed to provide grants under the agricultural development grant program for the purpose of conducting market feasibility studies and developing business plans for local food infrastructure operations in Maine to connect and enhance relationships between fresh food producers in Maine and aggregated and institutional markets, including school food service programs, and food purveyors. The Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry may not award a local foods grant unless the applicant provides matching funds in an amount that is no less than 50% of the grant amount.

The department is also directed to provide loans under the Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund to applicants in diverse geographic areas in the State for the purpose of establishing local food infrastructure operations located in Maine. Prior to awarding a local food infrastructure loan, the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is required to determine that the potential overall impact of a proposal on Maine’s agricultural economy and industry is beneficial to and in the best interest of the State.

The bill also establishes the Maine Food Infrastructure Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of statewide and regional organizations involved in supporting agriculture, public health, the environment and the state economy, including representatives of the member entities of the farm-to-school work group established by Resolve 2009, chapter 106.

NOTE: This excellent bill introduced by Senator Chris Johnson and co sponsored by five members of the committee (Hickman, Dill, Saviello Chapman and Marean) sadly passed out of committee on a divided vote 7-5 Ought Not to Pass.  It may still go to a vote in the two houses so there is still hope.  It addresses our critical need to  rebuild the local food infrastructure.

You can find further information on these bills by going to the web site of the Maine Legislature ( and putting the bill number in the box labeled LD #.  Note that the Presenters of the bills in the work session are the original sponsors; each is approaching the issue of community self-governance of local food and protecting traditional food-ways from a different angle.  Each is also a co-sponsor of other bills; you can find all co-sponsors on the web site.  Look for your legislator and write in thanks if they are listed for any of these bills. Ask for their help on getting them passed in the full legislature.

Joel Salatin’s Great Maine Adventure in His Own Words

May 3, 2015


Craig Hickman, Joel Salatin and Heather Retberg at Thursday’s Hearing

 Here is what Joel Salatin wrote and shared on the Polyface Farm Facebook page about his time in Maine on Thursday April 30th, 2015, heretics all!

“Today was yet another confirmation that the tension between the orthodoxy and heresy is alive and well.
I was asked by the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s head litigator, Pete Kennedy, to help an effort in Maine that looks at least hopeful for food freedom. By the way, anyone and everyone who cares about food choice and direct producer-consumer options should join the FTCLDF–it’s doing more for the integrity food movement than any organization in the world.
Craig Hickman and his partner operate a small farm in Maine. Both come from professional backgrounds but find the farm both therapeutic and deeply satisfying. Their little farm was cooking right along until they got a couple of goats and began milking and making cheese. A little sign by the road letting neighbors know about their milk and cheese seemed like a good way to launch.
Within 48 hours the food police arrived and told them this was illegal. To say Craig got fired up would be an understatement. He ran and won as a delegate in the Maine legislature–becoming Representative Craig Hickman and now in his second term. A dashingly handsome, articulate man, Hickman describes himself as a Libertarian Democrat. Now how about that?
He put in a constitutional amendment that reads as follows: Right to Food. Every Individual has a natural and unalienable right to food and to acquire food for that individual’s own nourishment and sustenance by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, or gardening or by barter, trade or purchase from sources of that individual’s own choosing, and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of this right, which may not be infringed.
Hickman and many others in Maine are now capturing the attention of the entire country as they sail into freedom waters. This amendment, which must first pass a super majority in both houses and then go before the citizens of Maine in a referendum, gives standing to individuals who find government regulators standing between them and the free exercise of acquiring their food.
The hearing started promptly at 1 p.m. and went until a few minutes after 3, with about 30 people speaking in favor and two speaking against. As you can imagine, those speaking in favor were farmers wanting to sell, eaters wanting to buy, Indians wanting to extend to the white man the same food acquisition privileges (hunting) given to natives by right through treaties, and a host of articulate liberty-loving attorneys and local food advocates.
My comments, limited to 3 minutes, are as follows:
Maine is rich in resources, but imports 90 percent of its food and suffers the highest food insecurity rate (15 percent) of any New England state. Seeing these numbers, you’d think it was a desert, but Maine is far from a desert.

Now to the orthodoxy vs. heresy. The two dissenters, true to form, were the Maine Farm Bureau Federation and the director of the Maine Department of Agriculture. Sometimes predictability is almost humorous.
The farm bureau gentleman began his remarks by saying he was an ordained minister and volunteered at the food bank and believed that this food freedom proposal would not help the hungry. In fact, he advocated more giving through the food bank as the best alternative to help the hungry.

Farm bureau is labeled geopolitically as conservative, but there is nothing conservative about this testimony. It plays right into the hands of the disempowering forces of programs rather than self-help responsible liberty. The fact is that more food choice, more food producers, more community-imbedded food options increase food production, food availability, food price competition, and ultimately benefit everyone, including the hungry.  To assume that the most efficacious way to help the hungry is with more food banks places the farm bureau squarely in the camp of the most helpless victim-oriented top-down policies bandied about by the liberals. The farm bureau is so beholden to the industrial food system that it feels compelled to obfuscate its own consistency whenever food liberty rears its ugly head.
The other detractor, of course, was the director of the Maine department of agriculture. The galley gasped as he asserted that anybody has access to all the food they want. During questions following my comments, I pointed out that the supermarket, for all its apparent choice, actually has an extremely narrow type of product. You won’t  find Aunt Hilda’s home made quiche there; you won’t find raw milk there; you won’t find non-chlorinated chicken dressed in the back yard. The insurance, slotting fees, and Good Agricultural Practice certifications required to get on a supermarket shelf preclude the good stuff.  
It reminds me of the condescension that an Australian farmer told me last week when her sausages were condemned by Primesafe (the Australian counterpart of the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service). She quoted the inspector as saying “I don’t understand your kind of people.” In fact, it brought me back to about 5 years ago when I did a presentation to a roomful of about 100 food inspectors in Northern California, asking them if anyone had ever heard of the book OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA–not a single hand went up. Then I asked if anyone had ever heard of the film FOOD INC.–not a single hand went up.  Indeed, the orthodoxy of the industrial food system has no clue what our food freedom tribe thinks and can’t imagine why we can’t be satisfied with pasteurized milk, Hot Pockets, and microwavable frozen dinners. They see this as choice; we see it as poison.
The good director went on to say that he was concerned about the consequences this constitutional amendment would have on the food safety system. For a man of his stature to be blind to the consequences of food safety with the current bureaucratic top-down regulatory system is either naive or deliberately misleading.  I pointed out during questioning that our side did not guarantee perfection. Nobody can guarantee perfection.
The question is not whether somebody will get sick or if we can design a fail-proof system. The question is whether or not we can abide people who want to exercise their personal food choice for the fuel of their internal bacterial community to make that choice. If not, why not. If so, pass the amendment and let’s go.  His other concern was that it might impair commercial farming. Obviously he thinks Polyface is not a commercial farm. This condescending spirit certainly reveals a holier-than-though attitude and an aggressive prejudice against drug-free compost-based people-centric direct marketing farms.
It was a distinct honor and privilege to be surrounded by such positive food liberty advocates. I wanted to put them all in my briefcase and bring them to Virginia. If they can get this passed, it will be a huge shot across the bow of the entrenched orthodoxy that the heretics have not only survived the inquisition, but have thrived and the reformation is on its way. It’s time.”

Bills To Watch

March 4, 2015

The work of the 127th Legislature is underway.  There are more bill proposals in the works than ever before that, in one way or another, seek to promote, protect or grow small-scale diversified farming in Maine.  As you may know, the good intent of legislators can get very altered as the bill goes through the process of becoming a law.   We will keep you up to date as all proceeds this legislative session.  


The first two bills that are ready for a public hearing are about raw milk.   





Background:  It is legal to sell raw milk at farmers’ markets and retail outlets under state licensing and inspection.  Before 2009, it was also legal to sell raw milk directly from a farm with no licensing or inspection so long as the farm didn’t advertise.  This policy changed in 2009 when Dairy Inspection Services moved from the Animal Health Division of the Department. Of Agriculture to the Quality Assurance and Regulation division.  The policy change happened within the agency and did not undergo a process of legislative oversight or public input.  In every legislative session since then, there have been bills proposed to correct this and restore legitimacy in state law to on-farm sales of raw milk and/or milk products.



LD 229: An Act to Exempt Small Raw Milk Producers from Licensing Requirements.  Rep. Jefferey Hanley, Pittston


This bill exempts the sale of raw milk and raw milk products from licensing so long as 20 gallons or less are sold or processed into dairy products daily.  Milk must be sold directly to consumer at the farm, farm stand or at a farmers’ market.   Milk and milk products must be clearly labeled with the name, address and phone number of the farm, the name of the product and the following statement: “This product is made with raw milk and is exempt from State of Maine licensing.   There must be a sign where the milk is sold that has the name, address, and phone number of the farm as well as the statement that “Products from this farm made from raw milk are exempt from State of Maine licensing.”



LD 312: An Act To Allow the Sale of Unregulated Farm-produced Dairy Products at the Site of Production, Rep. Bill Noon, Sanford


This bill facilitates direct sales of dairy products sold on farm ]by exempting those sales from state licensing and inspection requirements if the sales are made directly to an “end-consumer” on the farm only, and the farm customer is allowed to visually inspect the farm; the farm doesn’t advertise in any way; the farmer completes a course in dairy sanitation every 3 years and displays certificate at the point of sale, and the farmer must post a water test result at the point of sale.  



Your voice matters!  Share your story, tell why it is important to you to protect access to food raised in your community, let your representative and senator hear from you.  Come to Augusta on March 12th and share your testimony with the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Busy Week for FMF

May 5, 2014

May 12th and May 13th are both big days for Food for Maine’s Future.  On the 12th we are co-sponsoring a talk by our friend from the Coalition of Immokalee workers Gerardo Chavez:


:  Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer, Gerardo Reyes Chavez, will speak about the groundbreaking farm worker rights movement in the tomato fields of Florida and the effective establishment of the  Fair Food Program. Discussion to follow on how area Mainers can support this movement. For more information: 266-6846

When and Where:  Monday, May 12th, 2014, 7pm
                                at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth, 121 Bucksport Road.

Sponsored by( more sponsors pending): The Community Union of Ellsworth, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth’s Peace and Social Action Committee, Food for Maine’s Future, Power In Community Alliances (PICA).

Background :  The worker-led  Coalition of Immokalee Workers has worked tirelessly to change the abusive labor conditions and poverty wages experienced by farm workers in the tomato fields of Florida. Already great changes have been made in an industry historically riddled with rampant labor and human rights abuses, including wage theft, physical abuse, sexual harassment, and cases of forced servitude. 
After years of organizing, public campaigns, direct action, and negotiations with retailers and growers, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has facilitated the creation of the highly effective Fair Food Program, which requires retailers, who agree to participate, to pay farmworkers a penny and a half per pound premium for tomatoes picked, and obligates them to purchase from farms adhering to a fair labor code of conduct.  In 2010, the Florida Tomato Growers Association, representing 90% of Florida’s tomato growers, became part of the program, opening their farms to independent and enforceable monitoring. Integral to the Fair Food Program is worker participation. Fieldworkers are educated on their rights and can report abuses without fear of reprisal. New changes initiated include the requirement of time clocks, access to clean water and protection from harsh weather and pesticides.
  Thirteen retailers nationwide have signed on to the Fair Food Program. The latest to sign are Walmart and Delmonte Fresh Produce. A number of grocery chains continue to resist participation, including the Florida based Publix. Of the nation’s top 5 fast food restaurants, Wendy’s is the only hold out.

AND THEN! On Tuesday we will all be gathering in Portland to support Dan Brown as he continues his court fight against the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation:
We rallied behind Farmer Brown on a raw November day in Blue Hill to petition the state to drop the charges in their lawsuit against Dan for selling milk directly from his farm to patrons.

The state did not drop their lawsuit. It’s been a long 2 1/2 years as the case against Dan has worked its way through the court system, and through many legislative ups and downs as legislators have worked to correct the mistaken law interpretation that changed Maine’s policy toward the direct sale of milk from the farm.

One such bill passed only to be vetoed by Governor LePage. This session, another bill that sought to instate the pre-2009 policy into statute. Under strong industry pressure, in a very partisan election year, that bill failed.

Dan Brown is still in the midst of the policy-law confusion instigated at the Quality Assurance and Regulation Division 5 years ago. Please come to Portland on the 13th, support Dan Brown and farmers like him. Support your access to farm food.

Maine’s Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments on May 13th at 11:40 in Portland, ME.

Farmer Dan Drown of Gravel Wood Farm addresses supporters at a Nov. 18 in Blue Hill, Maine. The state is suing Brown over raw milk sales. Photo by Kyle W. Chick (Kyle W. Chick Photography)
Photo: Farmer Dan Drown of Gravel Wood Farm addresses supporters at  a Nov. 18 in Blue Hill, Maine.  The state is suing Brown over raw milk sales.  Photo by Kyle W. Chick (Kyle W. Chick Photography)
There will be a press conference at 10:00 am in front of the court house if you would like to join us for that also.

Agricultural Coexistence?????

January 18, 2014
USDA Requests Public Input on “Agricultural Coexistence” 
GMO/GE Contamination USDA Website Working Now! 
New Deadline March 4

MOFGA notified its Bulletin readers last week that USDA is seeking comments by March 4 – an extended deadline – on its proposals for coexistence among farmers who use genetically engineered crops and those who don’t (including organic growers and conventional growers who do not use GE/GMO seed). Unfortunately, the USDA comment site was not working after that notification appeared. It is working now – so please let USDA know what you think about coexistence between farms that do and do not use genetically engineered crops. More information.

Comment online via the Federal eRulemaking portal or mail comments to 
Docket No. APHIS-2013-0047 
Regulatory Analysis, and Development 
PPD, APHIS, Station, 3A-03.8 
4700 River Road Unit 118 
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Farmers and handlers may send an anonymous comment outlining their experiences and costs through the National Organic Coalition. 

We Need Your Help to Over-ride Yet Another LePage Veto!

January 13, 2014


Please contact your representative and senator to urge override of LePage’s Veto on LD 1254. Help keep Maine’s Food Dollars in Maine’s economy.

When are we going to invest in our state’s food production? When are we going to invest in the self-sufficiency in the state of Maine? If not now, when?

During the legislature’s first week back in session, Governor LePage was a quick draw to his veto pen. He vetoed another bill that would help solidify policy to promote the viability of Maine farms. The governor vetoed LD 1254 An Act to Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions put forward by Rep. Hickman of Winthrop. This bill requires state funded institutions to incrementally increase to 35% the amount of Maine grown food they purchase between now and 2035.

In response to the governor’s veto, Rep. Hickman has this to say about his bill which passed by 2/3 vote last session:

“My bill would require all state-funded institutions, not government agencies, to purchase a percentage of foodstuffs from Maine food producers. Those percentages increase incrementally over the next 20 years in order to make them achievable and fiscally responsible. By committee amendment, schools that participate in the Federal School Lunch Program are exempt. The bill is, therefore, NOT an “unfunded mandate” (on either local school districts OR state government) because if the food isn’t competitively priced and available, there is no requirement for any state institution to purchase it. 

It is the policy of the state to be food self-sufficient and my bill is a small step toward realizing that goal.

If you believe, as I do, that we need to spend more of our taxpayer dollars on food produced by Maine people for Maine people so that we keep more of our money in the state, reduce our reliance on foods imported from who knows where, grow a more robust food economy up and down the state, and create desperately needed jobs right here in Maine, then call, write, or visit your representatives and senators today, tomorrow, and the next and urge them to vote to override this veto. 

Maine’s hardworking food producers — farmers, fishermen, processors and distributors, small and large — are counting on you. “

The University of Maine-Orono is one example of an institution that has shifted its purchasing power towards Maine grown food by already purchasing 30% of its food from Maine sources. Here is a model to help other Maine institutions shift their buying power.

Right now, most of our tax payer dollars that help fund institutional food buying are going to out of state corporations like Sysco and Aramark, NOT Maine farms and NOT circulating in Maine’s economy, strengthening our communities. LD 1254 amplifies an existing law that already requires institutions to keep their dollars in Maine and help promote our state’s economy; it simply goes one step further by adding some benchmarks of accountability by adding a percentage and a timeline. There is no penalty for non-compliance with this law, but the implemenation benchmarks help provide some measure of accountability to our legislators and taxpayers.

The barriers to local farms to institutional markets are significant, and this bill could help create space for small farms to become mid-size farms, mid-size farms to scale up and hire farm help; large farms to gain a market for “seconds”. Maine’s strength can be found in our primary economic engines: our farmers, fishers and forestry, the emblems of our heritage on our state’s flag. If we want more Maine jobs, we need to start with policies

that help promote the growth and strengthen our primary economy, not undercut and divert resources away from our farms and fisherfolk toward agri-food corporate giants whose dollars don’t circulate in our own economy. LD 1254 is a step toward turning policy support toward Maine farms by requiring our state-funded institutions to buy food in Maine.

One of the principles of food sovereignty is to re-organize food trade: towards state and local economies and away from multi-national, globalized food corporations. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. Priority is placed on domestic production and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.

Please contact your senator and your representative today to urge them to over ride Governor LePage’s veto and support LD 1254. This vote could be held early this week. The voice of the big food industry speaks loud and often and LePage is listening. Raise your voice for Maine food, her farmers and our local economy. Keep Maine’s food dollars in Maine’s economy!

Betsy Testifies Against the TPP

December 13, 2013

Good Evening, my name is Betsy Garrold, I homestead in Knox and I serve as President of the Board of Directors of Food for Maine’s Future and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Belfast Co-op.   I am here tonite to speak on behalf of Food for Maine’s Future.

Back in 2003, in the face of NAFTA, CAFTA,  Plan Puebla Panamá, etc etc I participated in the meetings that drafted the legislation which eventually lead to the formation of this commission.   I wanted the wording of the legislation to be stronger and the commission to have more enforcement teeth but these hearings were a good place to start.  It is heartening to see that these public hearings are still happening.  So thank you to Senator Jackson and Representative Treat  for keeping this public platform alive and well.

When I was asked to come here today and talk about the impact TPP will have on food security, food sovereignty and food safety,  I had to think long and hard about exactly what to say.    If I say food will be less safe because the TPP will negate food safety regulations then that directly contradicts  what Senator Jackson heard me testify again and again this past spring in the legislature.   I believe that more regulation does not make safer food.   Rather, knowing where your food comes from and who is producing it, so that you can make informed decisions about where to spend your food dollars, is the key to a safer food system.   Notice I did not say safe.   Nothing is 100%.   Whether your organic carrots come from next door or from China there is always the chance they may be contaminated in some way.    What I propose is that the farmer next door is not going to deliberately contaminate the produce they sell you in order to make a buck.   Unlike food manufacturers  in China who could, and did, contaminate infant formula, pet food, eggs and other food products with melamine in what the World Health Organization calls one of the largest food safety events in recent years.

I am going to read you something written by a young woman affiliated with a group I had the honor of addressing this past summer; Real Food Challenge.  This group works with university students to encourage college cafeterias to buy more locally sourced food.   This initiative is one of the newer attempts to help small, local farmers sell more product locally.  Farm to institution sales.  Just one more income stream that will help family farms keep their heads above water financially.

Natalie Yoon, United Students for Fair Trade, wrote concerning four key points about the TPP and our food system.  This is what she had to say  (with some interjections and asides from me).

1. Small producers will be wiped out. As the TPP removes tariffs and basic protections from international markets, it will be very difficult for small farmers to stay afloat in the face of international competition.  In countries like Japan (and I might add states like Maine) where 80% of the agriculture sector is made up of small farmers, the TPP will wipe out entire communities and replace small farms with large agribusinesses.

2. The TPP will drastically bring down food safety standards at home and abroad. Governments will be forced to “harmonize” their food safety standards to the lowest common denominator. That means soon we could all be eating imported seafood, beef, and chicken that doesn’t meet even the basic U.S. standards. The FDA would be powerless to shut down these imports of unsafe food or food ingredients. (Now this may be a good thing, it may encourage more and more folks to buy local, buy food where they know the farmers face, but it also could be an unmitigated disaster,)

3. We won’t be allowed to know where our food comes from or what’s in it (like melamine). Food labels will also come under fire under the TPP. Transnational corporations like Monsanto are using the TPP to make it illegal to label products as containing GMOs, since it discriminates against them.  Corporations have even argued that “locally grown” labels give unfair advantage to small domestic producers over international businesses. (There goes our recently minted GMO labeling bill that we all fought so hard to get enacted and even the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s own “Get Real, Get Maine” label and campaign.)

4. Governments won’t be allowed to support local food. Under the TPP, government food procurement policies that prioritize supporting their local economies will be illegal. That means that your public university (and I add public schools, public hospitals, etc.) might not be allowed to intentionally source food from local farms, since it violates “free trade” terms by discriminating against foreign farms.

Free trade agreements have for years undermined our national economy and caused the shipping of manufacturing jobs overseas.   Those of us who farm had a false sense of security that at least our jobs could not be uprooted and sold to the lowest bidder.   Please help us continue to believe that by doing all you can to make the TPP, if not a bad notion abandoned, at least a document strong enough to protect small local producers whether they are farmers, fishers, or foresters.


This Land is Our Land?

October 18, 2013

Reposting from Civil Eats:

Imagine a country where ideologues bent on land reform turn agriculture into the plaything of the world’s richest investors, and poor local farmers are locked out of millions of acres prime agricultural land. Then stop imagining some African country run by a despot and his friends and start picturing the United States. Rural America is on the cusp of one of the greatest transfers of land in its history and no one’s talking about it.

At its worst, land reform lets plutocrats kick poor people off their ancestral land. But land reform is not only the tool of dictators. At its best, sensible policies about how land is used, transferred, and owned can make it possible for young people to farm with dignity, a living wage, and a future. It can help poor people stop being poor. It can let young farmers who want to farm break through the barriers to entry. It can provide a secure retirement for America’s older farmers. It can happen and should happen in countries as democratic and as rich as the United States.

In fact, radical reform has been discussed in the U.S. and recently. But not in the current agricultural policy centerpiece: The Farm Bill. If you knew nothing about it, you might think that the Farm Bill would be a sensible place for talking about farms and bills. But big, structural problems like land use, transfer, ownership, and preservation are too big a threat to the status quo to mention–so no one risks talking about them.

Certainly, land reform is a ticklish subject. In its cartoon version, land reform is what communists do after a revolution. Few in Congress want to be associated with it. That’s a shame, because historical American-facilitated land reforms have often been very successful. The prosperity of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan owe much to the reforms imposed on them by the U.S. after WWII in order to preempt the spread of communism.

Land reform isn’t of mere historical interest–it remains important within America. Just as in the Global South, poor people in the U.S. still want and try to make a living off the land. While some farmers’ children want to head to the cities, many others are being kicked off the farm. No matter how enthusiastic and able they are, they can’t afford to stay, the farm can’t feed another mouth.

To the ranks of these unwilling urbanites, add a generation of young city-dwellers raring to get their hands dirty. The food movement has rekindled young Americans’ romance with agriculture. Thousands graduate from dozens of new food and sustainable agriculture programs. They’re hardly naïve about the work involved in living off the land. Yet their ambition will be fruitless, because unless they come from families of good fortune, they won’t be able to afford the land, they will be priced out of the market by institutional investors and large-scale farm operations.

Part of the drive behind America’s land transfer is very easy to talk about. American farmers are getting older; they average 58 years old. Their nest egg is their land and they’re increasingly worried about health care and retirement income. So over the next 20 years, 400 million acres of farm land will crumble through the hands of families that historically farmed, scooped up by the highest bidders. Those bidders are likely to be far richer than the young farmers who would like a chance at their own land stake. And they’re likely to be absentee owners.

The American way of land has been this: conquest, enclosure, inheritance, foreclosure, and sale to the highest bidder. And that trend is likely only to get worse. For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, at the bleeding edge of free-market thinking, has proposed that any corporation anywhere in the world be able to buy as much farm land in his state as it wants. At the moment, there are at least a few restrictions on the kinds of international investors allowed to dabble in Wisconsin farmland, with a 640-acre limit on purchases for firms designated foreign.[1]

The removal of these restrictions–that in many other states have already been lifted with bipartisan support–make Wisconsin look more like poor countries in the global south, where land has been bought beneath the feet of local farmers by powerful (usually overseas) investors.

Make no mistake. This is a kind of land reform. In allowing the market to set the terms for ownership, use, and redistribution, a choice is being made about the future of farming and urbanization. Governor Walker’s land reform laws, if passed, will end up completing a project that is already under way across the country. Last November, 9,800 acres in in southwest Wisconsin sold for $7,000 per acre.[3] The land was bought by AgriVest – a division of UBS (once an abbreviation for the Union Bank of Switzerland) based in Connecticut. The US already has large and concentrated land ownership – the biggest corporate landowners are, in first place, the Church of Latter Day Saints, followed by TIAA-Cref.[2]

Some consider this a good thing. After all, if land’s going to be sold, why not allow bidders from outside a country to come in and buy it up? In 2010, after international funds had started piling in to international farm investments , the World Bank–a constitutionally pro-free-market institution–tried to make the case for wholesale and unrestricted land transfers all over the world. For decades, the Bank has done its best to steer countries away from state-led land reform, urging instead that they let the free market do the organizing of land distribution. This has worked out well for large land owners and badly for the poor.

Recently, the Bank has started to admit just how badly in a report entitled, “Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?” After surveying dozens of countries, the Bank reluctantly concluded that “case studies confirm widespread concern about the risks associated with large-scale investment.” Above all, these deals failed the poor because they failed women. The bank admitted that “many of the projects studied had strong negative gender effect…. directly affecting women’s land-based livelihoods.”

The reason that the World Bank has been keen to promote market-led land reform is to tamp down the vigorous demand in Asia, Africa, and Latin America for the opposite–state-led land reform. Efforts to demonize government-driven land in America reform have been so successful that merely to mention it is to summon the image of mustachioed kleptocrats. “You can’t have land reform – just look at Zimbabwe!”

We have followed the corruption of the Mugabe regime, and seen the evidence that government-led land reform has in fact worked for the poor in Zimbawbe.

Intuitively, this makes sense. What happens when you give land to landless, dedicated, and intelligent people? They make farming work, even if they get little support from the government after their parcels of land are doled out. And even if the government doles the choicest slabs to its pals.

Government-led reform has worked for the poorest in Zimbabwe despite a despotic regime. Let’s talk, if we can, about how much better a set of policies to enfranchise poor farmers against pure free-market thinking might work within a democratic regime. Such thinking used to happen in the United States. In 1972, the National Coalition on Land Reform—note the use of the term—had important ideas about what could happen to fight poverty, feed the country, and revitalize rural areas in the U.S. It is time that such a discussion was again on the table.

The trouble is that there are few tables around which the conversation might begin, and none of them are at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The closest the U.S. government has come are a few tokens of support for beginning farmers, most of which have been stripped out before the new Farm Bill emerged from committee.

Ultimately, the Farm Bill assumes that every small farmer wants to become a specialty producer selling to restaurants. But what about those farmers who want to feed their local schools, elder-care facilities, Head Start programs, or homeless shelters? The Farm Bill may contain multitudes, but it can’t contain this.

In any case, a land reform conversation is bigger than the purview of the Department of Agriculture. There’s no simple policy to address this. But it’s possible to imagine a set of ideas that 1) allow a new generation of landless Americans to steward the land for the public good; 2) build a vibrant and productive rural economy; and 3) make rural retirement possible without poverty.

At a minimum, these would involve:

* Ceilings maximum acreage on agricultural land ownership. A 1970s Congressional bill would have prohibited corporations with more than $3 million in non-farm assets from buying land;

* Conservation easement legislation to guarantee that small farmland remains in production and under small-farm ownership;

* Student debt forgiveness in exchange for farming;

* Farmworkers’ right to organize and to living wages;

* Investment in rural healthcare infrastructure;

* Financially secure retirement options for rural elders; and

* Support for the agroecological farming needed for 21st Century agriculture.

These were ideas that were part of a national conversation forty one years ago at the First National Conference on Land Reform, which took place in April 1972 in San Francisco, bringing together representatives of the Inter-Religious Coalition on Housing, the NAACP, Friends of the Earth, and dozens of other organizations.

They knew what we know now: That progressive land reform in the United States could address a range of environmental and social problems, encouraging sustainable climate-change ready farming, providing (literally) green jobs, and reimagining rural America.

We already, for example, forgive student debt in exchange for public service. If we can support the young teachers who nourish the minds of America’s next generation, might we not support those graduates nourishing those students’ bodies? A student loan payment could become a land payment under the right policy. The agencies that can and should start discussing this include the Department of Agriculture, Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service. and the Department of Justice Department of Education?

We aren’t naïve. There will be resistance to tilting the playing field away from speculators and Big Ag. Agricultural land is “like gold with yield.”

It’s hard enough to imagine the government doing right by social security, let alone by linking that conversation with farming. Yet by supporting the elderly and investing in the young, we can choose to build a food system today that will feed all Americans tomorrow.

Such a food system will need to address the deep concentrations of power that lie at the heart of the modern food system. For that to happen, we’ll need to talk about some awkward subjects. So pull up a chair and let’s begin.



Small Farms and Farmworkers Working to End Hunger, Poverty & Injustice

June 27, 2013

Fresh Food for Farmworkers

Each summer thousands of people migrate seasonally to Washington and Hancock Counties for the annual blueberry harvest. Families and individuals travel from Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere to ensure Maine farmers and growers have the labor they need to ensure a successful season. Yet, despite the value they bring to Maine’s economy – over $250 million annually – most seasonal farmworkers have limited access to affordable housing and adequate cooking and food storage facilities.

Each year around the same time hundreds of young people also migrate from all over the U.S. for apprenticeships and other learning opportunities on Maine farms. For some, the experience turns into a desire to live and farm in Maine. Yet too often the dream of farming in Maine is cut short by the same harsh economic reality of farming that, for example, leads to 12 farmworkers living in a single apartment or a four-person motel room with few options for preparing a hot meal. For farmers and farmworkers alike, food production has sadly become a high-investment, low-wage occupation.

Since 2006, Food for Maine’s Future has been grappling with the many inequities in our food system, looking for creative solutions that simultaneously empower and build wealth in rural communities. Last year we started a program to support Maine’s beginning farmers and seasonal farmworkers: Fresh Food for Farmworkers.

The idea is simple: Help beginning farmers find new markets on which to build sustainable small businesses by paying them to produce high-quality food that we in turn use to provide seasonal farmworkers with community meals and CSA-type programs. Every dollar we spend on Fresh Food for Farmworkers has twice the impact on the community by helping meet the needs of two important, yet underserved, groups at the same time. Read more

Learn more about the Fresh Food for Farmworkers Program

Seed Ceremony atop Blue Hill Mountain/Awanadjo followed by Brunch and Seed Swap

April 22, 2013

April 22, 2013

Food for Maine’s Future
Bob St.Peter



There will be a Seed Ceremony and Blessing for the Spring Planting on top of Blue Hill Mountain Sunday, April 28 at 8:30am. Participants are asked to arrive at the base of the mountain at 7:45am for a welcome and 8:00am departure. The non-demominational ceremony will be led by Anu Dudley, ordained minister affiliated with The Temple of the Feminine Divine in Bangor and host of Earth Tides on WERU. Each participant is asked to bring a few seeds, a small planting pot, and enough soil for planting. There will also be a 7:30am departure for participants who need more time to hike the mountain.

Winnowing seeds at 2012 Seed Camp

Following the ceremony there will be a Community Brunch and Seed & Seedling Swap at the Halcyon Grange in Blue Hill. This event is sponsored by Food for Maine’s Future in partnership with the Seed Keepers Collective and Why Hunger. Hear about the Seed Keepers Collective’s project weaving seed saving, food justice, history, and culture. Also learn about Food for Maine’s Future’s upcoming Seed Camp and effort to create Saving Seeds Farm, a commercial seed farm and training site. The brunch

Seed Camp Class of 2012

Seed Camp Class of 2012

will include a variety of egg dishes, baked goods, and oatmeal bar. Suggested donation is $10-$20. All proceeds benefit the Seed Camp

Scholarship Fund to ensure equal access to the program. For more information or to RSVP contact Food for Maine’s Future at 244-0908 or email