Residents of Starks will be presented with a proposal at Town Meeting on Saturday that intends to give them food sovereignty and self-sufficiency when it comes to raising and distributing local food.

The “Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance” will be brought to the floor of the meeting in Article 56 toward the end of the meeting.

Polls will be open for the election of town officers Friday from noon until 8 p.m. at the Starks Community Center on Anson Road. The annual business meeting is set to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the same location.

On the election ballot this year is Ernest Hilton for selectman; Cathleen Horner, assessor; Gwendolyn Hilton, assessor; Jennifer A. Zweig Hebert, tax collector; and Carol Coles for school board. All of the candidates are unopposed.

Starks Selectman Paul Frederick said the tax rate stands at $16.75 for every $1,000 in property valuation, and if all the spending articles pass as written Saturday, the rate will be no higher than $17.

The overall municipal budget last year came in at about $888,000 and is expected to increase about $18,000 this year, he said.

On the proposed food ordinance, Frederick said there is support for local control over food production and distribution in Starks.

“It’s kind of a philosophical statement,” he said. “If a farm family wants to sell produce to the passing public at their property, they can certainly do that.”

Selectman Ernest Hilton, who did the research on the ordinance, said the proposed Starks ordinance is based loosely on similar food sovereignty ordinances in place in Madison, Solon and about a dozen other communities in Maine. He said legislation passed in Maine just last year opened the doors to self-sufficiency in the name of local control.

The proposed ordinance states: “Our right to a local food system requires us to assert our inherent right to self-government. We have faith in our citizens’ ability to educate themselves and make informed decisions. We hold that certain federal and state regulations unnecessarily impede local food production and constitute a usurpation of our citizens’ right to foods of their choice.”

Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill into law last summer that affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate local food production, making Maine the second state in the nation to allow consumers to buy directly from farmers and food producers regardless of the state and federal licensing and inspections that would apply otherwise, the Portland Press Herald reported in June 2017.

Maine communities that have approved local food sovereignty ordinances can function “almost as islands,” where a farmer can drop off a gallon of raw milk and a consumer can ask for a chunk of cheese made in an unlicensed facility, the newspaper reported.

The law sanctions the food sovereignty movement, which promotes freedom of food choice for consumers who are willing to forgo some food safety regulations.

“Food is one of the most complex issues you’re ever going to find,” Hilton said, noting that some foodstuffs are covered by the federal government, others by the state.

“The ordinance takes advantage of home rule, which is a constitutional amendment, which was passed in the ’70s,” he said. “You don’t have to be as fearful of what the state and federal authorities say about what you’re doing.

“This isn’t just a feel-good ordinance. It goes beyond that. What it is is an expression of independence.”

The ordinance covers community social events, such as church suppers, potluck events, fairs and farmers markets. It also covers direct producer-to-consumer transactions and local food systems to “promote self-reliance and personal responsibility” by ensuring that local people can prepare, process, advertise and sell food directly to customers intended solely for consumption by the customers or their families.

The measure also is intended to enhance rural economic development and the environmental and social wealth of rural communities, and to exempt producers in the town from state licensing and inspection, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance does not apply to any meat and poultry products that are required to be produced or processed in compliance with the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection Program. The ordinance does apply to shared animal ownership agreements in compliance with the federal law and Maine law and similar private contractual agreements, herdshare agreements and buying clubs.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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