AUGUSTA — A farmer who wants to be able to sell relish and other products made from the vegetables she grows and sells at her small local farm stand urged city councilors to approve a proposal to allow farmers and other food producers to sell what they make directly to their customers, on their own premises, without being regulated or inspected by the state.

All city councilors and Mayor David Rollins agreed Thursday to sponsor the proposal to make Augusta the latest Maine municipality to become a food sovereign community. That allows farmers and others making food to be able to sell what they grow or make themselves, as long as they do so in a face-to-face transaction with their customers, on the site where the food was produced.

Resident and farmer Mary Gingrow-Shaw, who said since retiring from her state job she has started a small farm stand selling vegetables on South Belfast Avenue, said she’d like to make and sell relish, pickles and other items from the vegetables she grows. But she doubts she’d be able to get a state food production license to make those items in her 1880s home, which she said is clean but would be a challenge to bring up to standards to pass a state inspection. She also said even if she could get a license, it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort and expense of meeting state requirements, including having any food she produced approved by a food scientist at the University of Maine in Orono before it could be sold.

“I think having those value-added products would help me generate sales, because of the variety of products I’d be able to offer,” she said. “I certainly abide by food safety, I keep everything clean. But it would be quite a hurdle to become licensed for the small scale operation I want to do. I don’t think, for a small scale operation like mine, it would be worth it to try to get licensed.”

Roughly 40 Maine municipalities have declared themselves food-sovereign communities since the passage last year of the Maine Food Sovereignty Act.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien sponsored the initial proposal for Augusta to pass a food sovereignty ordinance, at the request of a Gingrow-Shaw. On Thursday, all six councilors present and Rollins agreed to also sign on as sponsors. The proposal will still have to be approved by councilors at a business meeting to be adopted.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said food sovereignty and farm-to-table are a growing movement, with a lot of people wanting to get away from processed foods in favor of locally grown and locally produced food.

She said her concern is that there should be some form of disclosure to customers so they know that what they are buying from an unregulated farm stand hasn’t been subject to the same inspections and regulations as food purchased at a grocery store.

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Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant, however, said when he purchases something in a Mason jar with the only labeling on it written with a marker, he knows what he’s getting. He said consumers have some level of responsibility for making decisions about what they purchase.

Grant said the face-to-face requirement that is part of the state law change and the proposed new local food sovereignty ordinance is important, as that face-to-face time provides a chance for consumers to question the person selling the item about how it was made.

Kristin Collins, an attorney working for the city, said the proposal would not exempt food producers from complying with city zoning standards, which regulate where activities, including retail sales, can take place in Augusta.

Most of the Maine communities that have adopted the rules so far have been small towns which include, in central Maine, Mount Vernon and Starks. But O’Brien noted that larger communities such as Auburn and Rockland also have adopted the rules.

Fairfield town councilors approved a proposal to become a food sovereign community Wednesday.

Meat and poultry are exempt from the state food sovereignty law, and federal inspection and licensing requirements for those items still apply.

The rules also do not apply to anyone selling items at a farmer’s market, which are regulated separately by the state, according to Matt Nazar, the city’s development director.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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