Lots of farmers in Maine are certified organic. The paperwork is not fun and many farmers have found that if they sell products locally, labeling products as "organic" does not always matter because people know the farmers and how they farm. But, the farther away they sell or the fewer people who know them, the more that "organic" label makes a difference.
The buy local movement is growing; in my mind, faster than the organic movement. That's because, after federal officials got their hands on organic, things changed.
Let's face it, the only reason the federal government got involved with organic was because big corporations wanted it to. Now people can buy organic eggs in Walmart that came from China, and everyone knows the past problems with food from China.
That has hurt the organic movement and, sooner or later, because of federal and corporate involvement using it basically as a marketing tool, there is going to be a big problem. People will get sick and organic products will lose even more ground.
Right now, people are looking for locally produced food more than they ever have in recent history. That has gotten the attention of big business, just like organic products did. Because of that, the federal government is starting to push laws that restrict small farmers more and more, trying to stop the competition.
For instance, three years ago in Maine a small farmer could kill and process up to 1,000 chickens on the farm and sell them. Farmers had been doing this for decades. There had never been a big scare from people getting sick.
In fact, studies showed that chickens grown on small farms were healthier and cleaner than what people find in their local supermarkets.
Some farmers had flocks that they pastured in the summer and processed in the fall. The birds had sunlight; they could scratch for bugs and could basically be chickens. Compare that to chickens raised on corporate farms that never see the light of day and are fed trace amounts of arsenic to dilate their blood vessels (which increases the blood flow and growth rate).
But now the law has changed for small farmers.
It is now unlawful for a small farmer in Maine to raise, process and sell even one chicken unless he or she wants to spend $15,000 to $20,000 to build a slaughtering facility, or travel long distances to one of the few state-licensed facilities and pay to have it done.
All that increases farmers' costs, which eventually makes the end product more expensive for consumers.
Do you have any idea how many small farmers this has affected?
Sure, everyone wants to have safe food, but if government really cared about safe food why isn't it doing something about known problems in our food, such as feeding meat birds arsenic and raising them in inhumane conditions, instead of going after small farmers where food has been shown to be healthier, cleaner and where no problems exist?
Now the state — after a visit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — is at it again, telling small farmers that it has reinterpreted state rules and a farmer cannot sell even a gallon of milk to someone next door unless they get a distributor's license.
Again, there has never been a case that the state can find where anyone has gotten sick in Maine from drinking raw milk, but Maine has filed suit against a small farmer from Blue Hill for selling unpasteurized milk at farmers' markets without a license.
If the federal government were really interested in people's health, it would not allow corporate agriculture to feed antibiotics to livestock so they can be raised in filthy conditions, or allow synthetic hormones to be pumped into cows.
If people want to continue to buy healthy, locally-grown food, and want to see small local farms survive and prosper, it is time to stand up to corporate influence.
Richard Marble owns and operates Marble Family Farms in Farmington.