Monday, December 21, 2009

Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse), locavore

According to an article in today's Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming's burgeoning local foods economy may be in for some trouble from the "food inspection bureaucracy:"

"I just feel like the bureaucracy, the food inspection bureaucracy, has gone completely overboard, and is infringing on our constitutional rights to produce things and sell things and consume things and buy things that they have absolutely no justification for doing," said state Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse.

Rep. Wallis, a legislator, rancher, cowboy poet and grandma from one of the most rural parts of Wyoming, wants to make sure that local growers and bakers and ranchers can market their products. She championed a bill last year that changed the way that food is sold across the state. Before the legislation, residents without food licenses could only sell homemade foods at religious or charitable events. Only foods deemed "not potentially hazardous" -- such as cookies, jams and baked bread -- were allowed. Earlier this year, the Legislature voted to loosen the restriction to allow sales of such foods at farmers' markets, roadside stands and private homes.

"I could bake two batches of cookies in the oven, take half of them to the church bazaar, and take the other half to the farmers' market, where I would be breaking the law," Wallis said.

She doesn't believe that fewer restrictions will affect the safety of consumers. Besides, she said, people can decide for themselves whether to buy homemade products.

"Any time you buy something from a farmers' market or a roadside stand, or a church bazaar, you know, as a consumer, that was made in somebody's kitchen," she said. "If you are concerned that it takes a government inspector's eyes before you feel safe, then don't buy it."

Yes, we all want our food to be safe. We don't want to be poisoned or doused with chemicals or felled by allergens. But in this age where people can get sick from eating corporate-grown spinach and corporate beef, it seems a bit ridiculous to bring the hammer down on bread coming out of our local baker's kitchen.

There is a principle of regulation and oversight that we really shouldn't lose," said Robert Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department. "We built a much better food system over the last 80 years, and we shouldn't allow minor concessions to a minor, minor segment of the food production industry to start weakening that system."

Harrington is clueless. This "minor, minor segment of the food production industry" is the one that's growing. People are growing their own and selling their own -- and they should be able to do it with the least amount of hassle from the authorities.

Man, I'm beginning to sound like a Libertarian.

But this is an important issue. Heavy-handed regulation could sink what's being called the "local foods movement." I've been writing about this for awhile now, prompted by my own return to backyard gardening and shopping at local farmer's markets. A few weeks ago I wrote about the winter market held at Cheyenne's Historic Depot. All food sold at the market was raised or made within 150 miles of Cheyenne. The handicrafts, too. Local, local, local. (Go to my Dec. 5 article at

The food inspection bureaucracy should be working with local foodies and not against us.

Let's make sure we support Rep. Wallis when she comes to the next legislative session in February, just after her annual trek to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Jan. 23-30.

Wallis plans to introduce a bill she offered last session that would allow cottage businesses to also sell "potentially hazardous" foods without a license, as long as the transaction doesn't involve a third party. Those foods include dairy products, canned foods and sauces.

The lawmaker doesn't think relaxing the rules would make the public less safe.

"If I know where my food is coming from, I trust it a lot more than I do the junk that comes out of the store," she said. "Because I know how it was produced, I know who the people are."

Contact Rep. Wallis at P.O. Box 71, Recluse, Wyoming 82725; 307-685-8248; 307-680-8515;

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