May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
May 6, 2011 § Leave a comment
Earlier this week, I attended Rural Vermont’s annual meeting. Rural VT is a non-profit advocacy group that supports small-scale, diversified agriculture; much of their work revolves around breaking down the unfair and burdensome regulatory barriers that stand between regional producers and their customers. It’s a good organization, doing good work (of course, I might be biased: I’m on the board).
In any event, the meeting featured a keynote by Bob St Peter, a resident of Sedgwick, Maine, and one of the driving forces behind the town’s recent adoption of a food sovereignty ordinance. Without getting too deep into the legalese, the short story is that Sedgwick recently declared food sovereignty, thereby extricating themselves from the regulatory purview of the state and federal government. By the way, the vote to do so was unanimous.
I’m not really a political person; I prefer to practice the quiet activism of non-participation in systems that prey on us as individuals and communities. But there’s something about the idea of food sovereignty that gets me excited. Mostly, it’s that I know first hand how our nation’s food-based regulations tilt the scales steeply in favor of the sort of large-scale, commodity agriculture that extracts value from our bodies, communities, and environment. Much of the challenge regarding price and access of localized food is directly related to the infrastructure necessitated by state and federally mandated regulations. Most often these regulations pertain to so-called food safety. If you want to know why I say “so-called,” you’ll just have to read my new book.
Returning to sensible agriculture and food production all but demands that we circumnavigate these regulations, either by breaking the law, or by pursuing policy change. The latter might be preferable in the long run, but it’s excruciatingly slow and fraught with frustration and compromise.
I suppose that’s why I find the Sedgwick story so compelling (two other Maine towns have since declared food sovereignty). At face value, it seems the most efficient, expedient way to foster a regulatory environment that supports regionalized agriculture and food production.
Of course, only time will tell if Sedgwick’s declaration can be upheld; already, they are preparing for a crackdown. Already, they have heard that the USDA is pressuring the state to bring Sedgwick back in line. But my sense is that this is a movement with potential. If it can gain momentum in other communities across the nation, it can do more for the local food movement than Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, for all their eloquence and literary grace, combined.
By-the-by, Sedgwick is a rural town of about 1,000. Cabot, Vermont, where I live, is a rural town of about 1,000. File that under things that make me go “hmmm…”