'Food sovereignty' and saying yes: New state law starts Wednesday

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With the new food sovereignty law in place, Kathy Shaw of 4 Season Farm Market in Auburn can raise, make and sell certain food items direct to the customer without the item being inspected by a state inspector. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — At 4 Season Farm Market, dried apple cider rings are coming back, plans next week call for pickles and Kathy Shaw hasn’t ruled out crafting kombucha, now that she can.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a revised food sovereignty bill into law Tuesday that eases restrictions for some farmers and processors such as Shaw by lifting state food laws in certain direct-to-consumer sales.

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“People can have an idea and try it out in their home kitchen or on their farm,” said Heather Retberg at Quill’s End Farm in Penobscot, an early Maine food advocate. “I have apples on my trees; I am now able to can and sell applesauce. Or my neighbor’s been coming here for years and saying, ‘Oh, I really love that goat cheese you make; can you sell it to me?’ and people have had to say no, and now they can say yes.”

At least 22 towns in Maine, Auburn the largest among them, have passed local food sovereignty ordinances, in an effort to get people closer to their food, and for growers, a chance to ease up on regulations.

Starting Wednesday, under the new law, any consumer living in or visiting one of those towns can make a face-to-face purchase at the farmer or processor’s farm or home, without state oversight or inspection of foods including milk, cheese, cider, canned foods and vegetables.

Poultry and meat will continue to be state inspected; LePage called a special session in October to change that language in the original law after the federal government warned Maine it would have to step in if the state didn’t.

Shaw, who co-owns the market and Valley View Farm with Joe Gray, said the law makes it easier for someone like her to try something new. Before, launching a product such as pickles required sending the recipe to the state, shipping them a full sample, paying for testing and waiting for test results.

Now, she can just go ahead — as long as she sells direct from her processing spot or farm.

“If I wanted to take it to my farmers market in Falmouth or Cumberland, then I would need to have them all submitted for testing,” she said.

She’s hoping it creates more relationships between farmer and customer. The law isn’t the whole answer, she said, but it’s a good start at keeping things simple.

“It took me twice as long today to go do my deliveries and pickups as it usually does because of road conditions,” Shaw said. “If we have a major catastrophe, people need to be able to feed themselves, and one way they can do that is by relying on their local farmer and creating that relationship with them.”

Retberg, who helped draft the ordinance language more and more towns are using, said she’s heard from between 25 and 30 towns since this summer either interested in or working toward their own local ordinance.

“It makes Maine the first state in the entire country that is recognizing people at the community level have the authority to define our own terms for our food system and to really be making local rules for local food,” she said. “That leaves a foundation for all sorts of innovation and growth for more local food in our communities.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com

Food sovereignty municipalities

Cities and towns in Maine that have adopted food sovereignty ordinances that OK certain farmer-to-consumer sales, either from the farmer’s home or farm, without inspection or oversight:

  • Auburn 
  • Madison
  • Liberty
  • Canton
  • Greenwood
  • Livermore
  • Alexander
  • Isle au Haut
  • Solon
  • Moscow
  • Plymouth
  • Freedom
  • Appleton
  • Hope
  • Penobscot
  • Brooksville
  • Sedgwick
  • Brooklin
  • Blue Hill
  • Bingham
  • Trenton
  • Alexander

SOURCE: LocalFoodRules.org 

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