AUBURN — The City Council gave initial approval Monday to an ordinance that would allow Auburn farmers to sell locally grown food directly to consumers without being subject to government oversight or inspections. 

The move comes as a new state law passed this year will allow cities and towns to regulate local food production if the municipality chooses.

In Auburn, which has a large and active agricultural community, officials say a local ordinance could provide a new financial outlet for small farms looking to sell directly to local residents. The food sovereignty movement is part of a larger effort to give consumers more freedom about what food they buy. 

According to a memo to the council from Eric Cousens, deputy director of economic and community development, “accessing U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughter or processing facilities has been a major hurdle for smaller local producers bringing their products to the local market.” 

“Making this option available to farmers, and consumers that are comfortable with purchasing from an uninspected facility, could be a major boost to small local farms,” he said. 

Raw milk, cheese and even meat that hasn’t faced government inspection could be purchased from your local farm directly. However, wholesale transactions, and transactions made outside the municipality where the food is produced, would continue to require all inspections that are currently required, even if a local ordinance is passed. 


The legislation, called “An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems,” received unanimous support in the Maine Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage in June, but does not take effect until November. Maine is only the second state to pass such a law. 

The advantage of the ordinance, Cousens said, is that it “allows people to make their own decisions about buying uninspected products from their neighbors or local farms as an option, while continuing to allow for traditional markets to sell inspected products.” 

At a previous workshop, he said many farms would take advantage of the law only as a separate source of income, and that almost all farms would otherwise continue to operate — and license products — as usual. 

Roughly 20 towns across Maine had already approved local food sovereignty ordinances, but they were working against state law until the new legislation was passed.

Many municipalities worried that without a statewide law, local ordinances could leave a city or town vulnerable to lawsuits related to any public health issues. While the Auburn City Council voted unanimously during first reading Monday, many brought up the concern during the previous workshop. 

City Attorney Michael Malloy gave city officials the opinion that “the adoption of the proposed ordinance will not create additional public liability risk to the city.” 


Councilor Grady Burns, while supporting the ordinance, said he’d encourage language to be added to the ordinance regarding requirements for farmers to disclose steps they have taken to ensure safety of any unlicensed products — so that consumers are “fully aware that they are perhaps bearing some additional risk.” 

The council will host a public hearing and second reading on the ordinance at an upcoming meeting. City staff recommended that councilors “listen to local farmers and consumers to determine if there is support for the local ordinance.”

No one from the public spoke Monday. 

Public services contract approved

The City Council approved a new three-year labor contract with the Teamsters Local Union No. 340, which is made up of about 50 Auburn Public Services employees. 

The previous contract expired in June, and negotiations over a new one had grown tense at times, featuring a picket line at Auburn Hall in May. 


According to a memo included in Monday’s agenda, the proposed contract is consistent with “the desire of the (City) Council to hold to a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for employees.” It also eliminates the “Operator 2” employee classification, which “will over time save the city upwards of $20,000 annually.” 

The union will remain on the City PPO 500 health care plan, according to the memo. The city pays for 85 percent of health insurance costs. The new contract is effective through June 30, 2020. 

On Monday, City Manager Peter Crichton said he was pleased the two sides were “able to work out a reasonable arrangement” which “paves the way for a good positive working relationship.” 

The contract was unanimously approved. 

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