Action Alert: Contact Your Representative and Senator Today!

March 20, 2016

  Call and/or email your legislators and ask them to vote yes on LD783, “Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Establish a Right to Food.”

LD 783 would allow Maine people to vote on a referendum in November 2016.

Here is the question as it would appear on the ballot:

“Do you favor amending the Constitution of Maine to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment and sustenance and to barter, trade and purchase food from the sources of their own choosing for their own bodily health and well-being?” 

If Maine voters approve the question in November, the following section would added to the Declaration of Rights in the Constitution of Maine:

Sec 25. Right to food freedom; food self-sufficiency; bodily health and well-being.                        

All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume the food of their own choosing, for their own nourishment and sustenance, by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, gardening or saving and exchanging seeds, provided that no individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food; furthermore, all individuals have a right to barter, trade or purchase food from the sources of their own choosing, for their own bodily health and well-being and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of these rights, which may not be infringed.



A bipartisan majority of legislators on Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted in support of LD 783. It now goes to the House of Representatives and Senate to decide whether to send the question to voters.
LD 783 is about food choice, food self-sufficiency, and individual responsibility. 

This bill does not change or preempt any food safety laws currently on the books. 

The House of Representatives may vote on LD783 the morning of Tuesday, March 22nd.

The Maine Senate will likely vote soon after.

Find the contact information for the Representative and Senator who represents your town in the Maine legislature online at: legislature.maine.gov/house/townlist.htm

Leave a brief message for your Representative on Tuesday morning, including your name, town, contact info, and a request that they support LD 783, “Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Establish a Right to Food,” and allow Maine people to vote on food choice in November.

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THE RIGHT TO FOOD FREEDOM; FOOD SELF-SUFFICIENCY; BODILY HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

February 15, 2016

by Heather Retberg

 

A work session of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on February 4th, turned a long shot proposal for a constitutional amendment into a fighting chance for establishing a right to food in Maine.  

While political tricks and lobbying acrobatics of past sessions have blocked food sovereignty bills and the bills that would have re-legitimized the direct exchange of food, the current bill proposal, LD 783, works differently. What we’ve experienced up until now has been a collusion of the Big Food Lobby with the Department of Agriculture to block bills that create or protect the legal space around small, diversified farms and facilitate access to real food. The threat of executive veto overshadowed the process and the lobbyists have always amplified this potential outcome. They have had success in stripping some of the small-farm friendly bills of food sovereignty and/or food freedom components by making threats about what might happen “on the 2nd floor” (read: the Governor’s office).
The Resolution to Propose an Amendment to Maine’s Constitution to Establish a Right to Food works differently than the bills to enact a law. Because LD 783 is a constitutional amendment, the role for the Governor is to proclaim the results of an eventual referendum vote on the proposal. There is no veto provision. There is one less weapon in the Big Food Lobby arsenal. The first step, like with other bills, is a public hearing before the committee of jurisdiction, in this case the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. If it receives an “ought to pass” vote, it faces the tough task of passing by 2/3 majority vote in both House and Senate. If LD 783 succeeds in securing this majority, it goes to us, the people of Maine, to vote on in November’s election. This process is all about the people and our representatives in the legislature.

Now, given all that as context…the committee room was plenty full of the Big Food Lobby at the work session earlier this month. Though there is no regulatory impact of enacting a constitutional protection for the right to food, the Department of Agriculture was also heavily represented. The room was also plenty full of citizens and a few farming organizations, Food for Maine’s Future and MOFGA, paying attention to the process and talking to legislators who have, over time, come to respect and understand our efforts.  

 

The bill’s sponsor and House Chair of the ACF Committee, Rep. Craig Hickman, gave a detailed and articulate explanation of the bill and reasoning for passage. He clarified the distinction between a law and enacting a constitutional protection of an inherent right. People across the state had been writing letters over the course of the week to the committee reminding them of the importance and urgency of this bill, asking for their positive vote to send it out to the people to vote on in November.  

 

After a brief discussion, the Republicans moved to caucus behind closed doors. This is never a good sign. The department officials moved to join them. This is an even more alarming sign. It looked like a partisan effort to kill the bill–a re-run of what had been attempted last session. This time, however, a few things went differently. When they all emerged from the room after too long a while, the department officials looked ashen. Two of the party weren’t going to allow the right to food to become a partisan issue (HOORAY for Rep. Marean and Sen. Saviello!), but were going to vote on the issues at hand. They had really listened to the public last spring, read the many letters, understood and responded. That meant LD 783 would get enough votes to pass!  

 

 

Some mysteries still remain. Why did Rep. Russell Black, the ranking Republican on the ACF Committee, co-sponsor this legislation last spring, then vote against it this winter? In a response to a constituent who posed that question, he stated that “the Dep’t. Of Ag was against it.” But, who is responsible for making the laws in Maine? The agencies? And should our elected representatives serve their needs/interests? This is democracy running backwards. The representatives should be serving the needs/interests of their constituents, people, not agencies. The agencies’ role is then to carry out the will of the people as passed through the legislature and committee of oversight, not the other way around.   
When the vote was taken, the bill received a majority “ought to pass” vote. It was a split vote (8-5), but that gives LD 783 a fighting chance on the floor of both houses. It remains an uphill battle, but LD 783 cleared the first hurdle. February 4th was a day of victory for access to real food and food rights!

Please encourage your representatives and senators to vote to support the majority report on LD 783 and send it to the people.  

 

Let the people decide. Onward. One step at a time.

  
People rally outside the capitol last spring for the Right to Food(LD 783) and the Right to Know

(LD 991).
“Ultimately, each of us deserves the freedom to work out our own nutrition and food regimen.”

  –Joel Salatin on LD 783 Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Establish a Right to Food

 

 

The text of LD 783 is below:

Sect. 25. Right to food freedom; food self-sufficiency; bodily health and well-being. All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume food of their own choosing, for their own nourishment and sustenance, by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing, gardening or saving and exchanging seeds, provided that

no individual commits trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food; furthermore, all individuals have a right to barter, trade or purchase food from the sources of their own choosing, for their own bodily health and well-being; and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of these rights, which may not be infringed.


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.


More Food Rights Bills at the Maine State Legislature

May 5, 2015

  These bills will be heard on Thursday May 7th, 2015 by the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry in room 214 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta.   Immediately following the hearings on these bills the committee will go into work session to consider LD 783 the Right to Food Constitutional Amendment that had its public hearings last Thursday and LD 991 the act to amend the current GMO labeling law here in Maine.

Please join us if you can. 
HP0644, LD 925 An Act To Promote Small Diversified Farms and Small Food Producers
Representative Ralph Chapman’s bill to make the local food sovereignty ordinances statewide.
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.
SP0459, LD 1284 An Act To Expand the Local Foods Economy
A bill submitted by Senator Chris Johnson concerning fresh food sales to institutions.
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.
HP0877, LD 1291 An Act To Promote Food Self-sufficiency for the People of the State
Representative Craig Hickman’s bill with the local food sovereignty ordinance in article 4.
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.
SP0506, LD 1376 An Act To Establish a Local Food Producers and Processors to Consumers Pilot Program

Senator Brian Langley’s bill to establish a 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.


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  


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:

“We stand for a FAMILY FARMER POLICY AGENDA.

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.

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