Testifying Before a Joint Committee

March 6, 2015

Testifying before a committee in Augusta.

When a piece of legislation comes up before the legislature it is first afforded a public hearing in front of the appropriate joint standing committee.   These committees have co-chairs, one from the house and one from the senate, and a representative sampling of both Representatives and Senators of both (and sometimes all three) parties.   If you are interested in seeing a bill pass or alternatively get defeated one of the first places you would want to make your voice heard is at these public hearings.  Here is a brief synopsis of how you go about doing that.

*Write out your testimony.   Unless you are an awfully good public speaker and know your subject extremely well it is best to have written testimony.   For many reasons.   One of which is that you want to provide (in fact it is semi-required) 20 copies of your written testimony so that there are copies for each of the members of the committee plus some extras for interested parties.  It is nice to begin your testimony by addressing the chairs of the committee by name and to end by thanking the committee for its time.

*Keep it to one page.   I once heard a wise old legislator say “If you can’t convince me in three minutes, you can’t convince me.”  Three minutes is about 600 words.   Make your point.   Keep it succinct.   They will hold you to the three minute time limit especially if there are lots of folks wanting to address this particular bill.

*Tell a story.   If you have ever listened to the State of the Union address you know it is often a series of stories.  The President tells stories about real people, using them to make a personal point about each issue he wants to address.  Your stories should be true and about you or someone you know well.   Make sure the committee knows this is personal to you.   These representatives care about the people they serve and want to hear our voices.  Why else would they volunteer to sit through these, often mind-numbing, meetings?

*If you cite sources such as research articles or government statistics provide copies of those sources as well.   Show that you are not just spouting off the top of your head but that the sources you reference actually do exist.  

*When you testify you will be asked to sign in as either “for”, “against”, or “neither for nor against.”   The testimony will be heard in that order with the primary sponsor of the bill (a Senator or Representative) speaking first and then any other legislator offered time to speak and then the general public.   Sometimes a state employee of the particular department affected will be asked to speak.  Lobbyists included.

*Be prepared, as best you can, for questions.  Often there are none but occasionally one of the members of the committee will want to probe further into the facts of your statement.   They are usually fairly nice about it but try not to be caught off guard by whatever they may ask. That can be very embarrassing.

*If you cannot be there to testify in person you can do one of two things: 1) someone else can take your written testimony to the hearing for you and present it or 2) you can send in your written testimony.   If you do the later it is advisable to send a copy to each member of the committee individually to be sure they see it.

*And lastly don’t forget work sessions.   If you are really interested in a particular bill, and especially if you are really knowledgeable about its subject matter, plan on attending the work session concerning the bill. It is usually scheduled on a separate day.   It is in the work session that these bills are hashed over (and sometimes made into hash) and public attendance at those sessions can occasionally have an impact.  And if the committee knows you have expertise and you are sitting there they may ask you to chime in with your knowledge.

The joint standing committee for Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry chairs are Senator Peter Edgecomb and Representative Craig Hickman.   The clerk of the committee is Cassie Nixon her email address is Cassie.Nixon at legislature.maine.gov  

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.

On The Hill

February 11, 2015


Some of the folks from Mississippi Association of Cooperatives swapping seeds from up north.

Betsy Garrold, President of the Board, is still in Washington DC after three days of very successful meeting, sharing, goal setting and action planning at the National Family Farm Coalition meeting. Today they storm the hill.

Maggie and Dena from Northern Plains Resource Council will be meeting with folks from the USDA and Congress-people from Montana.

Jim from Family Farm Defenders and Betsy from our own FMF will be meeting with staff from Susan Collins’ office, staff from Tammy Baldwin’s office (Jim is from Wisconsin) and, later in the afternoon, Chellie Pingree. The focus of these meetings will be educating these folks about the impact the TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade deal will have on small farms in this country. All of this in a effort to get them to vote against Fast Track.

Other Coalition members will be meeting with their respective Congress-persons.

One of the speakers we heard, over our three days of meetings, was Mike Dolan from the Teamsters. A dynamic speaker, Mike lead us through strategies that could work to stop this latest egregious trade deal. Monkey-wrenching (or as his European colleagues mis-heard it monkey ranching) is his favorite tactic. Once again seeing the sausage made is not always pretty but if it gets the job done than it’s all good. For more information on strategy email FMF at hgarrold@yahoo.com.

Fast Track authority is probably going to be voted on within the month. Congress is hot to get this done before the 2016 presidential sweepstakes begin, so watch for action alerts from your favorite progressive organizations and please sign on. Remember that next week all of Congress is going to be back home in their districts for President’s Day recess so if there are town-hall meetings planned please attend them and speak up against the selling, yet again, of the small farmers and other workers down the proverbial river that this bad, bad trade deal embodies.

And chin up spring is coming, as we proved at the NFFC meeting by swapping seeds. Dan and Charles from Mississippi told me they are going home to plant the bean seeds they took this very week. So it is warm somewhere and soon will be again in Maine.

Upcoming Events

February 5, 2015

On Sunday February 8th, 2015 Betsy Garrold (board President) will travel to Washington DC to attend the annual meeting of the National Family Farm Coalition of which Food for Maine’s Future is a member. Here is a snapshot about the organization from their website:


U.S. farm and food policy must change in order to reverse the economic devastation currently faced by our nation’s family farmers and rural communities. In addition, our international trade policy must recognize each nation’s right and responsibility to make their own decisions about how to develop and protect the capacity to grow food, sustain the livelihood of food producers, and feed the people in its own borders.

We envision empowered communities everywhere working together democratically to advance a food and agriculture system that ensures health, justice, and dignity for all. Future generations will thrive when the family farm is an economically viable livelihood supported by environmentally sustainable and socially diverse vibrant rural communities.”

This meeting is a chance for FMF to be present on the national stage in solidarity with many great grassroots organizations across the country. Standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the small farmers and their workers against the total take over of our food system by the oligarchs.

The other great news this month is that the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund will be funding a part-time paid lobbyist in Augusta this session. This will help immensely with the ongoing work of getting the law to follow the practice when it comes to face to face food sales in the state.

So next week in Augusta this is want the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) will be holding public hears about:

February 10th at 1:00 pm in Room 214 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta:
LD 4 and LD 119 both bills dealing with the growing of industrial hemp here in Maine.

February 12th (same time same place) they will be hearing testimony regarding a resolution to review the merger that created the DACF.

Anyone interested in attending these hearings and wanting more information can contact Betsy at hgarrold@yahoo.com or leave a message on our Facebook page.


In Defense of Small Dairies (and other small farms)

January 24, 2015

Here is a review of Bruce Scholten’s new book – U.S Organic Dairy Politics: Animals, Pasture, People and Agribusiness.
January 13th, 2015

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan – a division of St. Martin’s Press (in the US)

A review by Jim Goodman

Bruce Scholten’s in-depth and thoughtful analysis of U.S. organic dairy politics begins with his own memories of growing up on a Washington State dairy farm. From what was common in his childhood, small dairy farms operated by multi-generational family labor, pasturing their cattle, building the soil and supporting local communities, Scholten shows the reader how things have changed over the past five decades.

Scholten exposes the system that has come to control and victimize the farmer (both conventional and organic), the animals, the environment and the consumer. Noting that “Get big or get out” — the exhortation of Earl Butz — set the stage for the shift of agriculture from small family dairy farms to “mega-dairies,” Scholten clearly explains how this shift was made using government policy, driven by corporations that have taken control of markets, of seeds and even of the simple ethical principles that had been a safeguard for the environment and the animals with whom we are so interdependent.

While many farmers saw organic farming as a way to get out of the increasingly industrialized and globalized food system, Scholten shows how current policy in Washington is allowing, if not encouraging, the “industrialization” of organic agriculture. A parallel system to conventional agriculture, with intentionally weak organic standards and lax government regulation, is the situation we as organic farmers and consumers face. But there is resistance and hope, as Scholten notes; there are individuals and populist advocacy groups fighting to maintain the integrity of organic while ensuring farmers a fair price and consumers an honest product. Perhaps most of all, there are still farm families who “call their animals by name and manage their farms like living organisms in rural communities.”

You may link to the blog here: http://nffc.net/index.php/u-s-organic-dairy-politics-by-bruce-scholten/.

Thanks, Jim!

Check Out This New Documentary!

January 11, 2015

This trailer for a new documentary about young people becoming farmers features several Maine locations: Vinland Restaurant in Portland, Frinkelpod Farm in Arundel (a new one for us) and The Sheepscot General Store in Whitefield (one of our favorites for their unique take on the whole “value added” thing.) Hurrah for Maine! We have the fasting growing farming population and we are the only state in the nation in which the average of farmers is falling.

Giving Tuesday

December 2, 2014

We are currently working hard on what we want to see come out of the upcoming Legislative session.   There is another edition of Saving Seeds in the works.   And this fall we got together with our friends at the Coaliton of Immokalee Workers to make blueberry jam as the first itteration of the Blueberry Jam Cooperative.   All of this can only happen if we have the financial wherewithal to do this work.   Hope you can add us to your end of the year giving.   And thanks for all the ongoing support.


Remarks on Food Sovereignty and GMOs

June 1, 2014

Last Saturday Betsy was in Monument Square in Portland  at the March Against Monsanto.   The week before that Heather was on the steps of the Maine Supreme Court at the press conference just before Dan Brown’s case was heard.   In between those two events two counties in Oregon passed bans on planting GMO crops.

Here is all those events:

March Against Monsanto

I have come here today to speak about the food sovereignty movement.   And I will do that in a moment but first I want to tell you a story and toward the end I’ll offer you a solution to the food situation in which we find ourselves.

Back in 2006 I was standing around with some friends at one of our Mud Season Dinners.   These are events meant to demonstrate that even in the dark days of February or March there is still enough, entirely local, food to feed a crowd. At that moment we were at the height of our resistance against the animal ID law.  This is the USDA regulations that say all farmers who have livestock have to register and tattoo or tag all of their animals with a number and then do all the paperwork that entails.   So if anyone gets sick from eating meat, when that animal goes into the churning cauldron that is our current food system, the Feds can trace that animal’s life and provenance from birth to slaughter.   Naturally the anarchists, non-anarchist, libertarians and plain old left wing activists, I was chatting with were none too pleased with this development.  One of them asked plaintively “What are we going to do?”   A good friend of mine, a farmer who feeds thousands of people every year, happened to be standing in the group.  He looked at her and said “We’re going to keep doing what we are doing…it’s just going to be illegal.”

And that is the essence of this movement.   It is; in the tradition of Suffrage, Civil Rights and Marriage Equality; essentially a human rights movement.    We got them out of our voting booths and bedrooms now let’s get them out of our kitchens.  We are; by eating fresh local food, sourced from farmers that we know; committing an act of civil disobedience. Like the Palestinians on the West Bank standing in front of their olive trees,  we are standing in front of our apple trees, protecting them from the encroachment of a hostile government.    They, the government bureaucrats, say they are protecting us from ourselves.   They say that we don’t know enough not to eat bad food.  They say that a farmer would sell tainted milk or meat or eggs or vegetables to his neighbors and friends.   They say that we would feed bad food to our own family and loved ones.    Well, let me tell you, the only bad food we are feeding anyone is the over-processed, GMO-ladden, vacant-of-nutrient foods that the big manufacturers shovel our way every day in the chain supermarkets.  If you are eating fresh nutrient-dense foods you are going to eat less, because your body is going to crave less.   And you are going to be healthier over all.  Twinkies just can’t do that.

This is what I call a “just walk away” moment.   My favorite kind of civil disobedience.   Just as Gandhi lead the salt march  to prove to the people of India, and to the British Empire, that they could make their own salt and did not need to remain enslaved to the English salt monopoly, so too we can grow our own food.   As Ron Finley of the South Central Garden in LA said so eloquently:  “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.  Plus you get strawberries.”  and my favorite quote from him: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

So we in the food sovereignty movement offer you the opportunity to take back control of what you eat three times a day.   Let the big guys know that they cannot intimidate us into eating rubbish that nourishes neither our bodies nor our souls.   Anyone interested in getting a food sovereignty ordinance passed in your own town can speak to me and we’ll get you started.

We need to protect our small farms and farmers.   They are the people that feed us.  They are also, historically,  the people that brought us the populist movement which lead to so much government reform in the late 1800’s.   And currently the farmers in Nebraska are one of the major reasons we are winning the fight against the XL pipeline.   Farmers are independent, hard working, tough minded folk who see the truth more clearly than most and are not afraid to stand up for what they believe.

So stand with small farmers and farmworkers everywhere and take back your power.   Stand up in front of your apples trees or tomato plants or by the side of your local farmer and just say NO.   No to GMOs, no to heavy-handed government oversight, no to caving into the intimidation bought and paid for by the folks that make the most money selling us crap to eat.   Join the next great civil rights movement.   The right to know what is in our food and  to eat whatever we damn well please.

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”  Wendell Berry

GMO Bans In Oregon

Mainers Feeding Mainers

June 1, 2014

Our own Heather Retberg (and good friend the Honorable Craig Hickman) was at Husson University this past Thursday on a panel about food security.   The BDN had an article about the panel.  Here is the opening paragraph and a link:

BANGOR, Maine — Food, what is grown in Maine and how to get it into the mouths of hungry people, was the topic of the day at a Thursday morning panel discussion convened by Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague. The answer — support Maine’s farmers.”

And part of the article was a nice little video from Good Shepard Foodbank.  Watch it!

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.