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 (http://legislature.maine.gov/) 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.”


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

January 13, 2014

GOVERNOR LEPAGE VETOES JOBS BILL FOR MAINE FARMS.

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!