June 19, 2018
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Rockland city council stops short of passing food sovereignty ordinance

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council this week discussed for the second time a proposed food sovereignty ordinance. But all four members declined to go all in, opting instead to approve a compromise resolution.

The non-binding resolve approved 4-0 at Tuesday’s meeting affirms that “Rockland citizens possess the right to save and exchange seeds, grow produce, sell, purchase and consume local foods, thus promoting self reliance, the preservation of our local food economy, family farms and food traditions.”

It was proposed by city Councilman Adam Ackor as a compromise to the ordinance submitted by fellow council member Vallli Geiger on behalf of a group of residents committed to Rockland becoming Maine’s first food sovereign city.

Any vote on the proposed ordinance has been postponed, and attempts to reach Geiger on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Eighteen municipalities across Maine have already adopted food sovereignty ordinances.

Under those ordinances, local food producers are exempt from state licensing and inspections governing the selling of food as long as the transactions are between the producers and the customers for home consumption or when the food is sold and consumed at community events such as church suppers.

The Rockland City Council gave preliminary approval to the ordinance at a meeting in January, but held off on further action pending advice from its municipal attorney.

On Wednesday Rockland City Manager Audra Caler-Bell said that after the January meeting the council requested and received legal advice on the issue from its municipal attorney.

In a letter to the city, attorney Mary Costigan said such an ordinance would be constitutionally invalid given state food laws trump local ordinances.

“Our legal advice was the city can’t do anything that supersedes state or federal law,” Caler-Bell said. “The ordinance would have created a law that was not constitutional.”

Ackor’s resolution, she said, struck a good balance.

“In my view I think the resolution is an appropriate step moving forward given the legality of the [proposed] food sovereignty ordinance,” Ackor said Wednesday. “The resolve adequately expresses Rockland’s interest in local food, local sourcing of produce and our support of local farming.”

But to one of the authors of the proposed ordinance, the question of who controls the local food system remains to be answered.

“Who has the authority to make decisions about the food system?” said Jesse Watson. “It is the opinion of those of us behind the ordinance that we the people have the authority to make the decisions on the designs of our food system and create the legal instrument to support it [and] our long distance vision is making some kind of space in the legal field for a way to manage resources.”

Watson did say his group does support the compromise resolution and views it as a way to keep the issue moving forward with all parties engaged in the discussion.

“We view this debate as only the first step towards increasing the number of growers in Rockland and the resilience of the local food system, said Nathan Davis of Renew Rockland, a group supporting the proposed ordinance. “In thinking about the future of our city and state over the next decades, strengthening food security to meet the challenges of a changing climate, economy and society should be a priority.”

While Caler-Bell did say the resolution lacks any legal standing, it does reflect the city’s commitment to local food.

“It is more a statement of principal,” she said.

But it does mandate the appointment of a volunteer from the community to communicate the city council’s support of any state bill supporting food sovereignty.

“This seems to be a fairly powerful provision,” Davis said. “It essentially means that the council has declared its support for state action on food sovereignty and that someone from Rockland will communicate that support to the legislature.”

For his part, Ackor is confident the resolution has gone far enough to support the local food movement in his city.

“I honestly could not find any instances where the state [food] rules are onerous or inhibit local farming from taking hold,” he said. “I think the state is pretty friendly to local farmers and provides a great deal of resources, so I’m not convinced the ordinance is the way to go.”

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