Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Moms in Minnesota are preparing to defy state dictates over when and how they can access food supplies for their families, with a rally scheduled Monday to coincide with the beginning of the trial of the manager of a farm buying club, according to the Farm Food Freedom Coalition.
WND previously has reported on disputes between farmers and consumers on one side and federal regulators on the other. They have involved the purchase by consumers of raw milk, the rights of consumers to access milk from their own cows, a radio program that offered natural products and a blogger who wrote about his battle with diabetes and was threatened with jail.
The newest development comes from the Farm Food Freedom Coalition, which is assembling a protest at the Minneapolis trial of Alvin Schlangen, a farm buying club manager.
The group said that mothers in the state who act as hosts for “drop sites” for farm buying club members now have been threatened with criminal charges.
The May 14 protest will be at 7 a.m. outside the Minneapolis courthouse where Schlangen’s trial is scheduled, officials said.
“At the rally supporters will sign a ‘Declaration of Food Independence’ and demonstrate non-compliance against what they deem ‘unjust’ regulations,” the organization announced.
“Over the past two years the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has illegally raided Alvin’s van, warehouse, and farm. The state has now brought four charges against Alvin related to food distribution; all are misdemeanors counts. If convicted, Alvin faces up to a year in jail and hefty fines … just for helping to connect consumers to the producers and foods of their choice.”
Organizers confirm that “several Minnesota mothers who organize community access to local fresh farm foods plan to risk criminal charges by openly and publicly defying warnings from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.”
“The MDA has threatened several mothers, conducted investigations against them and sent them warning letters that if they continue helping provide fresh food to their friends and neighbors, they will be subject to criminal charges and prosecution. The MDA alleges the mothers are violating food-handling regulations.”
Hundreds are expected to join the rally, organizers estimate.
“It is absolutely outrageous that during this time of economic crisis our state government is investigating and sending warning letters to mothers and putting farmers on trial who are helping provide communities with fresh foods. It is my right to contract privately with a farmer for the food of my choice just as it is the right of every American,” said Melinda Olson, a mother and recipient of one of the MDA’s warnings.
“The MDA’s harassment against mothers will not work. We plan to ignore this warning and continue operating as we are. MDA should not waste taxpayer money investigating, prosecuting and jailing peaceful farmers and mothers for helping their communities secure fresh foods. Our time to stand up against this tyranny is now!” she said.
Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, who tracks such issues nationally, said, “Nowhere in the country at this time is state action against food freedom and consumer choice more oppressive than in the state of Minnesota.”
Plans posted online for the event explain that the court has allowed three days for Schlangen’s misdemeanor trial.
The Farm-to-Consumer Fund also confirmed that once the Minneapolis trial for Schlangen is over, he’ll face six more charges of food rule violations in Stearns County.
“While this is going on, there is a pending administrative hearing in which MDA is seeking an order to suspend any further food sales by Schlangen,” the fund reported.
“In addition to selling poultry and eggs produced on his farm, Schlangen manages the Freedom Farms Coop (a private food club formed in July 2010, serving more than 50 families) and delivers raw dairy products and other nutrient dense foods to club members, most of whom live in the Twin Cities.”
The organization documented Schlangen’s perspective, who said: “It must be legal to privately support farms that grow quality food and provide for the health of our growing children and seniors. This should be a model for today’s agriculture. Connecting kids with natural food production is vital to their future.”
He explains he believes private arrangements to purchase such food are not under the jurisdiction of the state.
It was nearly two years ago when the MDA raided warehouse space Schlangen leased. In the warrantless search, state officials seized food at the facility.
Then in 2011 deputies accompanied state agency officials when they impounded his truck and goods while he was delivering farm eggs to students at Macalester College in in St. Paul.
He has argued he doesn’t need a state “food handler’s permit” because he delivers only to members of the buying club through private contract, not the public.
The organization also reports the state agency “has tried” to put farmer Mike Hartmann out of business in recent years, bringing charges against him, his wife Diana and others.
WND reported several months ago when protesters distributed an estimated 100 gallons of raw milk in front of the offices of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration near Washington during a rally that prompted the federal agency to issue a statement defending its crackdown on the product.
The event was organized by the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. A spokesman for the rally, Max Kane, told WND that a caravan of vehicles collected the supplies of raw milk, then traveled to Silver Springs, Md., to the FDA offices for the protest.
The distribution there was in violation of a federal law that prevents people from moving raw milk across state lines for delivery to others. The rally participants were met by officers from the Department of Homeland Security and others.
But Kane said there were no conflicts, no arrests and no violence.
The FDA said there have been there have been reports of illnesses from raw milk, but a report from the Weston A. Price Foundation revealed that from 1980 to 2005 there were 10 times more illnesses from pasteurized milk than from raw milk.
Today, 30 states allow the sale of raw milk and 20 forbid it, but the federal government forbids it in interstate business.
In California, three people are facing trial following an investigation of the Rawesome buying club. In that case, one of the defense lawyers was stunned by the militancy of the prosecutor, declaring, “She doesn’t want raw milk. … She wants blood.”
The federal government has a long history of cracking down on those who produce raw milk and make it available to consumers – even when the consumers are the ones who own the cows and milk.
“As more consumers seek greater access to local farm fresh milk to feed their families, our federal government is working overtime to curtail freedom to feed your family the way you deem necessary. Since most seek raw dairy for health reasons, this is a serious concern,” she said.
It was a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Patrick J. Fiedler in Wisconsin that said the families who reported they were boarding their cows for a fee and then getting the milk instead were running a “dairy farm.”
“It’s always a surprise when a judge says you don’t have the fundamental right to consume the foods of your choice,” said Kennedy.
Fiedler’s decision said, “Plaintiffs argue that they have a fundamental right to possess, use and enjoy their property and therefore have a fundamental right to own a cow, or a heard (sic) of cows, and to use their cow(s) in a manner that does not cause harm to third parties. They argue that they have a fundamental right to privacy to consume the food of their choice for themselves and their families and therefore have a fundamental right to consume unpasteurized milk from their cows,” the judge wrote.
Bunk, he concluded.
“They do not simply own a cow that they board at a farm. Instead, plaintiffs operate a dairy farm. If plaintiffs want to continue to operate their dairy farm then they must do so in a way that complies with the laws of Wisconsin.”
He continued, “The court denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, which means the following:
“(1) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a diary (sic) herd;
“(2) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
“(3) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;
“(4) no, the Zinniker plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the state’s police power;
“(5) no, plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice; and
“(6) no, the DATCP did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker plaintiffs’ conduct.”