Brooksville May Join Local-Food Turf War between Towns, State Government
Moretto, Mario, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)
BROOKSVILLE, Maine -- Brooksville farmers and food processors would be exempt from state permitting requirements in selling directly to consumers if the town approves a proposed local food ordinance at a March 4 referendum.
At least, that's what proponents say.
The ordinance would exempt "producers and processors" of local foods in town from state and federal licensure and inspection, so long as they leave the middleman out and sell their produce, baked goods, dairy and meat directly to customers.
Hancock County has been fertile soil for the local-food sovereignty movement. If approved, Brooksville would join the nearby towns of Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill and Trenton in passing the "Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance." Hope, Plymouth, Livermore and Appleton also have passed similar rules.
But state officials say municipalities can't simply assert local control by passing ordinances contradicting state law. They say regardless of a community's push for food sovereignty rules, they'll continue to enforce state laws on food safety and inspections.
The main goal of the ordinance is to assert local control over farm products. A similar proposal was rejected in Brooksville in 2011, but supporters are confident they'll prevail this year.
"Brooksville is quite cautious about adopting new ordinances because normally new ordinances restrict rights," said Deborah Evans, owner of Bagaduce Farm in Brooksville and one of the proposal's main proponents. "This ordinance is unique in that it rolls back rules and regulations."
The first time around, a recommendation against the proposal from the town's Ordinance Review Committee was attached to the ballot. Committee Chairwoman Sarah Cox said that was an accident, but many in Brooksville believe the posting swayed voters against the measure.
On Thursday, after a public forum on the food rules, the committee voted not to issue a recommendation one way or the other, and to "let the people decide," Cox said.
At the public forum, Evans gave a prepared speech in support of the ordinance, saying the rules would establish Brooksville residents rights "to choose the foods they raise, prepare, exchange and eat."
In an interview, Evans said state rules for direct food sales are onerous for small-scale farmers, who would need to invest a lot of money to ensure compliance with state rules. She also said the ordinance recognizes what is already common in Brooksville and similar towns.
"Under current law, for me to butcher a duck and exchange it with a neighboring farmer for two laying hens is illegal. That's something a lot of people don't realize" she said. "Farmers have a thriving underground. They don't go to the state to ask permission to butcher a duck, they just do it."
Evans also said that state or federal inspections aren't enough to ensure food safety. She recalled the 2010 outbreak of salmonella in DeCoster eggs, which caused a 500 million-egg recall and sickened 2,000 customers. Knowing your source is a much better means to keep yourself safe, she said.
"Food is safe and healthy when it is raised and handled by people who exercise quality and have integrity," she said. …