Wednesday November 2, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- A statewide advocacy organization wants Brattleboro to consider a local food sovereignty question at this year's Representative Town Meeting.

Rural Vermont wants towns all over the state to pass the food sovereignty resolutions at town meeting next year, and there will be a meeting to start working on the local initiative Thursday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m., at the Marlboro Graduate Center.

Rural Vermont is working with Post Oil Solutions, a local advocacy group dedicated to energy issues, to stimulate local interest and try to get enough support to have the issue debated at the representative town meeting on Saturday, March 24.

Rural Vermont organizer Robb Kidd said too many federal laws restrict farmers from selling products directly to consumers.

Kidd said small farms routinely struggle with federal regulations and food safety rules that are typically written for much larger agriculture operations.

He wants towns to consider passing ordinances, which have more legal authority, and he said bringing up the resolutions this year will get communities to begin the discussions about local food sovereignty.

"This comes down to the right for consumers to purchase the food they want," Kidd said. "We want to get people talking about the restrictions that are in place right now, that prevent consumers from buying more local food.


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Some Maine towns have held similar votes, and a few towns, including Sedgewick and Blue Hill, passed a Local Food and Community Self Governance ordinance last March.

Kidd said that while the local food movement has strengthened over the past few years, federal and state laws about raw milk, local meat and processed foods place costly and prohibitive burdens on farmers.

The same federal meat inspection rules that apply to a large slaughterhouse also have to be followed by a farmer with 10 pigs, Kidd said.

He said that a stronger local food economy would create a more robust agricultural system, and jump-starting the discussion at town meeting this year is a way to get Vermonters to support the movement.

"The federal policy discussions do not take part in communities in Vermont," said Kidd. "We want Vermont-scale policy. We want food policy to be debated in the community, where it belongs."

Kidd said Rural Vermont is holding similar meetings all over the state to organize supporters who are willing to gather signatures and get the question on this year's town meeting warning.

"Consumers should have the right to trust their neighbor on a community level," Kidd said. "When you get into large, industrial food processing you need these rules. But those same rules shouldn't prevent people from purchasing something from a local farmer."

Post Oil Solutions Executive Director Tim Stevenson said Thursday's meeting will give the groups a chance to gauge the support in Brattleboro for getting the question on this year's representative town meeting warning.

Stevenson said it's much more difficult to pass an ordinance, and said a resolution would help the town begin talking about the issue.

"This is a very important issue as we work to develop a community based food system," said Stevenson. "Most of the federal food safety rules are written for the industrial food system, and they are onerous for small farmers. A resolution is way of saying that we are opposed to that. It is a good start."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.