Liberty, Current Events

“By Small, Accomplishing Great Things”

I’m not sure why it took so long for the mystic oracle that is my Facebook news feed to inform me about Sedgwick, Maine (a town where you can pop by the town clerk’s house between 7 and 8:30 any Wednesday to get a license for your dog or take out a hunting/fishing permit), but it did.

Back in March of 2011, Sedgwick passed a food sovereignty law that asserted the rights of the citizens of Sedgwick to produce, sell, and consume locally produced food (including raw milk, cheese made from raw milk, and locally slaughtered meat) without the interference of the state of Maine or the US Government. The law read, in part:

 We … have the right to produce, process, sell, purchase and consume local foods thus promoting self-reliance, the preservation of family farms, and local food traditions. We recognize that family farms, sustainable agricultural practices, and food processing by individuals, families and non-corporate entities offers stability to our rural way of life by enhancing the economic, environmental and social wealth of our community. As such, our right to a local food system requires us to assert our inherent right to self-government. We recognize the authority to protect that right as belonging to the Town.

And it went on to argue that the town of Sedgwick has, “faith in our citizens’ ability to educate themselves and make informed decisions. We hold that federal and state regulations impede local food production and constitute a usurpation of our citizens’ right to foods of their choice.” The town’s faith in its citizens is such that the law goes on to explicitly state that people who buy and sell locally produced, unlicensed food have the right to enter into private agreements with one another to waive liability.

In support of their right to pass this law, they cite the Declaration of Independence and the State Constitution of Maine. And to back it up, they add section 6.1, which declares “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance. It shall be unlawful for any corporation to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance.”

Other towns in Maine and other states have followed suit, and just as rapidly, the state governments have leapt in to protect us all from the dangers of cheese and other local products.

For some people what happened in Sedgwick will read only as an easily dismissed story about the annoying persistence of the locavore movement that was so handily demolished in Desrochers and Shimizu’s Locavore’s Dilemma. For me, though, it’s a story that’s well worth watching and that’s well worth talking about, because it combines some of the best artillery that Bleeding Heart Libertarians have. First, you have the State being oppressive and intrusive about something small and petty. We’re not talking terrorist threats here. We’re talking raw milk. Second, you have the most local, small group kind of response. Third, you have the citizenry boldly insisting on their right to truck, barter, and exchange in the face of government interference.

Sedgwick isn’t a big town. What happened in Sedgwick isn’t a big story. But some of our best stories, and some of our biggest triumphs for liberty happen in the smallest places, spurred by the smallest things, when small groups of people reach the end of their patience with the State.

  • Rick

    This is an interesting movement. These farmers should do well if they their activity stays strictly intra-state. However, if they start selling across state lines (inter-state), federal health safety laws will likely kick in.

    The other thing to keep an eye on is that through the use of certain federally-privileged currencies, business activity that seems to be purely intra-state, can actually affect inter-state commerce.

    The famous relevant Supreme Court case here is Wickard v. Filburn (1942), where farmer Filburn was a participant in a federal program and while doing so (unsuccessfully) argued that growing some wheat for himself and his own needs was purely intra-state activity:

    • martinbrock

      If people in Sedgwick care what the Supreme Court thinks, they’ve already surrendered.

      • Rick

        The funny thing is, if people actually looked at what the Supreme Court has said about certain things, rather than believing what someone else told them the Supreme Court said, they’d see that the Supreme Court is most often their libertarian friend, not an enemy.

        For example, the Wickard v. Filburn case I mentioned above is taught in law schools to stand for the idea that almost any intra-state activity will affect interstate and international commerce and therefore give the feds control, but a close reading of the case reveals that the Supreme Court only gives such federal control where the participant has voluntarily joined a federal program or is exercising a specific federal privilege.

        • martinbrock

          The Supreme Court can never be my libertarian friend, because it imposes decisions on hundreds of millions of people spread across a continent. That I like or dislike a particular decision, or every decision, is irrelevant. I am not hundreds of millions of people spread across a continent.

  • Devon Sanchez

    It is nice that the town guarantees the individual’s right to exercise freer movement in the food market, yet, sad, that it mandates “a license for your dog or take out a hunting/fishing permit” in these markets, and most likely other markets. Good move, but very discriminatory at the same time.

    • “Section 5.1. Licensure/Inspection Exemption. Producers or processors of local foods …are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption. This includes any producer or processor who sells his or her products at farmers’ markets or roadside stands; sells his or her products through farm-based sales directly to a patron; or delivers his or her products directly to patrons.
      Section 5.1.a. Licensure/Inspection Exemption. Producers or processors of local
      foods in the Town of (name of town) are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that their products are prepared for, consumed, or sold at a community social event.”

    • martinbrock

      A voluntary, intentional community may adopt any regulations it likes without violating any libertarian principle that I understand. If you don’t want dogs in your house, you don’t violate my rights by refusing to allow my dog in your house. If you and others want to form a community permitting only leashed dogs on streets, you don’t violate my rights by refusing to allow me to walk my dog on your streets without a leash. If you want don’t want deer hunted in your community, you don’t violate my rights by refusing me permission to hunt deer in your community.

      • Devon Sanchez

        Am I missing something here? I see mandatory townwide/citywide tagging and licensing of a pet and hunting permits as something much different than personal (private) property disclosure and enforcement.

        • martinbrock

          We don’t know the scale of voluntary, intentional communities in central North America, because we aren’t free to create them, but I’m sure that personal property is not the scale. Most people prefer communities with standards outside of their personal property. Most people don’t want to live in a nudist colony, but some people do.

          The size of a voluntary community is determined by the extent of a consensus. A consensus is more like unanimity than a simple majority, but a large number of people can agree on many standards. People who dislike the consensus enough find or form another community.

          Devolution toward smaller, independent states, like Greek city states, is a path toward liberty, and it’s the only path that seems remotely possible to me. Central authorities, no matter how they’re selected, will never create a libertarian social order from the top down on a continental scale. We might as well wait for flying pigs to free us.

          • Devon Sanchez

            “Voting with our feet is the only democracy I take seriously.”
            Voting with your feet is a decision made in a voluntary exchange, not a communalized oligarchy. If you don’t like the food at a local restaurant establishment, you choose not to dine there again….Not shut it down due to health standards that the community holds as “basic”.

            “A consensus is more like unanimity than a simple majority”
            You are right, a consensus is not a simple majority. It is a general agreement upon all participants. But, many people don’t conclude unanimous decisions in a community. So, may I ask, what is your point?

            “Central authorities, no matter how they’re selected, will never create a libertarian social order from the top down on a continental scale.”
            Exactly the point of libertarianism or, more honestly, liberalism. Central authorities do not command honest behavior in a society, only forceful and misguided behavior.

            “We might as well wait for flying pigs to free us.”

            No, you might as well call a wolf in sheep’s clothing a sheep, with the kind of understanding you have of political theory.

          • martinbrock

            A community need not place an ordinance in a formal, community charter, but some communities will, and I have no fundamental problem with that.

            People can’t be allowed any pleasure on their personal property if they don’t know the boundaries of their personal property, so I expect most communities to record titles to property too, but if some community wants all land in the community open to all comers at will, that’s not my problem, because I wouldn’t join such a community.

            Voting with one’s feet is an exchange in the sense that the voter exchanges the standards of one community for another.

            Who said anything about a communalized oligarchy? What does “communalized oligarchy” even mean?

            A community may prohibit restaurants selling human flesh or food laced with arsenic, but if another community permits restaurants to serve human flesh, that’s none of my business.

            Community members decide community standards by whatever rules the community follows. Community members accept these rules or leave the community. My point is that I have no problem with a voluntary community adopting any rules it likes.

            Libertarianism in my way of thinking does not oppose rules. It opposes the imposition of particular rules on people preferring other rules.

            What are the elevated rules of my community? A privately contracted community is what I’m discussing here. Contracts can be multilateral.

            Members of a voluntary community accept the terms of membership, and these terms involve following particular rules, including respect for particular property rights, and may also involve a process for making additional rules.

            You may call my understanding of rights within a society anything you like, but you don’t seem to understand my understanding.

  • martinbrock

    Maybe Sedgwick is the biggest story we should want. Can libertarians “win” a continent withing our imposing our political preferences? Mustn’t those of us who want liberty take what we want in small groups, because we don’t all want the same liberties?

  • Sean II

    This is one of those stories that awkwardly divides me against myself.

    On the one hand, you have small-scale, personal, locally organized action against the coercive power of Leviathan. What’s not to like?

    Because the action is small and local, there is no need for unseemly logrolling or hiring out to morally compromised professional politicos. Here, for once, I’m not being asked to overlook any embarrassing newsletters or sketchtastic cronies, and I’ll never know the people of Sedgwick well enough to find out that last year they ruined some poor guy’s home improvement plans with a cynically conceived historical preservation ordinance or [insert small town council mischief of your choice here]. Nope, I don’t need to reckon with any of that. This time, I can just enjoy the ride.

    On the other hand, once you wander down into the particulars of the case, these folks are just so damn wrong…about everything…except their methods and their choice of enemies.

    If there’s one thing I hate more than the economic ignorance of which locavorianism is a specimen, it is trends that give people an easy way to say “I guess you might say I’m something of a(n)_______”, where the fill-in word is clearly meant to be a coded synonym for “good person”. Currently popular examples include: “locavore”.

    Next, add in the fact that raw dairy has to be one of the least important libertarian issues of…forever. True, there is an element of anti-coercion in the fight, which we are all obliged to note, but it exists alongside a frankly stupid and dangerous bit of anti-science. There are no cost-free benefits in life, but damn, if anything comes close, it’s probably fluoridated water or pasteurization. We all know better than to run around crusading against the first one, lest we remind people of General Ripper. If we’re going pick a fight with the second, there better be a good sized payoff waiting on the other side…and there clearly is not.

    I mean, we’re having enough trouble trying to get people to put up with marijuana. Why must we go out and mess with something that’s actually dangerous, like raw milk.


      Hey, Sean, don’t you go and unilaterally surrender my God-given right to be stupid. I rely on this privilege nearly every day, and I can’t live without it. Moreover, even worse, I and my intellectual betters may never be able to agree on what is “stupid,” so they may start to mess with other non-stupid things–whatever those may be. I make this appeal on behalf of all of us single and double digit IQ holders everywhere. We have rights too!

      • Sean II

        You’ll have to excuse me. I was busy just now, vomiting up a gut-full of pre-formed staphylococcal enterotoxins I ingested thanks to some exquisitely ripened raw Manchego (wine recommendation: rosado). It was totally worth it.

        The chills are coming on pretty strong now, so I’ll have to say this next part quickly:

        If any libertarian lets himself imagine that our new friends in the fight for food freedom are anything other than statist hipster luddites bedding down with us in a marriage of convenience, which they fully intend to betray at the first sign of an attractive and eligible wind-farm subsidy…well, then…tell him I’ve got a deal on a grass-fed ewe from La Mancha, with which I am prepared to part quickly and if need be at a substantial loss.


          Well, you’ll have to excuse me, ’cause your fancy words and strange expressions go right over my humble head. So I’ll just say don’t mess with the rights of the stupid, cause there are a lot of us and we have important friends in very high places–if you catch my drift.

          • Sean II


            No doubt, there is a close relationship between the amount of freedom and the amount of stupid. I think it was the noted Austrian economist Penn Jillette who said that first.

            And anyway, if you can forgive me this one lapse, my own exercise of the right of stupid is abundantly demonstrated by my comment history here.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Maybe we can form a club?

        • Rick

          Okay, you got a chuckle out of me, but that’s really not fair. These people from Maine are strictly selling to locals at farm stands, community events, through private agreement, etc. They’re not importing foods from, or exporting to, foreign countries, or even to other states. And the farms are highly unlikely to stay in business long if they’re selling unsafe food to each other.

          But fear of food poisoning is definitely a hot button issue, and is exploited to the max by big food corporations who can afford to pay various food inspection programs, and also by control-freak banks and government agencies.

          Also, I think we should support “bottom to top” movements like this, instead of always looking for rules and regulations to come down from Washington or New York.

          As a point of interest, here are the 8th and 9th planks of the Communist Manifesto:

          8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

          9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.

          • Sean II

            Oh, no doubt we should support bottom-to-top initiatives. That’s exactly what I meant when I said the Sedgwickians were wrong about nearly everything except their methods. No doubt also, there is plenty to dislike in the subsidized and insulated beast that is modern American Agribusiness, with its rented army of bureaucrats operating at every level – federal, state, and local. That’s exactly what I meant when I said the Sedgwickilarians were wrong about nearly everything except their choice of enemies.

    • martinbrock

      If a “locavore” only prefers locally produced food, without imposing the preference on others by restricting their trade, I see nothing economically ignorant about the preference. I also see nothing wrong about it. It’s their preference. If what they eat has a negligible effect on me, eating what they prefer is right by definition in my way of thinking.

      As a skydiver, I laugh at your petty squabble with raw milk drinkers, but I have to ask. By what standard is raw milk more dangerous than marijuana? How are you measuring “dangerous” here?

    • Devon Sanchez

      “Why must we go out and mess with something that’s actually dangerous, like raw milk.”

      Why must you categorize raw milk as something “dangerous” for the rest of society?

      • Rick

        Actually, pasteurized milk is “dangerous” to many people because pasteurization destroys enzymes in milk that are often needed for proper digestion of lactose in dairy products. Therefore, regular “supermarket milk” is likely a causal factor of the epidemic of dairy-related digestive disorders in the U.S., some of which are quite serious.

        • Sean II

          I’m sorry, but no…there’s no evidence of that (assuming you are trying to forge a link between pasteurization and lactose intolerance).

          Raw milk is defensible on grounds of freedom, or on grounds of taste, but not on health grounds – certainly not among populations, and very possibly not even in any individual case.

          Dairy products are a nearly perfect media for growing things that like to grow – and that definitely includes pathogens of disease. Why, the stuff is just like milk to those little fuckers. They drink it up and grow strong.

          Unlike your curative enzymes, the pathogens are known and studied and proven to exist. True, they’re not terribly likely to kill you or me, but give them a good crack at a few thousand kids and old people drinking a glass of raw milk every day, and some of them will indeed get sick and shit themselves to death as a result.

          Not the image I like to put front and center when I talk about the true meaning of libertarianism.

          • martinbrock

            The true meaning of libertarianism is the limitless variety of personal preference.

      • Sean II

        Here’s my official response: “Sorry for the misunderstanding. Let me be a bit clearer about what I believe. I claim no authority to make decisions for anyone else, and I’m certainly no fan of what you call ‘top-down centralized governance’. My aim is not to coerce anyone into or out of any behavior, but merely to point out that the scientific evidence in favor of pasteurization is overwhelming, making opposition to it a poorly chosen proving ground for libertarian ideas…even if those ideas do in fact apply, to the extent that people should be allowed to make their own health decisions, either with the current of science or against it.”

        Now here’s my anger translation: “What the mother @#$%, dude? It’s not like I didn’t make that %$#@ perfectly @#$%&^! clear in my original comment. Thanks, though, because if there’s one god#!$% thing I needed right at this moment, it’s a lesson in intro-@#$%&^!-ductory libertarian concepts at the hands of some guy who apparently didn’t bother to read what the @#$% I actually wrote!”

        • Devon Sanchez