When Susie Miller started raising goats about three years ago, she hoped to be able to sell fresh milk as well as homemade lotions and soap made from goat’s milk.

But after reading Maine’s dairy regulations, she was disappointed to learn that it would be impossible at her small operation, Naissance Farm in North Anson.

The sale of raw, or unpasteurized, milk is legal in Maine, but many producers have lamented the state’s requirements for licensing and inspection, saying it’s not feasible and too costly for smaller-scale farms.

“If you milk just one goat or one cow, you are considered a distributor,” Miller said. “A small farmer or a homesteader who would like to sell their extra milk to a neighbor can’t do that. It’s illegal. It’s upsetting and it leaves no option for the public.”

Several towns in Maine already have begun reacting to the state’s regulations about raw milk by passing local food ordinances stating it is OK for farmers to bypass state and federal regulations when selling agricultural products directly to consumers.

On June 9, Moscow became the 14th Maine community to enact such an ordinance, and its neighbors Bingham and Solon will vote on local food ordinances in the coming weeks. The movement is gaining traction quickly in Somerset County, and it’s no longer just about milk.

Debbie Staples, a small farmer from Moscow who sells eggs at her family’s hardware store in Bingham, said many local farmers also are growing worried about new federal requirements that could limit the sale of produce and eggs, as well as dairy and meat.

“Right now it’s the meat and dairy, but the eggs and produce are all coming down the road,” Staples said. “We also have broiler chickens that, when we got them, we didn’t realize we couldn’t give away or sell the meat without being a licensed kitchen. We couldn’t afford to do that; we’re too small. Anyone who has a small farm, they’re not able to afford what they want us to do in order to legally sell produce and stuff.”

When the state changed its regulations on raw milk sales and poultry around 2009, a number of small farmers grew frustrated with what felt like an inability to influence lawmakers, according to Heather Retberg, a campaign coordinator for the Local Food Rules campaign and a small farmer in the town of Penobscot.

“What it showed us was there was this bigger system of rule-making that was bypassing citizens’ ability to weigh in on the rules,” Retberg said. “That’s when we decided that the more effective way to protect our farms and our access to farm food would be to work at the local level.”


The movement originated in Hancock County following the state’s changes in 2009. In 2011 the four towns of Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill and Brooksville passed local food ordinances. Since then, Trenton, Hope, Appleton, Livermore, Plymouth, Isle au Haut, Brooklin, Freedom and Alexander have passed local food ordinances as well.

Miller said she too became interested in the movement after realizing she was unable to sell raw goat’s milk from her farm without setting up a commercial kitchen.

She estimates the state’s regulations have cost her about $1,000 per month in lost milk sales during the months her does are in season.

Miller, who is originally from Bingham and whose mother taught school in neighboring Solon for years, said she decided to start advocating for local food ordinances in those two towns as well as Moscow.

She worked to start a Facebook page, Local Food Rules of Somerset County, to promote discussion about the ordinances.

Staples, the Moscow farmer, is Miller’s cousin and helped organize a petition supporting the ordinance, a first step toward having it passed.

It wasn’t long before Solon also started a petition. Town Clerk Leslie Giroux, who is also a small-scale chicken farmer, helped organize an informational meeting last year in Solon and brought it before the Board of Selectmen.

“I’m all for certain regulations for food that is transported across the state or to other states, but if I’m going to my friend’s farm stand, the liability is between he and I,” Giroux said. “I know where it came from. I know where it was grown. He picks it, hands it to me and I eat it.”

The ordinances also have started to appeal to a larger group of people beyond dairy farmers and those interested in buying raw milk.

At a public hearing on the ordinance in Bingham last week, Jeff Knott, who raises lamb at his 2 Brook Farm in Bingham, said that while he doesn’t sell a lot locally, he supports the ordinance because it’s part of a larger movement to support local food.

Knott and others at the hearing said they were concerned about the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law in January 2011 but has not yet been fully implemented. The law is an effort to prevent food contamination by putting in place stricter rules for inspection and documentation, including at farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs, although there are exemptions for small farms.

“The whole thing is really to make food a corporate entity that you have no control over, and that’s why I think the ordinance should pass,” Knott said. “What we’re really saying here, what Bingham is saying, is, ‘Leave us alone. Let us do what we want to do.’ If I want to buy eggs or vegetables, I’ll buy them.”


Moscow First Selectman Donald Beane said town officials had no concerns about the ordinance, but that hasn’t been the case in every town.

In both Bingham and Solon, town officials have opposed the proposed local food ordinances, noting that state and federal law trumps any local rules.

Bingham’s attorney, Ken Lexier, advised the town against passing the ordinance, saying it is “not enforceable and accomplishes little,” according to Second Selectwoman Julie Richards.

“An ordinance should not be passed that cannot be enforced and (is) of no legal significance,” Lexier wrote in a letter to the board, advising them instead to pass a proclamation supporting local farmers.

Lexier also said local producers and processors need to be aware that a local ordinance does not exempt farmers from complying with state and federal laws.

But advocates for local food ordinances have cited Maine’s home-rule law, which gives municipalities the right to enact laws they deem necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents, as proof that local ordinances can stand up to state and federal laws.

“With home rule, we can move forward in a local way and make some changes in our local towns,” Miller said. “The local food movement has been growing across the nation and especially in Maine, and we want to retain the right to exchange the way we have in Maine for generations. We don’t want anyone taking those rights away from us.”

Perhaps the most significant instance in Maine of a local food ordinance being challenged occurred in Blue Hill, where the state sued dairy farmer Dan Brown in 2011 for selling milk without a license, failing to label milk properly and selling canned goods from a farm stand.

Brown ultimately lost his case in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, but the state didn’t pre-empt or overturn the local ordinance. If more towns pass such an ordinance, which so far has been worded the same way in every town in which it has passed, it will carry more weight and could influence lawmakers in Augusta, Retberg said.

While a number of bills attempting to overturn the state regulations about unpasteurized milk have been presented in the Legislature, no changes have yet to be enacted.

Last week the House passed L.D. 312, a law that would allow unlicensed and uninspected dairy producers to sell milk directly to consumers, but the measure failed in the Senate.

“When you believe in something, you have to take a risk,” Retberg said. “It’s very heartening at this point to see how many towns are willing to stand in solidarity with each other and say, ‘We’re not letting any of us be out on this limb alone. We’re going to fight for a more sustainable food system.'”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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