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State of Maine Challenges Food Sovereignty

Two weeks ago the State of Maine offered up the first official challenge to the growing Food Sovereignty movement by filing suit against a local farmer for selling milk without a permit and jam and homemade pickles without a licensed kitchen.

You’ll remember that when a town declares “Food Sovereignty”, it’s giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” This includes everything from raw milk to locally slaughtered meats. Since the town of Sedgwick, Maine declared Food Sovereignty last spring, dozens of towns across the country have followed suit, including Blue Hill, Maine. Thanks to a push by the FDA, the state of Maine has finally pushed back.

Farmer Dan Brown of Blue Hill, Maine has one pasture-raised dairy cow. One. This cow produces all the milk for his own family, and any extra milk they don’t consume gets sold to his customers. He is not running a dairy operation, but rather farms vegetables and other produce and offers it for sale at an on-farm farm stand. In other words, he is the exact type of farmer that the Food Sovereignty ordinances have in mind when they offer up protection for small-scale, cottage-industry producers to be allowed to bypass expensive, debilitating state and federal laws in order to provide their neighbors with quality, farm-fresh foods in face-to-face transactions.

Watch the brief local news coverage of the events of the past two weeks:

Here’s Dan Brown’s complete 5 minute speech made at the rally featured in the above local news coverage:

David Gumpert of The Complete Patient believes the FDA is behind the aggressive and swift action taken against Farmer Dan:

The bootprint of the FDA is all over the state’s rapid and aggressive move against Blue Hill. The fact that the letter to the town, followed by the court suit, have happened at lightning speed (for a state bureaucracy), is an indication of how concerned the FDA is. It is pushing the state, holding the carrot of lucrative cooperative agreements, and the sweet federal cash behind them, supplied by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as incentive for the state to do the agency’s bidding.

According to this press release:

The charges [against Mr. Brown] relate to selling food without licenses, specifically milk, assorted dairy products like ice cream and cheese, and processed items like pickles and jams. He is also charged with failure to label his milk “Not Pasteurized.” The safety or quality of Farmer Dan Brown’s food is not in question. It is the right of the citizens of Blue Hill to operate under the town’s Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance that is being challenged.

How the public responds to this challenge will directly affect the Food Sovereignty movement nationwide.

People are rallying behind Dan Brown and the Town of Blue Hill under the “We Are All Farmer Brown” effort. The Family Farm Defense Committee of Hancock County believes if Dan loses, a chilling affect will ripple through Maine towns that already have or are considering passing the Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinance. They contend the loss would impede the successful growth of small farms, our cottage food businesses, and put at risk the tradition of sharing meals at our churches, granges, potlucks, and bake sales. But most importantly, states the committee, it would say to all the people around Maine, the U.S., and globe that, “No, you do not have the right to the food of your choice.” and “No, you do not have democracy in the food system.”

This is a critical time.

As the first shots against the Food Sovereignty movement are being fired, it is up to those of us who support this movement to hear the call to action and respond.

Is it fair that giant food corporations produce unsafe, infected food that causes thousands to become sick and hundreds to die without facing any real consequences while farmers like Dan Brown produce safe, nutrient dense foods and get treated like criminals?

People like you in cities and towns across the nation are standing up against such corporate behemoths and the laws that insulate and protect them, taking matters into their own hands by creating local Food Sovereignty ordinances. These rules “reflect the needs of farmers, food producers, and communities who are building healthy, resilient local food systems.” (source)

If we let Dan Brown down without a fight, this movement will be crippled from the very start. Now is the time to rally behind Farmer Dan and give him our support.

What you can do.

The Family Farm Defense Committee of Hancock County is asking you to take a moment today to contact the Maine Agricultural Commissioner and Governor Paul LePage and tell them to drop the lawsuit against Dan Brown and respect the authority of the Town of Blue Hill that was granted by the townspeople under the Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinance.


Walter Whitcomb, Agricultural Commissioner, State of Maine

207-287-3419
walt.whitcomb(at)maine(dot)gov


Governor Paul LePage

207-287-3531
888-577-6690 (TTY)
governor(at)maine(dot)gov

Also, you may stay abreast of the latest in this struggle by joining the We Are All Farmer Brown Facebook page.

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25 Responses to State of Maine Challenges Food Sovereignty
  1. Peter Wright
    November 20, 2011 | 3:53 pm

    I have written to the Ag Commissioner and the Governor. Thank-you for posting this.

    Peter Wright
    Dover-Foxcroft, Maine

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:21 pm

      You’re welcome!

  2. Marcin
    November 20, 2011 | 11:30 pm

    Sent two emails. However, after watching last week Dr. Burzynski – the movie, nothing that involves FDA can surprise me now.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ibsoqjPac

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:21 pm

      Oh, I’m not surprised. Just trying to ready the troops!

  3. sa'ada
    November 21, 2011 | 12:49 am

    hmmm, just this morning i read about how someone planning a bomb plot in new york was trying to take away our freedoms. now i find out it’s actually our elected leaders who are responsible for taking our freedoms.

    thank you so much for continuing to post these sort of items. if it was up to the ‘news’ media we would never know.

  4. Vanessa Hill
    November 21, 2011 | 2:24 am

    You better believe I emailed Mr. Whitcomb! While I am not a citizen of Maine, I have seen far too many similar actions being taken against the little farmers here in Southern California lately so it hits home. Large agriculture sure is getting scared of this movement. If we all push and support our local farmers we can beat these bullies.

    Since when are we not able to decide as individuals what we want to put into our own bodies? Is it right to force us to shop at a grocery store where many of these mass produced items like beef and milk are much more unsafe and less nourishing than those coming from a local farm? Unbelievable.

  5. Stanley Fishman
    November 21, 2011 | 9:50 am

    America is supposed to be a Democracy and a free country. Yet when the government tries to prevent farmers from selling healthy food to folks, what kind of freedom do we have?

    The government agencies have revealed themselves to be interested only in perpetuating and protecting SAD, which is very profitable for the large food industry. SAD is also very profitable for the medical industry and the drug companies, as people starved for nutrients get sick and use their horribly overpriced products and services.

    This must end. Leave our food freedom alone!

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:25 pm

      I love your last line, “Leave our food freedom alone!” That’s because it seems to me that too many people act like their food freedom is a discretionary right given by their government (and thus subject to change, reversal, etc.), rather than an inherent right that they have as people who must feed themselves.

      • Stanley Fishman
        November 21, 2011 | 10:14 pm

        Yes, it is one of the most basic human rights. Thomas Jefferson considered it to be just as important as free speech, representative government, and freedom of religion. Unfortunately, nobody was interfering with food freedom at the time, not even the English, so it was left out of the constitution. It needs to be there, as the government is trying to take it away.

  6. Marcin
    November 21, 2011 | 1:09 pm

    Commissioner’s reply:

    You have recently shared your thoughts with us regarding local food sales between growers and consumers. You contacted our office because you are interested in a specific Hancock County case.

    The Maine Department of Agriculture spends most of its resources encouraging local food production and sales; however, we are required to enforce state and federal law. Most unprocessed vegetables are legal to sell without a license. State law does require a license to sell pasteurized and raw milk as well as home processed food and there are compelling food safety and public health reasons for these laws.

    This past winter, the legislature thoroughly debated a proposal similar to the local food ordinance. The initiative to change the law was defeated and the law remains to be enforced. Hundreds of Maine local food vendors meet or exceed license requirements, and a number testified before the legislative committee indicating the value of inspections and licensing requirements to safeguard customer health. Every day, Department of Agriculture personnel are working across the state with individual food growers to ensure that they remain in compliance with state law. There are 62 licensed sellers of raw milk; 63 licensed cheese makers and nearly 1000 licensed home food processors. Most food sellers appreciate the need to meet at least the minimal requirements for cleanable surfaces — water testing, water temperature and a separate processing area. Many of these folks also value and welcome the expertise of Department personnel in helping them achieve high standards of safety and quality.

    After repeated efforts on the part of the Department of Agriculture to work with Mr. Brown, it is unfortunate that he has chosen this path.

    We will continue to inspect in accordance with the state law and will assist individuals with recommendations to become compliant.

    Thank you.

    Walter E. Whitcomb
    Commissioner

  7. Garden Variety Mama
    November 21, 2011 | 3:16 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank for including contact info. I’ll be sending emails in a moment! We live not too far away from Blue Hill, so this is particularly close to home (literally AND figuratively) for me.

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:31 pm

      The more the merrier!

  8. Lisa Capehart
    November 21, 2011 | 3:23 pm

    Just sent emails to the Ag. Commissioner and Governor of Maine. Thanks so much for keeping us up to date!

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:31 pm

      Thank YOU for writing an email.

  9. Vanessa Hill
    November 21, 2011 | 3:25 pm

    I received a response back from Mr. Whitcomb’s office. Are they saying the local ordinance was defeated? If not, why are they ignoring it?

    Here is the reply

    “You have recently shared your thoughts with us regarding local food sales between growers and consumers. You contacted our office because you are interested in a specific Hancock County case. The Maine Department of Agriculture spends most of its resources encouraging local food production and sales; however, we are required to enforce state and federal law. Most unprocessed vegetables are legal to sell without a license. State law does require a license to sell pasteurized and raw milk as well as home processed food and there are compelling food safety and public health reasons for these laws. This past winter, the legislature thoroughly debated a proposal similar to the local food ordinance. The initiative to change the law was defeated and the law remains to be enforced. Hundreds of Maine local food vendors meet or exceed license requirements, and a number testified before the legislative committee indicating the value of inspections and licensing requirements to safeguard customer health. Every day, Department of Agriculture personnel are working across the state with individual food growers to ensure that they remain in compliance with state law. There are 62 licensed sellers of raw milk; 63 licensed cheese makers and nearly 1000 licensed home food processors. Most food sellers appreciate the need to meet at least the minimal requirements for cleanable surfaces — water testing, water temperature and a separate processing area. Many of these folks also value and welcome the expertise of Department personnel in helping them achieve high standards of safety and quality. After repeated efforts on the part of the Department of Agriculture to work with Mr. Brown, it is unfortunate that he has chosen this path. We will continue to inspect in accordance with the state law and will assist individuals with recommendations to become compliant.”

    • KristenM
      November 21, 2011 | 3:29 pm

      No. What happened is that they fought for a statewide law but lost. Then, local townships and counties voted similar laws in at the local level, defying their state and federal governments. So, what’s being challenged is a local ordinance of Blue Hill by the state.

      • Vanessa Hill
        November 21, 2011 | 3:42 pm

        Ahh. So the town is challenging the state and feds. Looks like the state and federal govt. are now trying to teach Blue Hill a lesson. This is so unfortunate. Don’t they have better things to do with their time, like make sure companies like Cargill and large producers aren’t spreading e-coli or something? I mean this guy has one cow. ONE COW. Come on. But they know this could become a popular movement, and big agriculture is scared.

        Does anyone know if it is true that Walt Whitcomb was selling raw milk as well?

        • moss
          November 22, 2011 | 12:23 pm

          “Does anyone know if it is true that Walt Whitcomb was selling raw milk as well?”

          Yes it is true. Whitcomb sold raw milk as well.

  10. Marcin
    November 22, 2011 | 4:05 pm

    The commissioner, really?

  11. Walter Jeffries
    November 22, 2011 | 6:19 pm

    Sad. The state of Maine had the opportunity to follow the will of the people who make up the state but instead the enforce the top down rules of the federal government. So much for states rights or citizens.

  12. Catherine Prater
    November 26, 2011 | 8:48 am

    HOW LONG are we going to sit back and let the liberals take away our constitutional rights? Personally, I’m sick and tired of hearing how the current powers that be are telling OTHER countries they have to secure basic rights for Christians in THEIR countries and other minorities when WE are so hypocritical about securing BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS AS GUARANTEED BY OUR CONSTITUTION for our own citizens whether they’re farmers or not. This is ludicrous. How does it come that people can gather in large cities and commit all kinds of anti-decency acts and all the govt. will say is they are “exercising their rights”, when a guy who is just trying to survivie is being persecuted in this outrageous way. Perhaps you can tell I AM INCENSED. You have issued a call to action. Let each one who reads this article stand up and speak out – AND PASS IT ON!

    • Maria-Elena
      November 28, 2011 | 9:15 pm

      Be careful with that broad paint brush you are using. I am about as liberal as they come and I would fight to my last breath to protect our rights to choose what we eat. AND… as far as I am concerned, the folks who started taking away our civil rights were CONSERVATIVES led by their crony George Bush when he took advantage of the fear caused by 9/11 to make the worst setbacks to our civil rights since McCarthyism ruled our world.

      • MaineGuy
        December 2, 2011 | 3:24 pm

        The liberal/conservative dichotomy is an artificial barrier used to divide people and keep them from working together to achieve common goals. The real split in this nation is between those with connections to the government trough and those without those connections – the people vs. the elites. The elites will maintain their advantage as long as the people allow themselves to be divided into easily managed sub-groups.

        • MissFifi
          March 12, 2013 | 8:36 am

          It is ridiculous that people cannot sell their food like they did back in the day. This is just appalling because clearly the people of Maine have spoken so why ignore them?? If there are risks, an educated consumer knows what they are. Not like factory farming hasn’t had a spotty history.
          Amen Maria-Elena and MaineGuy! People need to understand that a Liberal like me believes in gun ownership, slow food movements and has a bit of an anarchist/libertarian bent. No one can say they are truly a follower of one ideology of a certain party anymore. We do need to band together, political leanings aside, to fight the good fight and not fight each other.

      • pola
        March 27, 2013 | 7:19 am

        Who do you think is writing the massive regulations that are affecting farmer brown and others? You and others voted for this numbskull. You think drones flying over this country and the massive survellance takes away our God given rights to privacy? Your president doesn’t want you to have a right to grow garden!!! Take off you blinders and start educating yourself!

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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