'Only a bump in the road' - Legal defeat only emboldens 'food sovereignty' soldiers

April 25, 2016
AP Fresh eggs are packaged for sale at the Quill's End Farm, a small family run operation in Penobscot, Maine.
AP Heather Retberg collects eggs at the Quill's End Farm in Penobscot, Maine.


Heather and Phil Retberg's Quill's End Farm is idyllic to the point of New England clichÈ. Dairy cows, milked by hand, share space with goats and ducks near a wooden barn that overlooks a rolling green field and the summit of nearby Blue Hill.

The farm is a way of life Heather Retberg said, and needs to be protected from an aggressive regulatory structure that keeps small farms from getting food to local people. State legislators' pushback against "food sovereignty" advocates like Retberg, in Maine and elsewhere in the country, has only emboldened her.

"This used to be how it was decades ago. It's only changed recently, and that's a pretty aberrant period in our food history," she said. "It's my right, as an individual, to grow the food I eat."

The Retbergs, like the food sovereignty movement they are a part of, aren't going anywhere. The movement consists of a loose collection of farmers and activists who want to exempt local food producers from federal and state regulations, arguing they work in favour of big food producers and trample on the little guy.

Sedgwick was the first town in Maine to approve an ordinance declaring local control of food production, and supporters believe it was the first of its kind in the country. Sixteen other Maine towns have followed.

Supporters of an unsuccessful attempt to amend Maine's constitution this year to protect food freedom said the defeat is only a bump in the road for hundreds of Mainers and others who want to ensure local control of food production.

A bill calling for the amendment, proposed by organic farmer and Democratic state Representative. Craig Hickman, would have declared the right to food as "inalienable" in Maine. The amendment, if also approved by state voters, would have made it impossible to infringe upon residents' ability to hunt, gather or farm for whatever food they choose, or to prevent them from buying from others who produce food they want.




Backers saw it as a way to prevent government from intruding in local farm production and sales, and to take food production back from corporate control. But the Maine Senate shot down the proposed amendment on March 23, a day after the House approved it by a two-thirds majority.

Opponents and sceptics, ranging from state regulators and legislators to other farmers, have described the amendment as vague, unnecessary or potentially dangerous. Some saw it as a way to skirt rules about inspections and safety that could be dangerous for consumers of products that present health risks, such as raw milk.

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