Two More Maine Towns Vote on “Food Sovereignty,” and “Butter Day” in VT ; MN Farmer Picked Up By Police; FDA Takes on French Cheese

A view from the Blue Hill peninsula, where Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville are located. I think because the “Food Sovereignty” ordinance described in my previous post passed so easily in Sedgwick, Maine, last Saturday–without obvious pushback from state and federal regulators–there was a tendency to assume that such ordinances could easily be passed elsewhere.

But when two more Maine seacoast towns voted last evening on essentially the same ordinance as I described in my previous post on Sedgwick, the results weren’t quite as clear-cut.

Deborah Evans, a Maine farmer who has been a principal backer of the ordinance, describes what happened in Penobscot, where the scenario played out much like in Sedgwick. 

“In Penobscot, the ordinance was on the warrant [item #39] to be discussed and voted on at Town Meeting, just like Sedgwick [item #42] did on Saturday. There were about 100 citizens gathered in the Penobscot Elementary School gym to go through the warrant, item by item, including a couple of proposed ordinances. When #39 came up, several people stood and spoke their piece in favor of it, each ending with an enthusiastic round of applause! One comedian in the audience suggested that since everybody he buys local meat and milk from is operating under the radar anyway, we should just leave it alone. We laughed. A motion was made to call the vote and high into the air went every voting hand in the room – it was a resounding ‘unanimous’ once again! Oh my.”

But in nearby Brooksville, a different scenario unfolded. Once again, Evans describes the situation: “A Town Meeting this evening just like other towns, but instead of being on the warrant, the proposed ordinances were voted on by secret ballot the day before. Results were 152 Yes, 161 No. It was so close. Only 5 votes would have reversed the outcome. Several unhappy people at tonight’s meeting where the voting results were announced asked if we would be putting it up for a vote at the next town meeting, probably in June, and I answered ‘Absolutely. Brooksville just needs a little more time to get it’s brain around an ordinance that takes away ridiculous rules instead of piling on more.'”

The opposition to the Food Sovereignty ordinance had come up a few weeks previously, according to one local paper, when Brooksville’s ordinance review committee voted not to recommend passage. Among its concerns: that “it is unenforceable” and “opens the town to potential liability issues and legal costs.”

A few things worth pointing out at this early stage in the emerging Food Sovereignty issue. Even in small towns like Sedgwick, Penobscot, and Brooksville (polulations 900-1,300), proponents must  carefully lay the groundwork; Evans and her allies met in advance with town officials to educate them on the proposal. Second, fearful opponents will make their voices heard, worrying about legal issues, and maybe even safety issues.

But as Evans noted, “two outa three ain’t bad. The fourth and last town to take up the proposed ordinance will be Blue Hill on April 2.

More on food sovereignty: The Vermont Coalition on Food Sovereignty ran its “Butter Appreciation Day” yesterday–a demonstration of making butter from raw cream, at the state house in Montpelier. The demo was staged in opposition to intimidation efforts by Vermont agriculture officials to a planned series of workshops on raw dairy planned by another organization, Rural Vermont. It suspended its classes rather than risk a possible court fight.
As expected, no sign of any police of any sort. In fact, reports one of those present, “No problems with the police by the way– the ones we talked to wanted to learn about making butter.” Seems there were lots of mothers with children, and all enjoyed taking a hand at making butter.

A Minnesota farmer, Alvin Schlangen, was served with a search warrant while passing out eggs and raw milk to members of his food club, in St. Paul, earlier today. He asked St. Paul police to drive him to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which towed his truck, so he wouldn’t be stranded. The MDA acted quickly to tow the farmer’s truck, likely because they didn’t want a repeat of a December incident in which consumers gathered at a dropoff point in suburban Minneapolis and pointed their video cameras, and verbal assaults, at MDA agents who confiscated food being passed out to customers of the Hartmann farm.

Schlangen is understood to make food available only to members of his food club, who pay dues and sign a written agreement.  ?There have been no allegations of illness involving food from Schlangen.

A Minnesota lawyer provides his account of the “theft” of Schlangen’s food by “thugs” from the MDA..


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s hysteria over raw milk apparently knows no bounds. Now the agency dairy chief, John Sheehan, is justifying a crackdown on raw milk cheese by suggesting French raw milk cheeses are unsafe. These are the cheeses renowned worldwide, for centuries, for their delicacy and wonderful taste.

Here’s what the FDA in a recent article: “Consumers are also seeing more raw milk products because of the growth of the artisanal cheese industry, Sheehan says. These cheeses are made by hand using what are considered to be traditional methods—often on the farm where the milk is produced. Some of these cheese makers use pasteurized milk in their products, but others use raw milk that could contain disease-causing bacteria…

“In countries where pasteurization of milk is less common, outbreaks of foodborne illness attributed to tainted milk or milk products occur more frequently than they do in the United States. In France, for example, the rate of foodborne illness attributed to milk and milk products was reported to be roughly three times what it is in the U.S., says Sheehan, citing a 2001 study by researcher Marie-Laure De Buyser and other French scientists.”

Yes, we can almost hear the French crying out in the night, “Please Mr. Sheehan, protect us from our dangerous cheese…and while you’re at it, from our wine as well.”

The real point here, aside from the fact that Sheehan and cohorts haven’t the taste to appreciate fine French cheeses, is that the agency has its sights set on eliminating raw milk cheeses from the American food landscape. That’s why efforts like those in coastal Maine are so important–we may well require “Food Sovereignty Zones” to access the foods of our choice.

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11 Comments on "Two More Maine Towns Vote on “Food Sovereignty,” and “Butter Day” in VT ; MN Farmer Picked Up By Police; FDA Takes on French Cheese"

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Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 3:54 am


Is there any evidence of illness or contamination of milk from Alvin Schlanger's farm? This is always the first question we should be asking ourself.

If there are no illnesses or contamination, it only proves our contention that the debate about raw milk really is not about food safety — it is about maintaining the hegemony of the pasteurization industry. Where is Bill Marler when you need to give him a hard time for all his praise of the MN health authorities? Can you say fascism?

Mark McAfee
March 10, 2011 4:08 am

Speaking of Food Sovereignty, the Blue Lake Tribal Counsel ( in Humboldt County CA ) just changed their local laws to reflect alignment with CA state law with regards to CA Raw Milk sales.

If you remember, last year the local Humboldt Raw Milk drinkers protested the 64 year old local Humboldt ordinance which bans raw milk sales and production and tried to get it changed. The efforts were shot down by FDA clones at the health department that made claims that people had died from raw milk in CA and other outrageous unsupported and completely untrue lies.… Read more »

Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 4:16 am

I guess John Sheehan is just playing into the French-bashing that has been so popular in America in recent years amongst the elite classes (and some of their sympathizers in the more conservative elements of the populace).

A few things to consider about the incidence of illness from dairy products in France:

1) The French consume more dairy per capita than Americans. Obviously, in a country that consumes very little dairy (China, Japan, ???), there are going to be very few outbreaks from dairy produces. In a country that comes a lot of dairy, there are going to be… Read more »

Mark McAfee
March 10, 2011 6:15 am

French bashing….

The French are working 35 hours per week and getting 5-7 weeks of vacation per year and laying arround naked on beaches getting lots of vitamin D, buying at incredible farmers markets, drinking great wine and making lots of afternoon love.

Sheehan is jealous as hell.


Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 8:02 am

Not to mention the best soft-ripened raw milk cheeses in the world! High moisture, aged less than 60 days!

Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 8:51 am

We forgot the biggest issue of all, Mark. France is where Pasteurization was invented! Yet they still have immense respect for their agricultural and culinary traditions in raw milk cheese.

I'd really like to see this study John Sheehan is citing. Can't seem to find it from online searches.

The Complete Patient
March 10, 2011 9:18 am

Not a hint of illness from Schlangen's farm. No, this is a case of what I have previously referred to as "collective punishment." You punish farmers for being farmers providing raw dairy and other nutrient-dense food because you don't like what one farmer did, and in the process, you punish all consumers who dare to take issue with the ideology of the state and federal food police.


Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 12:31 pm


Earlier this evening, the 19 Republican Wisconsin Senators seperated the non-fiscal items from the controversial bill and passed it (since quorum is only required for fiscal items). They refused to let the public into the senate house during the brief meeting, in direct violation of open meetings laws.

Upon word of this vote, thousands of people surrounded the capital and broke through police lines. It is now being occupied again tonight by the people, for the first time in over a week!!! We have re-taken our house!!!

Since the local police have refused to… Read more »

Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 12:32 pm

Sorry, realizing I spelled Mr. Schlangen's last name incorrectly…

Bill Anderson
March 10, 2011 12:36 pm

A must see. Class war at its finest. How the rich are getting richer while they expect more sacrifice and austerity from us:

Phil Retberg
March 10, 2011 10:08 pm

I've been reading David's blog for awhile, just have not felt moved to post as of yet.
My wife Heather and I have Quill's End Farm in Penobscot, ME, and it is around our kitchen table that the local food, local rules ordinance was drafted. It is our hope and prayer that this document become "viral", as it is a positive, regulation reducing ordinance that, if adopted accross ME and the country, will have the capacity to change political will. The end goal here is freedom ( a return to business based on integrity, no gov't approval) ,and… Read more »