The Five Musketeers of Maine Plan a New Path Around Obstinate Busy-Body Regulators: Start Local, Very Local

Maine food rights activists Liz Solet, Deborah Evans, Larissa Curlik, Heather Retberg, and Kevin Ross.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”. (They’re wearing the t-shirts in the photo above.)

The key element in the proposed ordinances is protection of “direct farmer/grower/processor-to-customer sales from unnecessary regulation.” It states: “So long as there is one willing seller and one willing buyer, the producer or processor of local foods is exempt from federal or state permitting, certification or licensure. The one-on-one private contract between the local farmer/processor and their local customer provides sufficient oversight through the customer’s interest in and knowledge of how the food is raised, harvested, and prepared, and the farmer/processor’s honesty and integrity.”

There are other items in their proposal, including protection of bean suppers, bake sales, and traveling food fund raisers that have come under public health regulator attack; expansion of agri-tourism; and a requirement that everyone who sells directly to consumers label their products, “including their name, address, ingredient list and the date the product was prepared” to “provide accountability, traceability and transparency…”

The Five Musketeers have begun having discussions with their selectmen with a view toward getting their proposals considered during the winter and spring town meeting season in New England, when small towns traditionally take up new ordinance proposals. So far, the reactions have been encouraging, they say. A typical response has been disbelief that chicken and bake sales are under attack. “Our biggest advantage will be to go to our friends in each of our towns” to encourage support, says Deborah Evans, one of the five.

Might there be a conflict between their proposed ordinances and state and federal laws and regulations? The five don’t believe so, since they see themselves focused on protecting private sales between farmers and consumers, outside the authority of regulators. They’ve even developed a “Declaration of Food Freedom” that states in part, that the petition signer believes “that my access to farm raised food should be unfettered and free of one-size-fits-all regulations formed at federal levels and enforced by the state.”

Sounds like they’ve been reading the comments of Dave Milano, Milk Farmer, and others on this blog…and indeed, they have, and say they’ve gotten part of their inspiration from the commentary here. I wish them luck. This is about as grass roots as it gets.

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21 Comments on "The Five Musketeers of Maine Plan a New Path Around Obstinate Busy-Body Regulators: Start Local, Very Local"

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Bill Anderson
September 30, 2010 9:20 am


One correction to something you've been saying.

From my understanding, cheese is Class 3 processing, not Class 4. Class 4 is butter and powder (non-fat dry milk).

Not that it matters. The FMMO system is totally antiquated and corrupt. The highest quality milk in America today is either being sold as raw fluid milk to local markets, or being turned into artisan cheese for high-end national markets. Class 1 milk is pretty much for CAFO's (with a few exceptions) or UHT organic milk.

Mark McAfee
September 30, 2010 11:04 pm


In CA cheese is a class 4 product. There is class 4a and class 4b in class 4.

David….great story from our raw milk friends in Maine. This is the kind of grass roots movement that can really work. They need to get the media to cover them and get the consumers behind them so it is a widely supported consumer based movement with producers behind it instead of infront of it. Producers are easy targets….consumers are sacred cows. No one can attack the dollar voters. If they do it just hastens their voting with their dollars… Read more »

Gordon Watson
September 30, 2010 11:26 pm

my mentor, old Georgie Gordon, has been dairying since about 1950, and contending with the Powers-that-Be since the 70s. He says that assertion of the right to private property – which is what person to person food sales are – is THE ultimate bulwark against communism:
here in BC, my cousin was the liasion between the provincial govt. Ag Ministry, and small farmers. He got a good look at who made money, and who didn't. Today, he's on his own raising turkeys and lambs. Everything is pre-sold for very high $$ .
The internet… Read more »

Don Neeper
October 1, 2010 12:59 am

Breaking news out of B.C. in regards to Michael Schmidt, Home on the Range and Alice Jongerden:

Raw milk lovers reach agreement to ensure supply of bathing lotion

Joelie Hicks
October 1, 2010 1:21 am

Go, fight, win.
I love to see neighbors band together.
I want one of those T shirts, are they for sale?

deborah evans
October 1, 2010 3:33 am


Thanks for the cheer – T-shirts are available through a local business. Email and they will be happy to send you one asap!

– a Maine Musketeer

Bill Anderson
October 1, 2010 3:50 am

Interesting Mark. According to the below article, CA is one of only two states that has its own Milk Marketing Orders that completely override the Federal order. Perhaps this is related to the fact that California is one of only a few states that allows retail level sales of raw milk?

Shana Milkie
October 1, 2010 4:03 am

Yay for the Maine Musketeers/Raw Milk Liberation Front!

Just as you draw inspiration from the blog, you ARE inspiration for the blog.

Good luck and way to go!

Mark McAfee
October 1, 2010 5:09 am


This was done as a market protection action. If CA milk has higher standards than the Federal Order Milk….then the federal order milk can not be shipped into the CA Milk Pool or markets ( this is all PMO and pasteurized milk politics and market protection crap ).

Smooth move for CA. The tough part is that CA still hangs its own dairymen by overproduction and etc.

Michael Schmdit….what a cool dude. The Pharaoh of Raw Milk….

You will notice that he did not theaten the establishment instead he met with them and shared a peace pipe and got… Read more »

Kevin Ross
October 1, 2010 5:22 am


Thanks for the encouragement!

Fairwinds Florist (the local merchant where you can purchase the shirts) email has changed and the current address is:

or you can phone the store directly; it is located in Blue Hill.

If you are interested in getting a shirt that is local to you ( i.e Marin County Chapter, California USA or wherever your county is) you can contact me at


Bill Anderson
October 1, 2010 12:25 pm


The situation you describe in CA reminds me of the Wisconsin Cheese Maker's Association and their protectionist racket on the Wisconsin Milk Market.

Wisconsin is the only state which requires cheesemakers to go through a licensing program — a protectionist racket for the good old boys at WCMA, and for the UW Center for Dairy Research (which only purchases rBGH-positive milk, with a starting pH of about 6.5 and TA of about 17, for their research, supposedely because they don't want to pay the small premium for BGH-free milk).

Wisconsin also requires a buttermaker's licesning — one of the reasons they… Read more »

Dave Milano
October 1, 2010 8:55 pm

What could be more American, more local, and more desireable, than a child with a lemonade stand?

Permits, apparently.

Gord Welch
October 1, 2010 9:54 pm

So how is bathing lotion a victory? What happened to civil disobedience and fighting with the evil bureaucrats? If you're not willing to fight you're not worthy to drink real milk – isn't that what I was told?

Oh, it's always good to come to an 'understanding' with bureaucrats, but this seems like a copout on both sides. Harumph!

At least the lotion will keep flowing… yum.

As for myself, I wish to consume fluid milk fit for human consumption:)

Milky Way
October 2, 2010 9:21 am

The population of consumers who would choose to buy "bathing lotion" raw milk and then drink it, is probably small and unique. Perhaps that is a targeted solution for a specific situation, but it doesn't hit on the bigger issues relating to the science behind standards that meet farmer, consumer, and regulator goals….


Gord Welch
October 2, 2010 11:11 am

Indeed, MW.

I also leaves the door open for child protective services to go after parents for feeding bathing lotion to their children.

Milky Way
October 2, 2010 11:24 am


Good point.


October 2, 2010 10:48 pm


What are the regulator goals?Is there science behind standards that the regulators would like to see enforced?I am very skeptical since you don't seem inclined to defend the regulator's version of science with actual scientific research.So far you have not come up with any credible evidence that actually points to raw milk as the source of an illness.Conclusions of a link based on assumptions that there is a link do not qualify as credible evidence.DNA evidence is flawed and as it is used by epidemiologists to find a "Match",it is fraudulent.

Milky Way
October 3, 2010 9:47 am


I disagree and stand-by the table of raw milk-related outbreaks, as well as the others like ground beef, spinach, peppers, frozen rodents, etc. linked through DNA evidence in recent years. The flaws you pointed out in using PFGE are not convincing for any of these outbreaks in my assessment. Also, I don't think you addressed use of DNA sequence-based methods that provide even more convincing evidence when used in combination wtih PFGE analysis.

Bottom line, we came to different conclusions looking at the same data. That's fine, and we disagree! That isn't the end… Read more »

October 3, 2010 8:44 pm


All cases of food linked illness are fraud if the epidemiologists use the words "matching DNA" when talking about PFGE profiles.The profiles might match but all that can be said about the bacteria involved is that the samples had "indistinguishable" profiles.That is not the "slam dunk" guilty verdict that "matching DNA" implies.When you use those words in your conclusion of the investigation it just shows that the verdict came first and the investigation was done to justify the verdict.

Milky Way
October 3, 2010 11:08 pm


Sequencing is unambiguous.


October 3, 2010 11:41 pm

What do you mean by sequencing?The only evidence I have seen presented in these outbreaks is DNA profiling.Whatever you mean by sequencing ,it is not important if it is not being used.Are you conceding that DNA profiles are often used fraudulently?
I don't think whole genome sequencing is used because it would be very ,very unlikely that any two isolates from two different environments and time frames would have the same whole genome sequence .