Archive for the ‘state politics’ Category

Food Sovereignty is Now the Law of the Land in Maine

Heather and Bonnie, among many others, at one of our events during the long struggle to reach this day!


On June 16th at 10 am in the morning, Gov. LePage signed LD 725, an Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, it now becomes a law in the state of Maine!

I sit at my computer with tears of joy running down my face. This has been a six year struggle against the corporate food monopolies to protect and enhance the traditional food-ways in our state. The law takes effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns this session.   


 
We at Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food RULES encourage towns that may have been fence-sitting to get out and pass the Local Food and Community Self Governance Ordinance. Let us know if you are working on that or thinking about doing it, give your town officials the good news!  If you know people who might be interested in other towns, encourage them.  We are prepared to help people get it done.

The vote in the Senate was unanimous. Not so much in the House. Check out the roll call results here: <http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/rollcall.asp?ID=280063572&chamber=House&serialnumber=189&gt;  And, if you have a mind to, drop a note to the governor and thank him for signing this, oh so important, bill.

Quoting Bonnie Preston’s email. “Thank you to the sponsor, Sen. Troy Jackson for introducing it and guiding it through the process; as Minority Leader in the Senate, it was work on top of a very busy session and he gave us more time than we had expected.  Co-sponsors Rep. Michelle Dunphy, Rep. Craig Hickman, Sen. Brian Langley, Rep. John Martin, Sen. David Miramant , and Rep. Ralph Chapman also deserve thanks.  We could not have done this without Rep. Hickman, who was a knowledgeable, inspiring and persuasive leader whose own bills over the years moved the work along; Rep. Chapman, an astute legislator who gave us tremendous support and encouragement and met with us several times to teach us strategy and process and sponsored LD 835, which we still hope to see pass; and Sen. Langley, who proved to be an excellent listener as we met with him on an issue he had not been familiar with and was especially helpful in bringing the Republican legislators into the fold.  The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund paid for the lobbyists we had the last two sessions, Hillary Lister and Betsy Garrold.  (They did not get $500.00 a day (or whatever) like the corporate lobbyists!)  There were countless people in the [20] towns who passed the ordinance, doing amazing work.  And of course there were all of you, responding to our near constant pleas to write to people.  Grassroots democracy at its best!”

Below is the bill as it will be entered into the law books.

APPROVED

JUNE 16, 2017 BY GOVERNOR

CHAPTER

215 PUBLIC LAW

STATE OF MAINE
_____
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN _____

S.P. 242 – L.D. 725
An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Maine as follows:

Sec. 1. 7-A MRSA §101, sub-§2-B is enacted to read:

2-B. Local food system. “Local food system” means a community food system within a municipality that integrates food production, processing, consumption, direct producer-to-consumer exchanges and other traditional foodways to enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health and well-being of the municipality and its residents.

Sec. 2. 7-A MRSA §201-B is enacted to read: §201-B. Local authority to regulate food systems

Pursuant to the home rule authority granted to municipalities by Title 30-A, section 3001 and by the Constitution of Maine, Article VIII, Part Second, and pursuant to section 201-A, and notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, a municipal government may regulate by ordinance local food systems, and the State shall recognize such ordinances.

An ordinance adopted by a municipality pursuant to this section must apply only to food or food products that are grown, produced or processed by individuals within that municipality who sell directly to consumers.

Any food or food products grown, produced or processed in the municipality intended for wholesale or retail distribution outside of the municipality must be grown, produced or processed in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws, rules and regulations.

[With thanks to Bonnie Preston whose email I freely plagiarized to write this post. Bonnie is one of our most stalwart volunteers and has put in more hours than you can count on this issue. Especially thanks to Heather Retberg, our farmer leader, who, I swear to the Goddess, does not sleep. And to her farming and life partner Phil for sparing her to us for this fight.]

Heather and Phil Retberg at their farm, Quill’s End, in Penobscot, Maine.

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Right to Food Constitutional Amendment

  
Submission for February 4, 2016 Work Session Hendrik D. Gideonse, 
LD 783 calls for a constitutional amendment addressing the right of Maine citizens to food. My support remains the same, however, the evolving context has only underscored the need for adoption. Last year I analyzed the existing provisions of Maine’s Declaration of Rights in the light of the social, political, and economic context of the times when they were written. The original drafters were more concerned about the rights of protection against arbitrary authority than they were in fully articulating all the elements requisite to the pursuit of life and liberty. Everywhere they were surrounded by nature – farms, fish, timber, and so on. It just never occurred to them that access to food as part of the natural rights of humanity needed explicit expression in our constitution, not only to protect the nourished, but the farms as well.

Adding language articulating the right to food is a needed extension of natural rights provisions already in the Declaration. Two factors have changed. The dramatically changed circumstance for contemporary food production has removed it far from our daily consciousness. Its former neighborly connection has been essentially replaced by a substantially removed, complex, and not-fully-accountable-to-the- consumer corporate overlay. Additionally, many families and individuals have become increasingly knowledgeable about where their food is coming from and what kind of food the current system generates, and their commitment to access nutrient-dense food from farms that are ecologically sound has deepened. Increasingly numbers of us are seeking real food that isn’t chemically or GMO laden from farms where we can see, touch, and smell the gardens where it is grown.
Therefore, the rights of citizens respecting food now require specific attention. At the same time that nutritional and environmental consciousness about food and farming is growing, it is also true that too many families have little idea how their food is grown or produced or should be. They don’t know where it comes from, how it is processed, how it is protected (or not!), and why and, furthermore, what role our own senses and understandings and trust play in making our food choices. No longer coming from farmer neighbors, food comes under the aegis of huge corporations from thousands of miles away, regulated by agencies seeking to deny our right or authority to the fundamental choices governing what we take into our bodies for nourishment. And despite all these changes, Maine now finds itself in the unenviable position of being the New England state with the highest incidence of food insecurity.

We are now much more acutely aware of the extent to which the position of corporations relative to individuals and even government continues to alter. Critical arguments, for example, against the soon-to-be-voted-on proposed TPP trade agreement have to do with the inexorable drift toward corporate control of everything. Indeed, NAFTA and the TPP explicitly turn over to extra-governmental tribunals corporate claims over profits they believe denied them by governmental actions in defense of people and the environment. 

The articulation of the basic right to food is an important protection. It provides grounding for the development of sound agricultural and public policy. It would provide a means of protection when either governmental or corporate action should interfere with the right to food in individual cases. Passing this bill will provide constitutional support for increasing our attention to food and farming. It will foster economic growth and development by a much-needed restoration of smaller scale local farming. That will be good for employment and as a hedge against both the causes and consequences of climate destabilization. Natural rights to life and liberty are already in the very first section of Maine’s Constitutional Declaration, but addressing directly the right to food embraces our individual choices through the most fundamental kind of law. It will safeguard us against the actions of misguided corporations and government agencies which seek to keep us ill-informed about what we’re eating when they’re not actually staking untenable jurisdictional claim over our own bodily health.

Down in the Papaya Republic

  We have been working very, very hard in the Maine State Legislature this session to get some good, local-food-rights bills passed.   Several have been proposed and finally on Tuesday we had some good news.  Three of those bills were voted out of committee Ought to Pass.   The following is a transcript of the testimony I presented about these bills and the Right to Food constitutional amendment that had been proposed.   It is a personal story that seemed to touch many in the audience.   I fed the papaya and the cheese puffs to the committee afterwards.

“Good afternoon Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman and distinguished members of the committee.   As you all know by now I am Betsy Garrold from Knox and I represent Food for Maine’s Future, Local Food Rules and The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund.  I come here today to speak in favor of this afternoon’s collection of local food bills.

Today I am going to tell you a story.   I brought props.   In the early 1990’s I was a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service stationed in a place we fondly called the Papaya Republic.   The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small nation in the middle of the Pacific.   A tropical paradise filled with coconut, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and pandanus trees; a lagoon teaming with fish; small family gardens scattered here and there around the island.

While I was there I helped the World Health Organization conduct a childhood nutrition survey that revealed that thirty percent of our children were stunted and underweight.    In other words chronically malnourished.   This was not a huge surprise but it lent us weight as we worked to start several programs to combat that blight.   I ran kitchen garden programs with the horticulture students at the college at which I taught.    I wrote a white paper for the Nitijela (the local legislature) on the need to foster breastfeeding.   This lead to National Breastfeeding Week with educational programs and celebrations across the islands.   I filmed, with the Peace Corp volunteers on the island, an educational video about breastfeeding and child-spacing.   But my favorite programs was childhood nutrition education in the elementary schools around the nation.

I would go into elementary classrooms and hold up two things.   In one hand a papaya.  Fresh whole, local food.   Not shipped in on barges.   Growing in the sunshine and ocean breezes.   In the other hand I would hold up a shiny package of cheese puffs.   Definitely not healthy and having been shipped in from the mainland United States on a huge container ship.  I would say to the children,  “Which is healthier for you?   Which is better food?”  

Invariably they would choose the cheese puffs.   But their reasoning was based on different causes then you might think.   They thought that anything that came in a shiny package from the store, and had come over the ocean from the United States must be better for you.    Must be nutritious and healthy.   Shiny packages can never steer you wrong, right?

This always lead to a lively discussion about whole foods versus processed foods.   Local food versus imported food.   Fruit versus cheesy puffs.   By the end of the hour when I opened both packages, cutting open the papaya and opening the bag of puffs the children usually made the right choice and went for the papaya first.

So what is my point?   I would like the committee vote for local food versus manufactured, over- proceed food.    Whole food versus junk food.    I would like the committee to vote the way the school children in the Marshall’s finally did.   Supporting our local, healthy food producers and farmers with their vote for these bills that support the work they do to feed us all.

Thank you for your time.”

Is a Whisper Better than a Shout?

 

 So I went down to the legislature yesterday and had one of my more interesting days at our state capitol.    I was there to testify on LD 785 more about that later.   In fact that rather good hearing was just the jam in this sandwich of a day in Augusta.  I started the day headed for the Clerk of the House’s office to make sure there were no loose ends after our Rally of Unity in the Hall of Flags on Monday.   As I walked up the marble stairs the volume of chatter from the Hall of Flags was deafening.   It was the Maine State Realtor’s Association lobby day.   The Hall  was packed and they were serving what looked like a very nice lunch.  Oh, what money can buy.  I wondered through the crowd looking for familiar faces and just sizing up the event.   Impressive scene and I’m sure the legislators were impressed.

I continued up the stairs and ran into my friend Hillary Lister who was there to lobby on some medicinal marijuana bills.   Including one that was being heard on the fourth floor in the plethora of bills having hearings that day around gun owner rights.   I looked up into the rotunda and saw it ringed with stern looking men who were there to voice what they see as their second amendments rights.  Later in the day, after I had attended the public hearing on 785, I wondered back over to the Statehouse and spoke with some friends who were also there for the marijuana bills.    I was trying to find out where the gun bills were being heard.   I was told that they were being heard throughout the Statehouse because the crowd was so beyond capacity that they were being piped into the Hall of Flags (the realtors were long gone) and the visitor’s center.  Also that no one was being allowed into the hearing room unless you were on the testimony list and there were armed guards stationed outside the door.   This I had to see.   Making my way to the fourth floor I encountered the same, or very similar, group of grim faced men standing outside the hearing room and, sure enough, armed guards at the door.   A big sign read “If you are not on the list to testify please go listen in the visitor’s center”  or words to that effect.   At the visitor’s center it was SRO with the grim faced men but a couple of babies and young women thrown in for variety.    Another impressive scene.   And again, I am sure the legislators were impressed.  But this time because of the passion of these folks for their guns.
Money and passion.   These are the two things that drive legislation.   And it got me thinking about the machinations of government.   Especially as those machinations chew up and spit out the little guy.    The bill I was there to testify about was, at its core, about transparency in government.    Here is my testimony:
“Senator Whittemore, Representative Martin, distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.   My name is Betsy Garrold, I live in Knox, Maine and represent The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that seeks to protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means, protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed foods directly from family farms and artisan food producers and protect the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and/or food processing.

I come here today to speak in favor of LD 785 An Act To Provide for Legislative Review of Federally Mandated Major Substantive Rules under the Maine Administrative Procedure Act.  The constitution of the State of Maine asserts in Article One, Section Two that “all power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”
In order for the people of Maine to exercise their rights they must have free and open access to the workings of the government.   As it stands now we do have access to the legislative branch and can seek to have enacted those laws that make sense and follow what is actually happening out in the real world.   However, once those laws have been passed they are gobbled up by the various state departments and once chewed over and digested by those departments, out of sight of public scrutiny, the rules are regurgitated onto the public with no oversight by the legislators that passed the law or by the citizens.   The rules then descend on the citizens and attempt to dictate their lives without any input from the citizenry into what those rules contain.  
This is wrong.   Democracy is meant to be transparent.   As they say sunlight is the best disinfectant.   What we are asking for here is to have a little light shed into the dark recesses of the rule-making process in the form of public legislative hearings.   No mandates should be passed without the scrutiny of those affected by those rules, regulations and laws.
Please send this bill to the floor with a unanimous ought to pass vote and protect the rights of the citizens of Maine to know what their government is doing.
Thank you for your time.”
So sunlight and citizen participation.   That is what we in our quiet little corner of the legislature were asking for yesterday.   While the realtors made their presence felt with cash and the gun owners made theirs felt with overwhelming numbers we were working in the background to make sure that it is not all for show.   That the flashy lunches and huge crowds that sway the legislative machine are not all for naught.   When the people of Maine speak they can be heard.   But the bureaucrats working in the background are the real center of power and they need to be reined in.   So with no crowd and no fancy lunch we made our case for better oversight.   We can only hope that our whisper is better than a shout.

Update:  LD 785 got voted out of the State and Local Government committee unanimously Ought Not To Pass.  The feeling among the supporters of this bill was that the committee just did not understand the issue or how the bill would correct it.   We will try again next legislature.  Maybe next time we will have to speak a little louder.

Update #2:  We went back to the legislature this session (2017) and managed to get the same bill all the way to the governor’s desk.  No surprise he vetoed it and unfortunately we did not have the votes to override his veto but that is not bad progress from one legislature to the next.   Stay tuned.   We will be bringing this bill or something very like it back in the 129th!

Why I Changed Parties (briefly)

A couple of weeks ago I went to my town office and un-enrolled as a Green Independent here in Maine.   I did it so that I could enroll (briefly) in the Democratic Party and vote for Troy Jackson in the primary on June 10th.  This is so out of character for me that the ladies at the town office asked me twice if I was sure that I wanted to do this.   I am a state party chair emeritus of the Maine Green Independent Party and this just seemed to them to be a strange move on my part.   But I really want to vote for Troy.

I have stood by and watched the Democratic Party in this state shoot itself in the foot again and again over the years.   Remember their lack of support for Jean Hay Bright  (the party recruited someone to run against her in the primary for chrissake) when she ran against an ailing Olympia Snowe?   And Libby Mitchell’s “campaign” for Governor???? Enough said.   I want to vote for Troy because he is a candidate that represents what I want to see in an elected official: someone with a backbone.

I just got done watching the debate between Troy and his opponent on MPBN where his opponent claimed she was supportive of the GMO labeling bill.   And I call Bullshit.  She may have voted for it but if that is all it takes for her to claim supportiveness then the bar is pretty damn low.   And if any of you believe that Troy is the “big money” candidate in this race then you obviously don’t watch network TV.  Wall to wall ads for Troy’s opponent on the 6 o’clock local news.

Anyhow, watch this video of his speech at the Dem’s convention recently.  Ethan Strimling (an institutional Democrat if there ever was one) called it “the best speech I have ever heard at a Maine Democratic convention.” If you don’t tear up watching this then you are the one with a black heart!

 

Oh, I’ll be changing back to the party of my heart (the Greens) as soon as I can.   90 days I think it is.  But this will be worth it, especially if we get Troy to Congress!  So watch this 17 minute video, it will be time well spent.

Farm Bill, What Farm Bill?

 

So, as I’m sure you’ve already heard, Congress failed to pass the Farm Bill yesterday.    No surprise from this “Do Nothing” legislative body.    The Grumpy Old Plutocrats have issued press releases claiming that their only reason for failing to vote for this, usual slam-dunk, bill is to save the American people from the spendthrift ways of the government.    Here are just a few quotes from Rep. Steve King’s  (boy it must really piss Stephen King, the famous left-wing author, off to share a name with this right-wing dweeb)  press release:

 

‘A major point that is seldom highlighted is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or what is known as food stamps, operates like an entitlement program.  This means it continues on unless Congress acts to change it or improve it. “  and this is a bad thing, why????   And, can I say, I hate the phrase “entitlement program”  it activates the frame of lazy people (read:  Welfare Queens) feeling like the world owes them a living, or feeling “entitled.”

“Although some argue that SNAP should be removed from the farm bill and considered separately, the more compelling argument is that the farm bill, which has an expiration date, allows lawmakers to implement reforms to SNAP every five years.  Otherwise, SNAP functions like other entitlement programs where there are many complaints about their cost and drag on the budget, but action is left to academics and pundits to study and discuss on cable news shows.”   In my blog post “The 1949 Farm Bill Has No SNAP”  I explain why it is important to keep SNAP in the Farm Bill.   There really are a lot of urban people out there who do not get the truth of “No Farms, No Food.”   They see the farm bill as just a handout to rich farmers, which it is in many ways, but it is also the safety net a lot of small farmers need to keep farming.  The “specialty” farmers that produce the fruits and vegetables we all love to eat.

Here is an explanation of the differences between the original Senate and House bills.    Good luck figuring this all out.    I think about all this a fair amount and still find myself confused at times.

And in honor of “World War Z” being released to coincide with this continuing fiasco I refer you to an article in Grist that tries to explain this mess.   He talks about the SNAP cuts that the Repugnants want and the Demobrat’s issues with the majority of subsidies go to already wealthy farmers.

Here in Maine food pantries and dairy farmers are concerned with the continued delays of this bill.   If SNAP gets cut then the food pantries, already strained, will be faced with trying to feed even more people.   The Maine dairy industry may be in a slightly better place because they are making plans to go around the farm bill to help dairy farmers have a more stable pricing structure.

All in all this bill is a cluster f*ck and everyone knows it.    But we also, sadly, have come to expect and accept nothing less from our elected officials in DC.

Home rule is seeming more and more to me to be the only way to go.   Walk away, do our own thing, feed our own people and expect very little from our government, bureaucrats or elected officials.

Good News, Good News, Good News, and then Bad News

GW and his daughter testifying at the Agriculture Committee.

GW and his daughter testifying at the Agriculture Committee.

Hurrah, several local food sovereignty bills have been voted out of the Agriculture committee of the Maine Legislature as “ought to pass.”  Here are some excerpts from the Bangor Daily News article about the work sessions:

 

“The Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation voted that two key bills — LD 1282 and LD 1287 — ought to pass when they are taken up by the full Legislature.

The committee also voted “ought to pass” on several bills aimed at Maine’s poultry industry. LD 218 exempts farmers who grow and slaughter fewer than 1,000 birds annually from state inspection and licensure, as long as they sell the poultry from the farm or deliver to the consumer’s home. LD 259 would allow the owners of slaughterhouses to rent their facilities to other farmers. LD 836 establishes a legal mechanism for the operation of mobile poultry slaughtering facilities.”

 

Anti GMO rally at the State House.

Anti GMO rally at the State House.

The GMO bill is in work session today.  LD 718.  With the way the Ag committee has voted lately I am very hopeful that this bill will also get a favorable vote.

The bad news is a that the Supreme Court came out with its decision yesterday against the farmer being sued by Monsanto for planting seeds he bought, not from them but, from a local grain elevator.    Okay, okay it was not the best case to take all the way to the high court so we will have to try again.   The OSGATA/Pubpat suit is a good solid suit that we can hope will succeed when it finally makes it way to the top of the judicial pile.

 

“Although Monsanto and other agrochemical companies assert that they need the current patent system to invent better seeds, the counterargument is that splicing an already existing gene or other DNA into a plant and thereby transferring a new trait to that plant is not a novel invention. A soybean, for example, has more than 46,000 genes. Properties of these genes are the product of centuries of plant breeding and should not, many argue, become the product of a corporation. Instead, these genes should remain in the public domain.”

Here are some other links I’ve been compiling for a while:

 

http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs122/1104248386985/archive/1112571595184.html

 

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/448-farm-and-food-policy/16718-focus-monsanto-protection-act-ignites-massive-activism

 

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/448-farm-and-food-policy/16689-focus-monsanto-wrote-monsanto-protection-act

 

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/16705-monsanto-teams-up-with-congress-to-shred-the-constitution