A really exciting thing happened last week in Sedgwick, Maine when it became the first US town to pass a community food sovereignty ordinance. That’s way cooler than it sounds!
The ordinance effectively exempts local producers and food processors from FDA regulations, state licensing requirements, and any other laws which impede the creation, sale and distribution of local foods. It’s envisioned that this robust local food system will bolster the local agricultural economy, increase consumer access to products, facilitate the sale and provision of food at community events, and preserve traditional foodways. Consumers and growers tackle food safety and liability-related issues via micro-agreements they make with each other, outside the formal legal apparatus. The whole document can be found here.
The ordinance goes on to claim that ”It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance”, a delightfully ballsy proclamation that probably does not hold too much legal water. It’s not clear what the government’s official response/challenge will be to the new policy.
Even if the ordinance’s trumping of state/federal authority is found to be invalid, its symbolic posture undermines the one-size-fits-all mentality of North American food regulators. As anyone who has tried to commercialize on urban agriculture in Toronto knows, the current policy environment makes it all but impossible to earn a real income “doing” good food in the city. Health and safety are vital concerns, but it’s seriously lazy (not to mention patently false) to assume that non-traditional food systems inherantly threaten public health.
I’d be really curious to know what kind of power the City of Toronto has, if any, to create zoning and business exemptions for those seriously considering an investment in the urban food scene. Considering that chickens, bees, and the sale of backyard produce are all effectively illegal in this city, we have a ways to go.
Hopefully models like this Maine ordinance provide us with a starting point for imagining a more flexible, locally-sensitive, and economically-appropriate regulatory solution for our city!