BROOKSVILLE, Maine — Voters here made their town the fifth in Hancock County to pass a local food sovereignty ordinance that thumbs its nose at state and federal regulations for direct-to-consumer sales of prepared foods and farm products.
In a referendum election on March 4, residents voted 112-64 to approve the “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance,” which states that producers or processors of local foods are “exempt from licensure and inspection,” so long as the food is sold directly by the producer to a consumer.
The ordinance also makes it “unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights organized by this ordinance.”
The state contends that such ordinances hold no legal weight, but that hasn’t stopped residents of Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill and Trenton from passing the same local rules. Food sovereignty ordinances also have been passed in Hope, Plymouth, Livermore and Appleton.
In an interview, Kaylene Waindle, special assistant to the attorney general, said the state has a legitimate and legal interest in overseeing the safety of food being sold to consumers, and that state laws about food safety, inspection and licensing pre-empt local ordinances.
Much like individual states passing marijuana laws that fly in the face of the federal government’s stance on cannabis, the dispute over who controls local food regulation seems destined for court.
At least until that happens, one Brooksville farmer said she’ll consider Brooksville’s new rule the law of the land.
“Until this ordinance is stricken in a court of proper authority, or the citizens decide to rescind the ordinance, this stands as the law in this town,” Deborah Evans, owner of Bagaduce Farm and one of the ordinance’s supporters, said on Monday.
Evans raises pigs and sells pork products directly to consumers through private sales and at farmers markets. She also sells lard, produced in her home kitchen without the supervision of a state inspector, which is required by state law for the sale of meat products. The state considers lard a meat product, but Evans disagrees.
All the state regulation in the world can’t guarantee food safety, Evans said. She said she’s been rendering lard and selling it to friends and family for quite some time, and that Brooksville’s ordinance will embolden her to “push the envelope” even more, she said.
“On my lard, I’m going to change the label to say, ‘I proudly make this lard in my home kitchen without federal or state guidelines or permissions,” she said. “If [a customer] asks why, I’ll say, ‘Because we have an ordinance in Brooksville.’ It’s a point of pride.”
State Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, has said there are several bills being crafted in Augusta that would seek to implement the local food sovereignty rules for direct-to-consumer sales at the state level. If that happened, there would no longer be a conflict between state and local rules.
If, before then, the state makes a legal move to invalidate Brooksville’s assertion of autonomy, the ordinance requires the town to hold public meetings to decide whether to fight the state in court or take other actions, including acquiescing to state control.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.