Farmer Dan Brown, who became a rallying point for Maine’s small-scale farming community when he fought the state for the ability to sell raw milk locally, lost the fight Tuesday in a unanimous ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Brown, from the coastal town of Blue Hill in Hancock County, challenged a $1,000 fine by the state in 2011 for selling raw milk produced from a single, family-owned cow without a commercial milk-distribution license. He took his fight from the Maine Department of Agriculture to the state’s highest court.

The case culminated in a rally last month on the steps of the Cumberland County Courthouse, where Brown’s supporters cheered for him, held signs with slogans and quaffed raw milk from bottles shortly before the panel of judges heard arguments on his appeal.

Although Brown’s appeal specifically sought to overturn the $1,000 fine, the case has drawn much broader interest from Maine farmers and farm-stand consumers, who saw it as a test of local control versus state rule.

Brown contended he should never have been required to obtain a milk distribution license and that a small operation like his Gravelwood Farm, which he ran with his wife, didn’t generate enough money to be able to pay all the regulatory costs associated with obtaining a license and staying in business.

Brown’s attorney, Gary Cox with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said Blue Hill is one of 11 towns in Maine where voters have passed local ordinances allowing small farmers like Brown to bypass state and federal regulations on foods sold directly to consumers.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office argued that state and federal laws trump local ordinances, making them invalid. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed in its 6-0 decision upholding a 2013 ruling by a Hancock County Superior Court judge.

“The (Blue Hill) ordinance would be constitutionally invalid and pre-empted only to the extent that it purports to exempt from state and federal requirements the distribution of milk and operation of food establishments,” the high court said in its 22-page decision, written by Justice Donald Alexander.

The state had contended in the case that it rightfully sanctioned Brown for not only selling milk without a license but selling raw milk, which is untreated by a heating process known as pasteurization, creating a public health risk.

Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett argued in the appeal that Brown violated state law by selling dairy products made in his own home kitchen with unpasteurized milk from his farm, including butter, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, yogurt and ice cream, without labeling them “not pasteurized.”

The state contends that milk products that have not been properly prepared or contained can cause serious illnesses from bacteria, parasites and viruses.

Brown countered that the state allowed farmers like him to produce small-scale farm products, such as the ones he produced for more than 30 years without a license, as long as they didn’t advertise or sell directly from the farm. Brown said he checked with the Maine state veterinarian and was told he didn’t need a license before purchasing his farm stand to sell at farmers markets in Blue Hill and elsewhere.

Cox, Brown’s attorney, argued that Brown was told that to be issued a distributor’s license, he would need to spend more than $20,000 to improve his farm stand to meet state requirements, effectively pricing him and small farmers like him out of business.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected each of Brown’s claims and ruled that his use of an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sign at his farm stand saying, “This milk is not pasteurized,” wasn’t enough to comply with state law.

“The small sign does little to inform customers at the farm stand who might notice it, and does nothing to inform individuals who may consume milk from the container once it has left the farm stand,” Alexander wrote in the decision.

Randlett said he was pleased with the court’s ruling but that the case could have been resolved earlier if Brown or his attorney had cooperated with the state.

“I didn’t think it needed to go this far,” Randlett said. “We made several good faith attempts to work with Mr. Brown and his attorney.”

Cox did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @scottddolan