“There’s an uprising brewing in Maine over food rights. Like in other parts of the country, it started with regulator interference in a traditional part of small-farm life.
Heather Retberg, who with her husband runs a small farm in the coastal communmity of Penobscott, had built up a nice little business selling chickens to neighbors. She slaughtered the chickens at a neighbor’s regulator-approved facility for producers of less than 1,000 chickens annually.
But then last year, the Maine Department of Agriculture suddenly changed the rules covering farmers with less than 1,000 chickens, requiring that each farm have its own facility. There was an outcry around the state, and eventually the legislature reinstated the 1,000-chicken exemption…but in implementing the exemption, the MDA kept key obstacles in effect. Bottom line, Retberg was still prohibited from slaughtering the chickens at her neighbor’s and told she needed to construct her own $30,000 facility, or else have the chickens slaughtered at an approved facility many miles from her farm–all prohibitively expensive.
So she exited the chicken business, determined to focus more on her farm’s raw milk business, selling privately to a few neighbors. This year, the Maine Department of Agriculture sent out notices to numerous such small dairies, warning them they needed a special Maine permit to sell raw milk from the farm under any circumstances. Complying would require many additional thousand of dollars of facilities upgrades.
Not surprisingly, Retberg has soured on trying to make changes via the legislature and regulators. She’s joined forces with four of her neighbors who were active in fighting the chicken slaughtering problems, and they’ve decided on a completely different tack. They are each petitioning their towns to pass ordinances that will give local small farms special breaks.
I met the five on Sunday, when they attended my talk at the Common Ground Country Fair, and presented me with a special t-shirt that says on the back, “Raw Milk Liberation Front”….”