A plucky band of New Englanders has taken a stand against an overbearing despot. This time, the cause for rebellion is not an abusive overseas parliament but their own Uncle Sam. Residents of Sedgwick, Maine, approved an initiative last month allowing food producers to sell their products free from federal and state interference. Call it a declaration of food independence.
Inhabitants of the town of 1,100 perched on the rocky Atlantic coast had chafed under regulations restricting the sale of homegrown vegetables, milk and poultry at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores. At a March 5 town hall meeting, these Yankees unanimously approved a new ordinance invoking the town’s tradition of self-governance in a fight to sell their food products without special licensing.
“We have faith in our citizens’ ability to educate themselves and make informed decisions,” reads the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance of 2011. “We hold that federal and state regulations impede local food production and constitute a usurpation of our citizens’ right to foods of their choice.” Sedgwick had asked the state for an exemption from onerous meat inspection rules for small poultry farms, but the request was denied. The state might lose federal funds for meat inspection were it to allow the town to opt-out. Following in the footsteps of their iconoclastic forebears, residents declared their independence from state and federal food police.
New England has a long tradition of local commerce at roadside produce stands and farmers’ markets that pre-dates the advent of the modern supermarket. Lately, the locally-grown organic food movement has rekindled interest in small-town farm products. When customers are friends and neighbors, vendors don’t need clipboard-carrying busybodies from the capital reminding them that food safety is Job 1.
As neighboring towns eye Sedgwick’s mini-rebellion and contemplate approval of their own food governance measures, Maine officials are weighing their response. The state attorney general’s office has voiced doubt about whether local authority can supersede state jurisdiction in this matter. Across the nation, Americans have found that once freedom is sold off, it is extremely hard to recover. Still, if Sedgwick prevails in its struggle to reclaim a little bit of liberty in an obscure corner of the country, it will mark a small step in the right direction.