Since Maine’s town meeting season of 2011, 55 towns have passed the Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance (LFCSGO), which gives small farmers who sell directly to their customers an exemption to licensing and inspection requirements.
For some reason, the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), a statewide membership organization which provides an array of services to assist municipalities in their governance, has never supported the LFCSGO. The MMA doesn't set policy, but instead supports needs that are frequently beyond the scope of what small towns in particular can do for themselves. Yet they have recently recommended a seriously modified version of the LFCSGO to towns that ask for their advice on this issue.
Unfortunately, their efforts show that they really have no understanding of what they have written, or of how it turns our real food sovereignty ordinance on its head. They have declared their ordinance is the only one that fully complies with the state legislature’s Maine Food Sovereignty Act (MFSA), passed in 2017 in recognition that the LFCSGO is a “valid exercise of a municipality’s home rule authority,” although the the LFCSGO was carefully updated to align with the state law. MMA simply didn’t bother to look for the latest version of our ordinance, nor have they changed their opinion even after the author of the state law met with MMA representatives to carefully explain that MMA’s sample ordinance has misinterpreted the legislative intent. The MFSA specifically states that “(...)a municipality may adopt ordinances regarding direct producer-to-consumer transactions and the State shall recognize such ordinances by not enforcing those state food laws with respect to those direct producer-to-consumer transactions that are governed by the ordinance.”
It is clear that the MMA has no understanding of food sovereignty. While a core principal is local control of a food system, it encompasses more than that. MMA has taken out everything that the original Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance says about community self-governance, so their ordinance does not support food sovereignty at all. They have also removed every mention of the economic, environmental, and social benefits that are an important part of food sovereignty, of the original ordinance, and of Maine state laws.
The most ridiculous addition to their version of an ordinance is that in a document that exempts small farms from oversight from the Dept. of Agriculture is a clause that gives “enforcement” of the ordinance to the town’s Code Enforcement Officer. There is nothing to enforce in either the LFCSGO or the MFSA, so what happens to MMA’s claim that the Daggett ordinance supports the state’s Maine Food Sovereignty Act?
Those of us in Local Food Rules, the organization behind the LFCSGO, are working on a strategy to counter this MMA absurdity. Needless to say, MMA is both organizationally and financially better equipped to get its message out than our all-volunteer, grassroots group. However, we are confident that our Maine citizens, who value their rights and are proud of the work they have done, and will do, to secure those rights to decide on how they will exchange food in their own communities, will prevail and keep the decisions about our food systems local. The statewide Maine Food Sovereignty Act has given municipalities the express authority to enact ordinances that meet local needs, knowing that the state will recognize them. Local rules for local food as determined by local citizens; that is Food Sovereignty in Maine.
As Malvina Reynolds says in her poem/folk song:
God bless the grass that grows through the cracks
They roll the concrete over it and try to keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows through,
and God bless the grass.
God bless the truth that fights toward the sun.
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
and after a while it is growing everywhere,
and God bless the grass.
Just a taste: find the whole poem online.