ATHENS — The Somerset County town of Athens on Tuesday night joined the swelling ranks of communities in Maine opting for local control over food sales and production, adopting the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance.

The food sovereignty initiative was launched by 29-year-old Athens farmer, mother and schoolteacher Kassie Dwyer who said in July that it was all about sustainability, self-governance, self-sufficiency and just common sense. The ordinance affirms the right to produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local food.

“It just removes a lof of fees and licensing and gives people the freedom to sell their own products,” Dwyer told the town meeting assembly attended by 45 Athens residents.

The measure passed with no opposition.

The ordinance was modeled on state legislation passed last year, the Maine Food Sovereignty Act, which reinforces the “home rule” abilities of Maine cities and towns to regulate direct producer-to-consumer transactions within their borders, without the state stepping in.

The law means Maine consumers can buy directly from farmers and food producers without state oversight or inspection of foods including milk, cheese, yogurt, cider, applesauce, canned foods, pickles and vegetables.

The ordinance does not apply to meat and poultry, which still are regulated at the state and federal level.

According to the Local Food Rules website, there were 41 towns in Maine, as of the end of June, that so far have adopted a local ordinance allowing local farmers and other food producers to sell the foods they produce directly to consumers in town without being licensed or inspected by the state.

In Somerset County, there are now eight towns with food sovereignty initiatives. Bingham, Moscow and Solon adopted the measure in 2015. Madison followed suit in 2016, followed by Moose River, Starks and now Athens this year.

In Kennebec County, only Mount Vernon has adopted the rules, according to the Local Food Rules web site.

Dwyer said she used a template for the Athens ordinance provided by Food For Maine’s Future.

The ordinance’s purpose is to preserve the ability of individuals and communities to save and exchange seed and to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume locally produced foods through local control while ensuring the preservation of family farms and traditional food ways through small-scale farming, food production and community social events, according to the template.

The idea also is to improve the health and well-being of local people by reducing hunger, increasing food security, and promoting self-reliance and personal responsibility. The ordinance also would enhance rural economic development and the environmental and social wealth of rural communities.

“When you go to buy at the grocery store, you don’t know where it’s coming from,” Dwyer said in July. “I think it gives people the opportunity to really know where their food comes from.”

Athens voters Tuesday night also approved a water well for the Athens Corner Store on town property, and said “OK” to an idea to make the position of road commissioner an appointive one, rather than an elective one, as it is now.

Selectmen, in a letter to the town’s Budget Committee, said that the Jewell family, which owns the Corner Store, approached the town in the spring about their water situation. They currently are supplied water from M&L Auto, which also supplies the town-owned Grange hall.

“However, due to liability issues those involved feel it would be best for the Corner Store to have their own water source,” selectmen wrote in the Sept. 18 letter to the Budget Committee.

The vote grants to H. Steven Jewell, owner of the Athens Corner Store, a permanent utility easement starting from the store property over town land and extending to land owned by TDS Inc., in a location to be decided by the selectmen for underground pipes and wiring to be placed either on town land or on land of TDS Inc.

The agreement calls for the Jewell family to pay all expenses for construction and maintenance of the easement and water well and the expenses of providing water from the well to the Grange hall building on town land.

The vote carried with just a sprinkling of opposition.

On the question of electing a town road commissioner, or having the position filled with an appointment by the three-member Board of Selectmen, voters’ reactions were mixed.

The question generated the most discussion of the night, with some claiming their right to vote was being tampered with and others insisting that if the selectmen had control over the positon, there would be more accountability, better results and an absebce of the “poplularity content” of road commissioner elections.

The town would benefit by “having three heads” looking at road problems, said Rep. Chad Grigon, of Athens.

The resignation of Dwight Weese as road commissioner this summer prompted the question.

There will be no call for nomination papers for the job in January and no election in March for the first time in memory, residents noted.

The final tally was 26 “yes” votes to change the position to appointive, and 18 “no” to keep it an elective position.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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