Reinstating Local Food, Local Rules

NOTE: This is a guest post from Siena Chrisman, Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at WhyHunger, with excerpts from Andrianna Natsoulas’ Food Voices.

In the spring of 2010, WhyHunger began a partnership with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. Food Voices captures the testimonies and images of farmers and fisherfolks across five countries who are fighting for a just, sustainable and sovereign food system; a food system that values quality over quantity, communities over individuals, and the environment over the corporate bottom-line.

Andrianna talked to Maine farmer, and WhyHunger partner, Bob St. Peter in 2011. After traveling and living in various places in the U.S. and around the world, Bob began to reject what he viewed as a privileged culture. He now farms to feed his community in Sedgwick, Maine. At a certain point, his interests in farming and living a simple life merged with his political leanings and Bob discovered a global movement of rural people and small farmers called the food sovereignty movement.

“For me,” Bob says, “food sovereignty means being able to farm and care for a piece of land in a way that I feel is appropriate, without having market forces dictate what or how I grow. I get to make those decisions, as a steward of the land. I get to do that here in this place with my family in this time.”

Soon Bob began talking about food sovereignty principles within his own community and leading local efforts for change. On March 7, 2010, Sedgwick passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance — a food sovereignty ordinance. Bob is also the director of Food for Maine’s Future a board member of National Family Farm Coalition, and an active member of La Via Campesina.

“Rural Maine is known for being independent and willing to assert local control over governance. Through the organizing work — local farm, local food organizing work, this moment has arisen where people are being presented with a choice of the future for our community. On the one hand, there are regulations and market forces, including real estate, making it very hard to farm. On the other hand, we have people from across a political spectrum getting together and saying that we want to preserve this way of life.

“A group of us crafted a local food ordinance that would exempt direct farm sales – from the people who are producing it to the people who are eating it – from many state or federal licensing and inspection. Basically, regulations that are usurping our self-governance, our right to govern our own local food supply and to not have any undue burdens placed upon that. We are asserting our food sovereignty and saying that we have it under control and we can do a better job than the state and the department of agriculture and, certainly, the USDA and FDA.

“Generally, there’s the tendency to make things easy for the regulators. There is this tendency to concentrate and make everything so specialized, so you can judge it on quantitative measures, rather than qualitative measures. They say it is in the name of food safety, I think it is in the name of efficiency. It is easier to regulate one large operation than a bunch of small operations, but the regulations are making it difficult for small diversified farms who do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

“I think there’s been an ongoing debate in this country since it was officially founded about the role of farmers. If you are going to colonize or conquer people, you take away their ability to feed themselves. It has been shown time and again. And that, coincidentally or not, pretty much has happened in this country for the last 70 years. Rural communities have been stripped of their ability to feed themselves because of very specific policy choices at the highest levels of government.

“It’s not so much as tyranny of government per se, as it is tyranny of the corporations who are aided and abetted by the government. And that’s what’s undermined our ability to feed ourselves. The bankers should really find something better to do with their time. Growing potatoes, raising chickens. There are all kinds of things people could be doing better with their time than finance capitalism.

“The more the system that we have collapses under its own weight, the next time we have a billion eggs recalled because of salmonella, the demand for local eggs is going to go up. Same with spinach, same with whatever. The more people get sick, the more clear it is that that’s not the best way to do things. Then, people will start asking other questions. How did it get that way? Does it have to be that way? And our job is to come in with the answers, or with a direction. If we are effective as food sovereignty advocates and activists, we are going to help those people understand why we need a local food movement.”

After Bob’s community passed the Local Food Ordinance, four other towns in Maine followed suit. But the State of Maine is challenging the ordinances. In November 2011, Dan Brown, owner of Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, Maine, where a Local Food Ordinance was passed, was served notice that he is being sued by the State of Maine for selling food and milk without State licenses. In response, small farmers and communities are organizing and fighting the lawsuit. Dan Brown continues to sell his products, and his farm patrons continue to buy them. For more information, visit Local Food Local Rules.

WhyHunger is a leader in building the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. Founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin & current Executive Director Bill Ayres, WhyHunger works to put an end to hunger suffered by 49 million Americans and nearly 1 billion people worldwide. Find out more at

Andrianna Natsoulas is an advocate for social justice and environmental stewardship. She has worked at several organizations, including Greenpeace, Public Citizen and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. Currently, Andrianna is a consultant. For more information, please visit

Photo credit: Andrianna Natsoulas


Ram Reddy
Care member3 years ago


Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago


Pego Rice
Pego R.4 years ago

Far less of a problem for poly. They do not need to overplant to compensate so much for bad years,

Mit W.
Mit Wes4 years ago


problem by shunting food from areas of bounty to those areas where crops hadn't done so well. But, because of the inherent unpredictability of farming, both the local and the global system will aim for overproduction to reduce to risk of underproducing.

Mit W.
Mit Wes4 years ago

Hello Pego;

Rising expectations have made it difficult to sell slightly blemished produce at the retail level. People will pick the best they can get for themselves, even at the farmers' markets. And, it is true that the best looking or biggest may not be the best tasting. That's certainly true for apples AND oranges, at least for me. This part of the problem goes hand in hand with being well fed, at least, in the sense of not being hungry. You could reduce expectations by producing much less to induce hunger. That would work, while making people miserable and hungry. It's a real sticky wicket.

As you pointed out, another part of the waste on the farm problem is overproduction. This would be a problem for both the mono and poly cropper. In most manufacturing scenarios, you can exert control over the most pertinent aspects of your production, from the supply chain through the shipping channels. Farmers of any ilk, unfortunately, can't control the weather. When it comes to the weather, they can only fall back on statistical models to decide how much risk they may want to take in not meeting their goals if they plant too little. Of the two evils, planting somewhat too much may be better than not enough, when it comes to food. Too much? You lose money and effort. Too little by too many farmers, hunger ensues. And, you don't know for sure until harvest time. A national an international distribution system does help alleviate some of the overproduction pro

Mit W.
Mit Wes4 years ago

Diane, i actually wrote, "not many people". That said, it may have been too strong. But, there are a great many people that do buy the local apple when it is in season in Pennsylvania. Many major supermarket chains carry them in the fall. Here's a list of them:

Giant Food Stores
Weis Markets
Giant Eagle
Food Lion
Stauffers of Kissel Hill
Redner’s Markets
Associated Wholesalers, Inc.

Pego Rice
Pego R.4 years ago

Good ol' Gordon, who brought the "F" to food. I really think this is a stunningly unlikely scenario.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

BTW, I think fining a restaurant for offering "out of season" stuff is asinine. It should be up to the restaurant and it's clientele as to what is offered. Where I live (Western Washington), citrus and bananas are ALWAYS out of season, since they don't grow here, so should I pay extra to get a banana split if I want one in December? That stuff has to be trucked or flown in all the time, period. I do think local produce should be cheaper, not more expensive. For example, if it's August, then locally grown carrots should sell for less than carrots brought in from California. We have roadside stands all summer where one can buy produce grown in Washinton and it's pretty cheap. There are several local retailers (Local Boys, Harvest Greens) that sell produce during "season", and Harvest Greens is open all year, while Local Boys shuts down in October, reopens in May.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

Mit, you say nobody in Pennsylvannia will buy Washington apples when apples grown in Pennsylvania are in season? Did I get that right? I live in Washington, and so yeah, apples are always available, most are grown very locally, and I've rarely, if ever seen signs in the stores that said where they were grown. Obviously, in January, they aren't freshly picked. They've been kept in cold storage. Last ones I got from my own trees were picked in late September, early October, but I'm in Western Washington.

I've noticed that not all stores label where their produce comes from, period. I shop at Fred Meyer for most of my groceries, except meat, MOST produce, etc., and I have noticed they DO post signs that say where the produce was, USA, Mexico, etc., and if it's bagged, then it says where it came from. I was in Safeway night before last (they're open 24/7) and no such signs. They said organic, or "not", but that was it.

Pego Rice
Pego R.4 years ago


But did you look at WHY much of the food was listed as waste, back on the farms? Anything damaged even a little will not ship well, Also anything over-sized, undersized, irregular in shape or color, and even if it does ship, it will not sell on arrival, since the market has been too acclimatized to regularity. Then there is the fact that if they produce too much (not uncommon for monocrops on a good year) they dump food, rather than flood the market. The loss not mentioned is the loss of nutrients.

There are a LOT of people quite angry about all this waste, like Gordon. This is an artificial situation. People are being kicked off their farms all over the world to get this cheap product that still delivers a big profit to a few people. Are you saying that it is perfectly OK with you to pay to deploy troops to all these third-world countries to smash their democracies and smash their unions and farmers, to destroy every effort they attempt to make a decent wage to support their own families. There are people starving around the world to create the "cheap, out of season food" situation that we now enjoy.

Let's just start with not sending troops out or subsidies to extend this problem. Food prices would rise, especially prices for foreign foods and specialties. Of course we, hopefully, would have that much less in taxes to pay.