by John P. Thomas
Health Impact News

Food freedom is flourishing in the State of Maine. A year after the governor of Maine signed “the Maine Food Sovereignty Act,” [1] many Maine towns have responded to the new law by adopting ordinances that give their residents the legal right to sell food to one another without burdensome regulations. 

There are good reasons to permit farmers and home-based food processors such as bakers to sell food to their neighbors without oversight, but in most every state this is not permitted. It’s not about food safety, but about corporate control of the food system. [2]

An analysis of the controversial issues involved in the food sovereignty movement is available in my 2017 article, which explains that one-size-fits-all food regulations work against the goal of protecting the public health and are destroying small farms and businesses throughout America. See:

Food Freedom Laws Needed to Rebuild Economic Prosperity – Reestablish Relationships between Local Food Producers and Local Consumers

This current article takes an in-depth look at Maine’s Food Sovereignty Act, the threat raised by the US Department of Agriculture against that law, and provides guidance for people in other states who want to bring food freedom to their communities.

Maine is Preserving A Simpler Way of Life 

In communities that have adopted local food sovereignty ordinances: A cheesemaker can sell cheese directly from his home refrigerator. A baker can sell a pie directly from her kitchen. A family can sell excess raw milk from the family cow to neighbors.

In short, the new Maine law permits towns to choose the level of freedom that residents have for face-to-face sales of food products that are sold from the farm or home where they are produced.

The Goals of the Maine Food Sovereignty Act 

In summary, the law is designed to establish local control over as much food distribution as possible and to encourage food self-sufficiency.

It supports the existence of small scale farms and businesses with the intent of providing wholesome nutritious food to residents from local sustainable sources. It promotes self-reliance and personal responsibility, and it enhances rural economic development and the social wealth of rural communities. [1]

Read the full text of the Maine Food Sovereignty Act and its foundational policies here:

A Growing Movement Brings Empowerment to Small Local Food Producers

The number of Maine towns that have adopted food sovereignty ordinances have doubled in the last year. There were 18 towns that adopted food sovereignty regulations prior to the passage of the state law, and there are now 41 municipalities that permit local residents to sell most foods to their neighbors. [3] 

Maine’s Food Sovereignty Act was Immediately Challenged by the USDA

On the day after the Maine Legislature approved the law in July of 2017, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contacted state officials and threatened to federalize Maine’s system of livestock slaughtering and processing facilities. [4, 5]

This take-over would have closed the door on these facilities for an unknown period of time and prevented Maine farmers from having their poultry, beef cattle, and pigs from being slaughtered and processed for retail sale. [6]

The original law would have allowed farmers to slaughter their own animals on the farm as has been traditionally done for thousands of years and sell the meat. The USDA was not going to stand for such unregulated behavior, and was willing to threaten the livelihood of all Maine meat producers to maintain their regulatory authority.

Emergency sessions of the Maine Legislature were held in October of 2017 and Maine’s food sovereignty law was amended. The law now states that Maine will comply with all federal meat inspection regulations. [7]

This means that poultry producers that sell less than 1,000 birds can still slaughter their own chickens as long as they follow existing federal and state guidelines. The slaughtering of large animals such as cattle, pigs, goats, and lambs will continue to be subject to current USDA inspection requirements. [8]

A farmer may slaughter his own animals for use by his family and employees under certain conditions. And in situations where there is a shared ownership arrangement between the farmer and other individuals, they all may receive distributions of the meat. [9, 10]

A Model for Other States

The Maine food sovereignty law is breathtaking in its simplicity and clarity. It took eight years of work with the Maine legislature to bring it to fruition, and the results can be used in other states to provide local food freedom. [3]

The food sovereignty movement in Maine took advantage of the state constitution’s provision giving “Home Rule” authority to local towns and cities. 

Maine’s Constitution states:

The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure by which the municipality may so act. [11]

Based on this constitutional right given to municipalities, the Food Sovereignty Act states:

…a municipality may adopt ordinances regarding direct producer-to-consumer transactions and the State shall recognize such ordinances by not enforcing those state food laws with respect to those direct producer-to-consumer transactions that are governed by the ordinance. [1]

In other words, if a city or town wants to claim the right to establish food sovereignty for its residents, then it will need to use its standard decision-making process to adopt a food sovereignty ordinance, and they will be in business. It’s up to the will of the people to determine what they may purchase from one another.

Encouragement from a Leader in the Maine Food Sovereignty Movement

Heather Retberg at her Penobscot farmhouse on Quill’s End Farm with daughter Carolyn and son Ben.

Heather Retberg at her Penobscot farmhouse on Quill’s End Farm with daughter Carolyn and son Ben. Photo by Anne Berleant

Heather Retburg, a farmer and leading advocate for food sovereignty in Maine, is encouraging people in other states to pick up the food-sovereignty banner and start bringing food freedom to their local communities.

She was recently interviewed by David Gumpert [12], nationally known author, food rights and raw milk advocate. 

Heather Retburg wrote the following comments in the discussion section that followed David Gumpert’s article. She stated:

There are very few states that don’t have home rule. In all the states that do, there is a claim of authority to press. These are ‘dusty tools’ of democracy that very much need to be polished up and put to use.

I absolutely believe that food sovereignty is the vehicle to regain the participation of people in our food system, and our own health and well-being.

A great unifying document for everyone to take a look at as a first step is their own state constitution. Once a seed was planted that ‘something’ must be possible to re-align the principles of democracy with its ideals/intentions rather than our current realities, it’s the first place I looked.

In Maine Article 1, Section 2 in our Bill of Rights [it] is called ‘Power is Inherent in the People.’ In NH, the corresponding article is called ‘The Right to Revolution.’ Really!!

Some form of this clause, taken not from the U.S. Constitution, but from the Declaration of Independence, exists in each state’s own constitution. In some states, it is stronger and other states weaker, but in all states, it exists in some form. The combination of that clause, in whatever form it exists in your state constitution, and home rule authority (however that may exist in your state statutes and/or constitution) is the basis for your legal assertion of self-determination/self-governance over your community food system. It’s essentially an assertion of community governance (town, city, township, borough, etc.) to protect individual rights to food freedom.

Here’s our most recent template (revised to align with the Maine Food Sovereignty Act) as a model for how you might proceed in your own locality: 

Starting this way can be thought of as ‘horizontal policy diffusion’–spreading broadly across localities/regional structures to build power and resilience before working on ‘vertical policy integration’ (state and/or federal structures).

On that same site, you can also find a link called Organizing 101. 

Putting the two [documents] together can be the beginning of food sovereignty growing legs beyond Maine – a much needed development!! [3]

Read all of Heather Retburg’s comments in David Gumpert’s article:

Why Has Food Sovereignty Caught on in Such a Big Way in Maine? No “Enemies” or “Other”

For even more details about the food sovereignty movement in Maine and worldwide, visit the Local Food Rules website:

Local Food Rules

A Powerful Testimony from a Maine Legislator

State Representative Craig Hickman gave a powerfully impassioned speech to the Maine Legislature in 2013 in support of the food sovereignty bill that was under consideration at that time. Even though the legislation did not pass that year, his remarks stand as a timeless testimony to the importance of food freedom.

I have included excerpts from his speech as a closing to this article because of their power and simplicity. 

State Representative Hickman stated: 

I’m a farmer who still works the land by hand. Mr. Speaker, I’ve never been more committed to anything in my life. Never been happier. … I am truly blessed. My customers appreciate every bag of spinach, jar of granola, or crown of broccoli they get from the farm. And I appreciate them. … 

I never would have imagined I would become such an integral part of a local food chain. Never would have imagined I could sell thousands of dollars of organic produce and homemade foods in a single season directly to patrons without vending at a farmer’s market or supplying a restaurant. Never would have imagined folks would stop by simply to thank me for doing what I do…

As former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, once said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” …

Her name was Mrs. Meeks. Well, that was the only name I ever heard her called. I was in her kitchen only once. She, like us, lived on the North Side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, smack dab in the middle of factories that made big things and paid good wages. I couldn’t tell you if Mrs. Meeks worked in one of them or not, or even if she worked outside her home at all. All I knew is that she hailed from rural Alabama and she made a mean coconut cake. So mean it was the only cake my parents ever bought for a special occasion.

We didn’t have much. We were on food stamps, in fact.

But when we splurged, for a special occasion, we turned to our neighbor. And Mrs. Meeks made the best cakes you’d ever want to buy. She made them all in her kitchen, a place that felt like the hearth in her home that it was. Her reputation preceded her. So much so that when I began teaching myself how to bake a good cake, way back in the fourth grade, Mrs. Meeks was the cake maker I wanted to emulate. 

Why? Because in every single bite of Mrs. Meek’s cake, you could taste the love.

Just as you could taste the love in Aunt Fannie’s famous seafood gumbo. Originally from rural Louisiana, Aunt Fannie migrated to Milwaukee after World War II, her expertise in creole cuisine in tow. Nobody we knew who wanted gumbo for Christmas ever made their own. They bought some of hers. Or, if they were really lucky, she invited them over to her house, sat them down right her kitchen table, and served that spectacular ambrosia fresh out of that giant pot. We were among the lucky ones. Still, if we took any of her gumbo home with us, my father reached into his wallet and gave her a little something. She needed it to help her family make ends meet while caring for a son, challenged in so many ways.

Now what on earth do Mrs. Meeks and Aunt Fannie have to do with food sovereignty?

Well, everything—pretty much. …

I believe the best way to achieve more food self-sufficiency and security in Maine is to allow our neighbors—many of whom are small-scale farmers and/or small-scale food producers, like Aunt Fannie and Mrs. Meeks—to advertise, sell, and feed us the food we want to eat.

Who gets to decide the rules and regulations about our local food supply? Who do you trust? The multinational biotech companies that so desperately want to control our food supply by genetically engineering seeds and patenting those same seeds and then influencing the FDA and the USDA to create policies that serve to drive small food producers out of business?

Do you trust a food system that allows chickens to be slaughtered at a rate of 175 per minute, with minimal human oversight, the carcasses dipped in bleach and chemical brines in order to make them fit for human consumption? A food system that allows for hamburger filler to be washed in ammonia, also known as pink slime, in order to kill E. coli and make that meat fit for human consumption?

Or, do you trust the person in your neighborhood or community who produces food with wholesome ingredients and a heaping bowl of love?

Food sovereignty means local control.

Food sovereignty means empowered communities all over the State working together to advance local food systems that ensure health and dignity for all Maine people.

Food sovereignty means that all people will have access to healthy, wholesome, locally produced and delicious food.

Food is life.

We the People must have control over our own lives.

We the People insist.

Food is life. [13]

Read Representative Hickman’s full speech.


We test all of our foods for glyphosate!


[1] “An Act to Amend the Law Recognizing Local Control Regarding Food Systems and Require Compliance with Federal and State Food Safety Regulations,” PUBLIC Law, Chapter 314 (SP0605 – LD 1648), Adopted by the 128th Maine Legislature, 2017.

[2] “Food Freedom Laws Needed to Rebuild Economic Prosperity – Reestablish Relationships between Local Food Producers and Local Consumers,” John P. Thomas, Health Impact News, 6/23/2017.

[3] “Why Has Food Sovereignty Caught on in Such a Big Way in Maine? No “Enemies” or “Other,”” David Gumpert, 8/17/2018.

[4] “Maine Food Sovereignty Bends but Doesn’t Break After USDA Threats,” Baylen Linnekin,, 10/28/2017.

[5] “The government has threatened to quash Maine’s food sovereignty law,” Paul VanDerWerf, New Food Economy, 9/12/2017.

[6] “Food law leaves Maine meat producers squealing for a fix,” Mary Pols, – Portland Press Herald, 10/17/2017.

[7] “Maine’s New Food Sovereignty Law Gets a Last-Minute Overhaul,” Kathleen McLaughlin, Civil Eats, 10/1/2017.

[8] “Maine’s food sovereignty law needs tweaking,” Ben Hartwell, The Maine Wire, 9/25/2017.

[9] “9 CFR 303.1 – Exemptions,” US Law, LII / Legal Information Institute, Retrieved 9/6/2018.

[10] Private phone conversation between John P. Thomas and Pete Kennedy, attorney with the Weston Price Foundation. 

[11] Maine State Constitution, Article VIII, Part Second, Municipal Home Rule.

[12] “About – David Gumpert.”

[13] “Maine State Representative Craig Hickman on Food Sovereignty,” Floor Speech in the House given to recognize and support the Local Foods Ordinance movement in Maine, Wednesday, May 15, 2013.