Posts Tagged ‘Maine State Legislature’

Food Sovereignty Slide Show

So yesterday I spoke to a class at the University of Maine at Orono, The Anthropology of Food, a class taught by a wonderful young woman I met at the College of the Atlantic when I was on a panel down there for their Farm Day, Cynthia Isenhour. During her introduction she mentioned that this blog has a thousand followers! Wow, that many people are interested in what I have to say about politics and agriculture, who knew?

That piece of information made me feel a little guilty about my sporadic writing in this medium so I think I am obliged to drop you a post today. Here is the slide show and talk I gave to that class yesterday, enjoy:

Passing the Food Sovereignty law

Photo Ben RetbergSo in 2009 the inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture, which had suddenly and internally changed their definition of milk distributors, walked down the wrong farm driveway. Two wrong driveways actually but that is the other part of the story. The Retbergs, Heather and Phil, had just built their farm business up enough that Phil could quit his off-farm job as a carpenter and they thought, with their dairy and their meat bird production, that they could make a go of it on their farm income. Supporting themselves and their three children while feeding their friends and neighbors good wholesome food. What they were told was that they could no longer share their farmer neighbor’s poultry slaughter facility and they would be classified as a milk distributor because they had a sign at the end of their driveway saying they sold raw milk.

My small organization Food for Maine’s Future, then run by Bob St. Peter, met with the Retbergs (actually they were friends already and this speaks to the power of community which is such an integral part of the food sovereignty movement) and it was decided that grassroots action was going to be the most effective. They wrote and got passed in several surrounding towns the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. This is a rights based ordinance founded on the Maine constitution’s Home Rule provision and on the work done by the water sovereignty activists in western Maine battling with Nestle to protect their ground water.

Photo by Betsy Garrold, T-shirt by Sap Pail MediaShortly after that the department of Ag decided to make a test case out of a guy, we called him Farmer Brown, milking one cow and selling it from his farm stand and at the farmer’s market in his town. The district court ruled against him, saying “milk is not food and therefore not covered by the Ordinance.” We took it all the way to the Maine Supreme Court who ruled against Dan but carefully avoided negating the Ordinance because they did not want to mess with the home-rule constitutional issue.

Photo by Betsy GarroldSo all this time we were going to Augusta, trying to get the Ordinance applicable statewide. And failing. But attracting more and more attention for our work and more and more supporters. And we were increasing the number of towns which had passed the ordinance. Maine has a town meeting form of municipal governance and these ordinances were passing unanimously in these meetings. People get it. Neighbors feeding neighbors is not only good for the local economy but also good for healthy strong people and healthy strong communities. We kept getting our bills all the way to the governor’s desk but could not quite muster the votes to override his repeated vetoes. One victory we did have, early on, was getting the 1000 bird poultry slaughter exemption passed. More about meat later.

Banner by ARRT!So once again we shifted strategies. We decided to pass a state constitutional amendment that stated people had the right to food of their choosing. A measure not subject to a gubenatorial veto. Now when we get these grandiose ideas we know we do not have the money to go up against the grocery manufacturers lobby or the dairy lobby head to head, dollar for dollar. Although we have had some good financial support most notably from Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who finances our full time lobbyist (me) and from local co-operatives including Fedco Seeds we need people power to win. On the day of the vote we planned a rally. We even had Joel Salatin fly up to Maine to testify. Here he is with our lead ally and I can say one of the overall leaders in this movement Craig Hickman, farmer, legislator, all around great guy. And the other “wrong” driveway the department walked down in 2009. Craig and his husband Jop run a small farm and B&B in Winthrop and when the state inspectors told him he had to stop using his extra goats milk to make yogurt to sell in his farm stand his response was to run for the legislature.

Photo by Maine Progressive WarehouseThe real power we have is what I like to call “muddy boots in the halls of power”. We can’t turn out the numbers that the NRA does when there are gun bills getting heard at the capitol but we can turn out 100-200 people to testify on our big bills. In a state of 1.3 million people that can have an impact on our legislators. Plus we have those stalwart advocates in the legislature: Craig, Ralph Chapman, Troy Jackson, Michelle Dunphy, and a handful of republicans we can count on for votes and quiet support. And we were getting some national attention.

Photo by Ben RetbergWe did not win this fight but it was only through the political manipulations of one of our chief foes in the state senate. I have to say it was a beautiful piece of political theatre that I had to admire, I could have enjoyed a lot more if I had not been on the losing side. In the house, however, we passed this on a recorded vote with the 2/3 majority we would have needed to get this on the ballot for the people of the state of Maine to decide. So we were not entirely discouraged.

Photo montage by Nikki SekeraSo we went back, This time with water allies. And this time we had a powerful ally whom we had converted from his previous skepticism about local food control. Senator Troy Jackson was back in the lege although no longer on the agriculture committee. This is a picture of the day we met with him and he offered to sponsor the bill. Niki and Heather were introduced to the folks in the revisor’s office and we wrote our own bill this time. We included local water control. Farmers can’t farm without water, after all. Unfortunately, we ended up having to remove water protection from the bill to get it out of committee but it was educational to see the number of suits that Nestles can turn out to testify against any bill that tries to stop their theft of water from the people of western Maine.

Photo by Abigail CurtisIn this year’s session of the legislature. As we were preparing to reintroduce our statewide food sovereignty ordinance. This happened. I am not saying this had a big impact on our final outcome but the fact that a fire at a warehouse in southern Maine could lead to most of our major grocery stores in the state looking like this kind of was a wake up call for those who are paying attention to the fact that the food supply chain is fragile. People need to be able to feed themselves.

But we got the bill passed, unanimously in both houses. A bill that said essentially “if a town passes an ordinance to have control of their own food system the state will not interfere.” We were gearing up for a fight to override the expected veto from the governor when this happened. This is the signatures of our right wing obstreperous governor and his tea party ally senate president on our food sovereignty law. Victories are possible. It just takes persistence and being ready to defend the gains we make.

But as a friend of mine likes to say. You get to the top of the mountain and you think you’ve made it and then the clouds part and there is the next higher peak you need to climb. We knew this was not going to be the end. We did not rest on our laurels. We have been busy organizing the 28 towns that have come to us since the passage of the law to get their own ordinance in place. We had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Auburn became the first city to pass the ordinance with no assistance from us at all. It is part of the zeitgeist now. The ground swell is happening.

Remember the national attention I told you about. Well this time it was the USDA. They are threatening to pull our state’s “permission” to state inspect meat and poultry processors and force them to have USDA inspectors unless the lege amends the law to exempt meat and poultry from local control. Based on the 1967 Wholesome Meat Act that put production of all red meat and poultry in the hands of the USDA at the behest of Big Ag. Leading to CAFOs. Maine runs its own meat and poultry processing program under a cooperative agreement with the feds. They were threatening to make us a “designated” state along with 48 other states.

The governor called the lege back into special session to deal with this. At the same time they dealt with Ranked Choice Voting and the marijuana legalization regulations. It was some interesting sausage making in that special session let me tell you.

Photo by Betsy GarroldAnd as Heather says “when a bully wants your milk money and threatens you, what do you do? You stand up and fight back. But what do you do when he wants your milk money and threatens your friends?” As usual this is a divide and conquer mentality that works so well for the oligarchs so often and we strategized and conferred with our legislative allies and planned our next moves.

Drawing by Jonah FertigWe went back to the legislature, took our muddy boots back into the halls of power and with the help of our friends in the legislature we amended the law to suit the USDA and not totally gut the ordinance’s power. Here we are in the gallery of the House once again watching the vote. It was a good day. Made partially possible by the fact that we were really small potatoes in the special session. They used the USDA “emergency” as an excuse to call the special session on order to gut RCV and the marijuana legislation. The legislators were anxious to get us out of the way and start carving up the two things they really wanted to mess with RCV and marijuana. And the beat goes on.

Photo by Betsy GarroldPhoto by Betsy Garrold

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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.

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.”

Happy International Women’s Day! (and happy anniversary to The Populist Farmer)

Three years ago today I finally got up the courage to start my own blog about politics and agriculture.   And as they say…thus was born The Populist Farmer.   I meant to write every day, and the Goddess said “Ha!” but I have managed to keep this small avenue for expressing my joys, fears, frustrations, paranoia and triumphs alive through over 200 posts.    So there!

This particular post is going to be a rambling stream of consciousness set of musings on women, politics, life, the universe and everything.

Lets start with GOOGLE.   Since their little movie on their home page today is what inspired me to write this.   I have a new Chromebook which my wonderful children bought for me when my old laptop died and as much as I was reluctant to give this little machine any credit it has proved to be very useful in the activist work that I do and even in the work I am doing with two friends in developing a worker owned co-op.   So although it is evil in many regards (can’t be used without an internet hook up, won’t let you use other company’s products in many cases, no expectation of any privacy since everything you work on is “in the cloud”) it is a good tool in many ways.    We just need to remember that the interwebs and computers and smartphones and all the other ubiquitous devices with which we populate our days are just that TOOLS!!!   I use them for work and for organizing and try very hard not to have them use me.

I am having some logging done on my land.   Well, to be more specific, I have just fired the logger who was cutting trees on my land because he obviously did not understand me (or chose not to) when I said I wanted to do a light selective harvest.   Once again reinforcing to me the need to follow my instincts.   There were valid reasons not to want skidders on my land.   Now I remember them.  Unfortunately my forest suffered in the meantime.  But the reason this is pertinent today is because I really believe this guy thought I was some timid little old gray-haired woman that he could push around, lie to and rip off.    Not so.   But the perception is understandable.   He is a product of his machismo culture.   I feel badly that he is going to have such struggles in his business dealings because of his poor attitude. Or maybe not.

Which brings me to my next (and most important) point.   I have just read this great essay called Men Explain Things to Me, Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way” By Rebecca Solnit.   Here is a snippet, go read the whole essay as your celebration of International Women’s Day.   “So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.”  This essay is pithy, funny, sad, and spot on!

Finally, yesterday, I spent the day in Augusta, again.   About raw milk, again.   And we lost, again.   I mean we didn’t really lose.   But the bill that got voted out of committee is a mess.   It has just enough to make everyone unhappy (which several of the men in the room seemed to think was the goal of the day.)   Piss everyone off just a little.   But at one point the lawyer, who was trying to take this piece of sausage and turn it into something that was at least understandable, and the Senate chair, both of whom happen to be women, were trying to sort through the hash that the bill had become.   My friend Heather Retberg murmured, “thank god there are women in the room!”   And that is too true.  The women in the room, at least those not totally co-opted by the dominant masculine paradigm, were the only ones trying to reach a compromise that made sense.   Not one that just sought to make everyone equally miserable.  We were even nice to each other and not excessively condescending.   It, once again, reaffirmed my belief that the world will be a better place when women run it.