AUGUSTA — The city is now a food sovereign community.

City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to designate Augusta as such, meaning farmers and other food producers within the city may sell directly to their customers, on their premises, without state or federal regulation or inspection.

Mary Gingrow-Shaw is a gardener with a small farm stand on South Belfast Avenue where, since her retirement from working as deputy auditor for the state, she has sold vegetables she grows there. She said Augusta adopting a food sovereignty ordinance will allow her also to sell relish, pickles and salsa at her farm stand that she makes, without having to get her home’s kitchen inspected and licensed for food production.

“I’ve always made relish and salsa (to give as gifts) and everyone loves it,” Gingrow-Shaw said. “It’s always been my hobby. Nobody has ever gotten sick from anything I’ve made.

“I know there are people who feel very deeply about the food sovereignty cause,” she said. “It’s not that I don’t, but I really just wanted to be able to sell things I make directly to customers.”

Augusta is the latest Maine municipality to become a food sovereign community; about 45 municipalities have declared themselves food sovereign since the passage last year of the Maine Food Sovereignty Act.

Mayor David Rollins said the move allows people, many of whom already have been making food items to give or swap, a way to sell legally what they make.

“It’s kind of a craft in Maine, to put up home goods, pantry goods. A lot of people have gardens and can and preserve what they make,” he said. “To be able to put those things out and be able to sell them, I think, is a good thing. It’s not mass-produced food, where you could have a major contamination.”

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien sponsored the initial proposal for Augusta to pass a food sovereignty ordinance, at the request of Gingrow-Shaw.

She took a Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners course on how to get a kitchen licensed for food production, and was intimidated by all the requirements she’d have to comply with and changes she’d have to make in the kitchen of her 1880 home to meet those state standards. Gingrow-Shaw 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 the recipes for any food she produced approved by a food scientist at the University of Maine, in Orono, before it could be sold.

She said being able to sell items such as salsa and relish will help her make a little more money at her farm stand, Shaw’s Farm Stand, because she can charge more for a jar of salsa than she would be able to charge for the tomatoes and other vegetables used to make it.

Kristin Collins, an attorney working for the city, said previously 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.

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.

Most of the Maine communities that have adopted the rules so far have been small towns that 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 Oct. 24.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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