Imagine you live on an urban lot just over an acre and you’ve been reading up on how to grow your own food; you’ve studied the copious numbers of urban homesteading books in your local library and joined too many online forums to remember all your login IDs. You’ve dabbled with a garden, and even raised some chickens, but want to become a little more self-sufficient. Maybe you get some bees and raise a beef cow every year for the freezer; or maybe it’s some goats or a dairy cow to make soaps and cheeses. Of course you need a small shed to house your rototiller and other garden implements, and if you live in a colder climate you are going to want a shed or small barn to house your animals in the winter months; naturally, you tuck those structures to the corners of the property, out of the way and unnoticeable. By no means are you an expert homesteader, but you are learning, so when your town votes in favor of food sovereignty, you are curious at first, but when you learn that it allows farmers to sell farm products from their homes or farms without state intervention (think inspections, raw milk, etc.) you’re pretty excited.
Being allowed to sell some of your products, you decided to go in even deeper with your dairy production and start delving into meat rabbits. It is tough to turn a profit, but you are learning, and you’ve started to trade goods with the other urban homesteading ilk in town. Because you are on a smaller lot, you don’t have room to grow your own hay or other treats for your livestock, so you have built a relationship with a local farmer that get’s you a 25% discount on your hay, but you have to help on the farm two Saturday’s a month. It is work you would rather be doing on your homestead, but you have gleaned a lot of first hand knowledge and you get a monetary discount.
Now, imagine that you wake up one morning and find that 65 people in your town of 4,700 voted by raising their hands to outlaw essentially all farm animals except for hens and rabbits, and even then, you can have no more than twelve which makes keeping animals for meat a near impossibility. Your cozy barn that housed your chickens on one side and rototiller on the other that you put in the back corner has to be moved; outbuildings housing livestock or poultry within 15 feet of property lines, and 100 feet of a neighbors dwelling are now illegal. Now imagine that anyone previously homesteading on an urban lot 1.5 acres or smaller is not grandfathered into the new restrictions. All of the sudden, you have to sell your animals, the equipment you used to make cheese and yogurt has to be sold at a significantly lower price than when you first acquired it. You have lost money on equipment, you have lost income on goods you can no longer sell, and you have had to part ways with animals that you love and care for like a family pet. The farmer you were helping loses direct income and valuable labor. The local hardware store where you buy your fencing and other supplies no longer sees your business.
Now know that on June 11, 2018 this is actually what happened in the Town of Madison, Maine when the town held is annual meeting to do whatever it is that gets done at town meetings; however, at this fateful town meeting, where around 1% of the town population showed up, a vote was taken to outlaw backyard farming and a majority voted in favor by show of hands. The vote was not well publicized. There were no billboards or lawn signs sprinkled throughout the former mill town. In fact, it was not a hot topic for debate among angry neighbors caught up in farm fury. Many residents did not even know it was an issue. Resident Ann Harsh found out about the vote two days after it happened when a friend informed her of the new rules in town. Even according to the town manager, Tim Curtis the vote did not seem thought our or well planned; in fact, it is almost as if they voted on a whim. When asked how many individuals this new ruling would effect, he answered: “We don’t have a number. We never really went that level of detail in looking at it.”
It would seem that this new ruling counteracts the earlier decision by the town to declare itself food sovereign: to allow farmers to sell goods without government meddling. Curtis, does not see it like that. In fact, he said, “We never intended to do anything anti-farming” and “It was never the Select Boards intent to hurt small farms.” It is hard to make rational sense of that statement considering that the Select Board just passed a law banning farming on lots smaller than 1.5 acres. It would seem that the Select Board passed a rule that directly limits small farms.
At the heart of it, we have two issues, the first, private property rights. These individuals own their land, and now a publicly funded government is telling them what they can and cannot do with it. If this were a private housing authority in which all members signed a contract before moving in, one could understand how an ordinance like this might be acceptable, but in a publicly run town that is in essence owned by the tax-paying public, this is absolutely absurd, but unfortunately, not unheard of.
The second issue lies around the idea of voting. Many hardcore liberty minded folks will tell you that voting is force, and while a lot of people may scoff, this is perfect illustration of that force. A majority of 1% of the population voted in favor of something, and now a rule is being forced upon 4,700 town residents. Tell me how that is not force? On the other hand, living in the Statist Utopia that we do, this shows why voting to protect the individuals right of property and association is of great importance. The State will not dry up and go away because people don’t vote, rather they will continue to pass rulings just like this and the will of 1% will be used to dictate the lives of the other 99%.
Thanks to Lloyd Cowan for allowing me to use the picture of his animals and to Ann Harsh for giving me time out of her day to talk about the present situation in Madison.