Local food under siege nationwide, group says
As farmers prepare for the growing season, a group called Local Food Freedom –Nevada County is asking for community input on ways to preserve the family farmstead and keep state and federal regulators from meddling in the local food supply.
On Feb. 23, a strong showing of about 50 invited “opinion leaders” filled an upstairs room at the Stonehouse in Nevada City to nibble on farm fresh hors d’ oeuvres, sip local wine and home-brewed ginger ale, and discuss “freedoms and fundamental rights” that go beyond community food sharing.
A larger community meeting with more information and “deeper solutions” is scheduled for March 23.
“We really want to take the temperature of the community as we step forward,” said Gregg Lien, an attorney and member of Local Food Freedom.
Local Food Freedom members believe government regulation should not jeopardize the right of an individual to buy food directly from a farmer or neighbor.
Last summer, a group of about a dozen “ideologically diverse” business people, farmers and health practitioners organized Local Food Freedom – Nevada County in response to SWAT team-style raids targeting small farms and at raw food clubs throughout the U.S.
“Any government is out of hand that tells us what we can put in our mouths,” said Dale Jacobson, a chiropractor and whole foods advocate.
The group has launched a website, seen the film “Farmaggeddon” numerous times, drawn up a resolution and is considering proposing city and county ordinances along with a ballot initiative.
Support for the group is growing as mistrust deepens of government agencies with revolving backdoor ties to the powerful lobbying interests of “big Ag” corporations.
Bringing mainstream awareness to a topic that suggests government tyranny and corporate greed is a challenge that will take time, members say.
“A lot of it seems like it’s really far-fetched and hard to believe,” said Nevada City council woman Reinette Senum who spoke at the Stonehouse event.
So far, local food sovereignty has yet to win the support of county supervisors, but Senum supports the idea, saying it all boils down to the right to choose.
“If you don’t have your health, you have nothing,” she said.
Raw milk targeted
At the forefront of food regulation crackdowns is raw milk with traditional farmers such as those from the Amish community, a frequent target.
“The community dairy used to be a staple in this country. It’s time to bring that back,” said Peter Kennedy, president of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, an organization that works to provide legal aid to farmers.
With the popularity of local food in recent years, growing demand for raw unpasteurized milk fresh from the farm has led to herd-share programs – small dairies with as few as two cows or several goats that offer paid ownership of a portion of the animals in exchange for fresh milk.
But state and federal regulators from the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture warn that consuming raw milk is dangerous and can cause serious illness and even death.
On Feb. 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a release stating that “outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.”
Leaders of the Weston A. Price Foundation quickly issued a rebuttal, saying the CDC “manipulated and cherry picked data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk.”
In California, the CDFA has issued Cease and Desist orders to a number of farmers with herd-share programs, including in San Mateo and nearby El Dorado County.
“It is here. They’re looking. It’s active,” said Pattie Chelseth of My Sister’s Farm in Shingle Springs, whose two cow herd-share program was shut down by state enforcement.
She fears other foods like eggs could be next and she continues to receive calls from people who she believes are undercover investigators. Chelseth is working with her county supervisors to put an ordinance in place that will give her community more protection from outside government enforcement.
While no government crackdowns have occurred in Nevada County, it’s just a matter of time, advocates say. A number of small farmers have gone underground in order to sell products like raw cow and goat milk.
One such local farmer who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation is starting a goat herd-share program this year complete with contracts from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
“We feel it’s one step closer to being legal,” she said.
Program participants purchase a share of the goat and pay a monthly fee for boarding, feeding and care of the animal in exchange for milk.
“We would not officially be owners of the animal. They would own the animal as a group,” she said.
Hardly the “fringe” type, she and her husband consider themselves to be law-abiding citizens. They vaccinate their children and send them to public school.
“I feel like if there was a way for us to sell milk legally, we would do that. But the regulations are prohibitive” and not “scalable” to small dairy people, she said.
Laws requiring costly testing and the construction of commercial milking facilities would put small milking operations like hers out of business, she said.
Though she feels good about providing a health option for people unable to digest pasteurized cow milk and sales boost her family’s farming viability, the couple steps into the business with some trepidation knowing full well of the risks at stake.
“It is scary. It’s very scary. We’re still doing it but it’s with hesitation and fear,” she said.
A giant task
As the FDA gears up to implement the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in 70 years, and time-honored customs such as potluck dinners and alternative medicines like Elderberry juice come under fire, food sovereignty movements like Local Food Freedom feel they are rising up to face a giant.
“It takes tremendous risk to start fighting for what we believe in,” said Shea Smith, executive director for the local herbal apothecary, Health Alternatives for All Locals (HAALo).
Throughout the U.S. and Canada, local foodies who want direct farmer relationships are organizing protests, marches and rallies. Black markets are emerging and in Maine, five towns have passed food sovereignty ordinances. Owners of small dairies and food clubs are going to jail.
“I think the industrial food system sees the local food movement as a threat. They’d like to see the local food movement go away,” Kennedy said.
During the Feb. 23 meeting, guests were shown clips of the film “Farmageddon.” Sometimes difficult to watch, the documentary features emotional interviews with farmers who had property seized and destroyed, including valuable livestock.
Audience members squirmed in their seats as they watched footage of armed agents raiding homes with children, small country ranches and Southern California raw food clubs in search of unlicensed raw milk and other food products.
“Our rights really are just being creamed… There’s a disturbing trend here. We better not put our heads in the sand,” said Lien.
To learn more about Local Food Freedom visit: http://localfoodfreedom-nevadacounty.org/blog/
Laura Brown is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-4877.