(Editor’s Note: Last week I took off to head up North to talk to a guy about some trees, and didn’t post this up. As the point person for regulatory interactions at Crown O’ Maine, I’m glad Marada was the one to write about this.
In his book, Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, Joel Salatin makes the point that regulation is a consumer protection service that is enjoyed by the public, and borne by the producers. The responsibilities, economic and otherwise, are nominally shared by the public only in tax allocation to governmental enforcers.
Because regulations of any kind are dense, and are of necessity specialized, it’s hard to keep the eyes from glazing over, because we assume that it’s the professional responsibility of those involved in the work to understand. And it is. But the impact and implications of these regulations are opaque, because of this unreadability. The consumer, even those of us who care deeply about what we eat and about the people who produce it or catch it, has very little idea how these regulations shape the very choices we’re presented in the marketplace.
As I said, I’m glad Marada tackled this, because I have no short stories. Regulation matters. And it creates barriers of class and education for producers. And it develops standards for food safety. And it creates the pressure to improve (or close). It’s a big thing to grapple with, in understanding, in the struggles of being a David trying to implement rules that are supposed to fit Goliaths and us alike. But like it or not, agree with it or not, engage with it or not, it is something that affects us all.
Look for a few longer rambles from me on this topic.
As we learn more about existing and upcoming state and federal food regulation, Crown O’Maine also aims to highlight producers who have made improvements to their systems necessary to make the leap from a Maine-only approval to the ability to sell to the other states on our routes including New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Heiwa Tofu, in their new home at Coastal Farms Food Processing Center in Belfast, is one such producer. Balfour Farm, of Pittsfield, Maine, is another.
As with most things regulatory, I should make a few qualifications to my statements:
1) It is not Crown O’Maine’s goal to turn all Maine food producers into interstate businesses. We see this as neither obligatory nor ultimately necessary to the thriving food sector here in Maine. However, we know that for our customers and neighbors in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it can be frustrating to want to support Maine artisan food producers, only to realize the products aren’t legal for sale in your state.
2) By noting that foods have interstate marketability, I am not implying Maine’s food safety standards on a state level are lacking in stringency. In some areas they are more clearly defined than on the federal level. All Maine food producers work with the Division of Quality Assurance & Regulation at the Department of Agriculture as their go-to interface for solving compliance challenges.
3) Even though Balfour’s cheeses, yogurt, and buttermilk are legal for interstate sale, raw milk is still illegal for sale into other states from any of our farms.
Crown O’Maine’s evolution as a food distributor focused on small, Maine producers comes to fruition at a very interesting moment in our national food climate. On the one hand, we have daily reports of widespread food contamination – not just with the unmeasured threats of GMO’s and pesticide residues, but with quantified, life-threatening food-borne bacteria. On the other hand, our regulators have specific instructions (you can read them yourselves) to target small food producers for violations of existing laws. That combined with a stymied Farm Bill, the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and recent efforts to introduce a GMO labeling law here in Maine are all reasons to pay ever greater attention to what you eat and who produces it.
I look towards regulation both literally (as in compliance) and also metaphorically. This is a tough channel to navigate with the goal of a vibrant sector of thousands of Maine food producers. Recently I read an excerpt about the log checkpoints on the upper Penobscot River and the transition of the river driving from a lawless to a regulated industry. It brought up themes of stresses put upon businesses owners, resource conservation, mini-wars over tax increases of pennies (which, arguably, went a bit further in those days), and heritage. Both our working heritage as producers of goods and our natural heritage as residents and stewards.
If passing interstate lines is a checkpoint of sorts, then it is up to us to navigate that in a way that leaves wealth in the hands of our producers, and options available in our marketing.
When you order this week, even if you are in Maine, note which products are listed Maine only or available for all states. If they have no notation they are available in all states as the product category is not regulated. It is one step in a more nuanced understanding of what food producers face. For example, there is no USDA inspected poultry slaughterhouse in the entire state of Maine. No bird raised here can ever leave Maine – lucky for those of you enjoying Tide Mill’s chicken sale, but it begs the question of whether Maine producers would benefit from improved options to sell outside the state of Maine. It also amplifies the importance of your orders to our local producers – they are counting on local sales to both stock and clean out the freezer. I for one, am happy to help.