News Feature

Isle au Haut
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 6, 2013
Isle au Haut votes in favor of food self-governance ordinance

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by Anne Berleant

Isle au Haut has joined nine Maine towns in adopting a Local Food and Self-governance Ordinance.

At a recent special town meeting, voters passed the ordinance 11-3.

“The general consensus was that we at least wanted to make a statement,” said Selectman Landon DeWitt in a statement emailed May 31. He wrote that 16 citizens petitioned the selectmen to hold the special town meeting on the ordinance.

The ordinance, created in 2010 by three farmers on the Blue Hill Peninsula, aims to allow farmers to sell products directly to consumers without state licensing and inspection. It specifically states its purpose as to: (1) Provide citizens with unimpeded access to local food; (2) Enhance the local economy by promoting the production and purchase of local agricultural products; (3) Protect access to farmers’ markets, roadside stands, farm-based sales and direct producer-to-patron sales; (4) Support the economic viability of local food producers and processors; (5) Preserve community social events where local foods are served or sold; and (6) Preserve local knowledge and traditional food ways.

It rests mainly on Maine Home Rule, Article I, sec. 2 of the Maine Constitution, which declares: “all power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit, [and that] 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.”

The state disagrees. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry brought a 2011 lawsuit against Blue Hill famer Dan Brown for selling raw milk without a license. Brown held that his actions were protected by the ordinance passed in Blue Hill. Hancock County Superior Court Judge Ann Murray sided with the state, ruling in the department’s favor on May 2.

However, no Maine town that has passed the ordinance has been challenged directly by the state.

Sedgwick was the first town to pass the ordinance in 2011, followed by Blue Hill, Penobscot and Trenton. Brooksville passed the ordinance in March of this year, after voters failed to pass it in 2011. Four towns outside of Hancock County have passed the ordinance, and similar ordinances have passed in towns in Vermont, Utah, Arizona and California. A statewide measure introduced into the current Maine legislative session, LD 475, was narrowly defeated in the Senate 18-17.