A state agent from the Ohio Department of Agriculture pressured a family whose members run a food cooperative for friends and neighbors to “sell” him a dozen eggs, sparking accusations of entrapment from a lawyer defending the family.
The case brought by state and local authorities against a co-op run by John and Jacqueline Stowers in LaGrange, Ohio, came to a head on Dec. 1 when police officers used SWAT-style tactics to burst into the home, hold family members including children at gunpoint and confiscate the family’s personal food supply.
Two organizations, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the Buckeye Institute’s legal arm, the Center for Constitutional Law, are working to defend the family.
Jacqueline and John Stowers
The confrontation began developing several years ago when local health officials demanded the family hold a retail food license in order to run their co-op. Thompson said the family wrote a letter questioning that requirement and asking for evidence that would suggest they were operating a food store and how their private co-op was similar to a WalMart.
The Stowers family members simply “take orders from (co-op) members … then divide up the food,” Thompson explained.
“The health inspector didn’t like the tone of the letter,” Thompson said, and the result was that law enforcement officials planned, staged and carried out the Dec. 1 SWAT-style raid on the family’s home.
Thompson said he discussed the developments of the case with the health inspector personally.
“He didn’t think the tone of that letter was appropriate,” Thompson said. ” I’ve seen the letter. There’s not anything there that’s belligerent.”
“Government officials have egos as well. The problem is when government officials have egos, they use the power of government against us,” he said.
Thompson explained the genesis of the raid was a series of visits to the family by an undercover agent for the state agriculture agency.
“He showed up (at the Stowers’ residence) unannounced one day,” Thompson explained, and “pretended” to be interested in purchasing food.
The family explained the co-op was private and they couldn’t provide service to the stranger.
The agent then returned another day, stayed for two hours, and explained how he thought his sick mother would be helped by eggs from range-fed chickens to which the Stowers had access.
The family responded that they didn’t sell food and couldn’t help. When he refused to leave, the family gave him a dozen eggs to hasten his departure, Thompson explained.
Despite protests from the family, the agent left some money on a counter and departed.
On the basis of that transaction, the Stowers were accused of engaging in the retail sale of food, Thompson said.
“You hear people scream entrapment,” he said. “But in this instance…”
He said the state agency came from “nowhere” and then worked to get the family involved “in something that might require a license.”
Even that remained in dispute, because of a long list of exceptions in the state law, some of which may apply in this case, he said.
The organizations have filed a complaint on behalf of the family naming the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Lorain County General Health District and the state’s attorney general as defendants. A spokeswoman at the Department of Agriculture told WND today she was unable to comment, and officials with the local health agency did not answer WND calls to three different office numbers.
A prosecutor assigned to the case previously declined to respond to WND’s request for a comment.
Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund said the case was government “overreaching” and was designed more to intimidate and “frighten people into believing that they cannot provide food for themselves.”
“This is an example where, once again, the government is trying to deny people their inalienable, fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice,” said Gary Cox, general counsel for the FTCLDF. “The purpose of our complaint is to correct that wrong.”
In a video posted both on YouTube and on the Buckeye Institute’s website, the couple explained how they just wanted to provide a resource for both farmers and consumers.
The video also is embedded here:
“We had a sheriff’s department group of about 11-12, I don’t know, 13 men come into our home. It was violent, it was belligerent, they didn’t identify themselves,” Jacqueline Stowers said.
She and 10 children were forcibly herded into a room and held there for at least six hours, she said.
“In the meantime we had people with guns inside and outside,” she said.
Thompson said officers confiscated the family’s personal computers, cell phones and food supplies, even though the Manna Storehouse food supplies were in another building.
Officials with the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit, said several of its members had been participating in the co-op, but now their food supplies are disrupted.
The raid on Manna was not the first such case of authorities invading a home over issues involving the operations of food co-ops and direct producer-to-consumer arrangements. WND reported several months ago when authorities in Pennsylvania demanded $4,000 in fines from a farmer who provided raw milk to friends and neighbors.
That case also was highlighted by a SWAT team-like raid on Mark Nolt’s farm, when government agents confiscated tens of thousands of dollars worth of his products as well as pieces of machinery he used for his milk handling and sales.
Online bloggers raged over the situation involving the Stowers.
“Agents began rifling through all of the family’s possessions, a task that lasted hours and resulted in a complete upheaval of every private area in the home. Many items were taken that were not listed on the search warrant. The family was not permitted a phone call, and they were not told what crime they were being charged with. They were not read their rights. Over ten thousand dollars worth of food was taken, including the family’s personal stock of food for the coming year,” said one.
The complaint notes Manna Storehouse deals with wheat, flour, sugar, grass-fed beef, lamb, turkey and eggs from free range chickens, mostly coming from local farmers. The raid was based on an affidavit from Ohio Department of Agriculture agent William Lesho that “makes numerous conclusory and unsubstantiated claims,” the complaint said.