Coalition seeks protection for farmers

Posted Jan. 17, 2011, at 11:15 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A coalition of family farm, labor and trade organizations delivered an open letter last week to Gov. Paul LePage and the 125th Maine Legislature calling for immediate action to protect Maine’s family farms and small-scale food processors.

The letter has drawn widespread support in Maine from farmers, business owners and concerned consumers, as well as endorsement from the National Family Farm Coalition, a national alliance of farmer and rancher organizations.

The open letter identifies failed rural development policies and the “consolidation of the entire food supply chain into the hands of a very small number of powerful multinational corporations” as being responsible for the disappearance of millions of farms and farm families from the rural landscape. Low prices, increased debt, and fewer markets are cited as outcomes of the last 70 years of U.S. agricultural policy.

Specific recommendations made to the newly elected Maine governor and Legislature are:

ä Enact an immediate moratorium on farm foreclosures. The moratorium should last at least one year from the release of the USDA and Department of Justice findings on the effects of corporate consolidation in agriculture for the review of the report and for farmers to seek compensation should there be a determination of illegal activity.

ä Conduct an inquiry into how corporate concentration and free trade has affected Maine farmers, including the ability of small-scale farms to compete fairly in their local markets and the fairness of commodity contracts.

ä Provide assurances that Maine farms, cottage-scale food processors, and cooperative food buying clubs will not be subjected to the harsh law enforcement tactics being used in other parts of the U.S. The letter specifically identifies raw milk dairies and food buying clubs as being under threat.

In addition to the open letter, Food for Maine’s Future announced a partnership Monday with Food AND Medicine of Brewer to use the organization’s worker rights hot line to field calls from Maine farmers in or at risk of foreclosure. A farm is defined as “any operation that sells at least $1,000 of agricultural commodities or that would have sold that amount of produce under normal circumstances.”

The number is 866-933-9236. The hot line is confidential.

The Open Letter to Gov. Paul LePage and the 125th Maine Legislature can be viewed at www.savingseeds.wordpress.com.

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