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!

Yale Food Sovereignty Conference

September 9, 2013

Bob St. Peter and Heather Retberg, board members of Food for Maine’s Future will be traveling to Yale this week to speak at an academic conference on the food sovereignty issue.   Here is a synopsis of the conference and then the short version of the paper that Heather participated in writing.   Very exciting and heady stuff.

“Sponsored by the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University and

the *Journal of Peasant Studies*, and co-organized by Food First, Initiatives in

Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS) and the International Institute of Social

Studies (ISS) in The Hague, Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the

Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), the conference “Food

Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue” will be held at Yale University on

September 14–15, 2013. The event will bring together leading scholars and

political activists who are advocates of and sympathetic to the idea of

food sovereignty, as well as those who are skeptical to the concept of food

sovereignty to foster a critical and productive dialogue on the issue. The

purpose of the meeting is to examine what food sovereignty might mean, how

it might be variously construed, and what policies (e.g. of land use,

commodity policy, and food subsidies) it implies. Moreover, such a dialogue

aims at exploring whether the subject of food sovereignty has an

“intellectual future” in critical agrarian studies and, if so, on what



Conference Paper # 40: Community Autonomy and Local Food: Seeking Food

Sovereignty in Maine, by Hilda E. Kurtz in collaboration with Heather

Retberg and Bonnie Preston*


In 2011, a group of food and farmer activists in Maine set off a maelstrom

of political activity in and around the food sovereignty movement when they

drafted and placed on town meeting warrants a Local Food and Community

Self-Governance Ordinance. Intended to maintain the viability of small

farms in a struggling rural economy, these ordinances exempt direct

transactions of farm food from licensure and inspection. Their goal is to

maintain control of food at the local level by asserting the right to

remain autonomous from the corporate industrial food system. Conceptually,

they draw on a populist ethos and the town meeting tradition to invite

broad democratic participation in pressing claims for food sovereignty.

This paper traces the ordinance strategy and its effects through activist

networks and into the halls of the state capitol, where the governing and

the governed have wrestled over the last two years with fundamental and

difficult issues facing food systems. Recognizing the play of multiple food

sovereignties in different settings, we suggest that this work offers

insight into possible trajectories of food sovereignty as a movement for

radical change in the food system by reasserting the right to define a

local food system and drawing a protective boundary around traditional

foodways. The concept of food sovereignty – democratic control of the food

system, and the right of all people to define their own agrifood systems

(US Social Forum 2010) – implies a re-scaling of food production and trade

regimes, away from industrial scale production for international trade to

food systems organized at local and regional scales. Beyond such a

re-scaling, however, food sovereignty discourse is ambiguous if not

ambivalent about the geographic scales at which food sovereignty can and

should be achieved. Main ordinance advocates engage with the scale problem

directly by arguing for the need for scale appropriate regulations for

small scale production for direct sale; in addition, they draw on Maine’s

tradition of Home Rule to frame perhaps the first legible spatial

expression of food sovereignty in the United States. This paper examines

the ordinance strategy and its ripple effects as a politics of scale, in

which different expressions of geographic scale shape both the form and the

content of political debate. The stakes in this struggle are high,

concerning intersections of life and livelihood, autonomy and its absence,

and bases for knowing and for evaluating risk. We view these stakes as

biopolitics, or struggle over the exercise of biopower. In the exertion of

biopower, states (and other actors) manage population health through the

use of vital statistics and other technologies. Foucault demonstrates that

as new forms of knowledge and regimes of truth made population health

knowable, biological experience shaping individual and collective life,

like dietary practices, became linked to the exercise of state power. The

paper traces how the food sovereigntists of Maine use politics of scale to

face off against biopower as exercised through corporate influence over

food and farm regulations.”

Press Conference, Rally and Public Hearing Tomorrow in Augusta

May 6, 2013


PRESS CONFERENCE comes on the heels of Blue Hill farmer Dan Brown losing case against the Maine Department of Agriculture and State of Maine for unlicensed food sales.

Tuesday, May 7: Press Conference hosted by Food for Maine’s Future at 12:00pm in the State House, Welcome Center

Scheduled to speak:
Rep. Craig Hickman, Winthrop
Farmer and small business owner. Sponsor of LD1287 An Act to Deregulate Face-to-Face Transactions between the People and Small Farms and Small Food Producers.

Emma Simanton, Brooksville
Licensed dairy farmer and co-coordinator of Blue Hill’s Local Food Exchange.

Rep. Brian Jones, Freedom
Co-sponsor of LD 1287 and LD 475 An Act to Increase Food Sovereignty in Local Communities

Farmers, patrons, legislators, and representatives of Maine towns that have passed Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinances, TBA

Followed by public hearings in Room 214 of the Cross Bldg.:

Tuesday, May 7: Public Hearing on LD-1287 An Act to Deregulate Face-to-Face Transactions between the People and Small Farms and Small Food Producers will begin at 1pm in Cross Building, Room 214.
Bill 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.

Public Hearing on LD-1282 An Act To Help Small Farmers in Selling Raw Milk and Homemade Food Products

Bill Summary: This bill exempts from state licensing and inspection requirements homestead food operations and raw milk producers who sell small quantities of certain food products or raw milk products made or produced at the person’s residence or farm if the food products or raw milk products are sold directly from the person’s home or farm or farm stand or at a farmers’ market within the State.

2 more Maine towns pass local foods ordinance | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

June 17, 2012

See on Scoop.itfood sovereignty

Maine towns are passing this ordinance as a struggle for transparency and the fundamental right to access foods of our choosing.

See on

Children of the Corn

May 31, 2012

Bob looks over seedlings incubating for future planting at Saving Seed Farm. The farm this year will be host to Saving Seed Camp and Community Events.

This article reflects on an Iroquois tribe’s heritage seed survives the ages. Cultivating and preparing corn for long term storage, generates community wealth that can be transferred community to community. In Sedgwick, ME Saving Seeds Farm is building a seed bank and working to build a corn seed collaborative.

See on

Saving Seeds Camp and Community Activities

May 30, 2012

Hi All!

Saving Seeds Farm is in full swing this Spring. Seedlings are being planted that have been incubating in Bob’s laboratory, a.k.a. our green house. 

It is a joy and indeed inspiring to see all the fresh new growth in the gardens all ready!

The farm is truly built on the practices of sustainability and utilizing resources wisely.  Sheep, rabbits, goats and chickens seem to be enjoying their communal living.  The sheep particularly like to give a Bob a challenge in finding greener fields outside their intended space, but so far Bob has been up to the challenge and seems to be winning!  

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