COMMENTARY

Group will provide documents, advice to expand rights of small farmers to sell whole food to willing buyers
New legal-defense fund sets its sites on freeing buyers and sellers of farm-fresh food from government “protection.”

By David G. Cox

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Posted June 15, 2007: A new organization is being formed to help small farmers and growers throughout the country make their products directly available to the private consumer.

Called the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), the organization will be launched July 4 by activating a website (www.ftcldf.org) and through advertising. Its purpose is to “protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms to provide through any legal means unprocessed and processed farm foods directly to consumers; to protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed farm foods directly from family farms; and to protect the nation’s family farms from harassment by federal, state and local government interference with food production and/or on-farm food processing.”

There is a growing need for this type of organization, demonstrated by what farmers are experiencing around the country as they try to sell their products.

For example, during the 2006 “raw milk wars” in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) was attempting to interfere with herd-share operations whereby owners of cows were exercising their right to drink raw milk from the cow they owned. Because the transaction was purely private in nature and did not involve the “public’s health,” there was no justification for the ODA to interfere with the transaction. However, that did not stop ODA from pursuing an aggressive and at times abusive program of trying to put herd-share operations out of business. This included the case of Carol Schmitmeyer, who temporarily lost her producer’s license until it was reinstated by a local common pleas court judge on appeal.

In addition, farmers in Virginia have attempted to engage in “artisinal processing” whereby they process a small number of bovines, poultry or lamb on their property, yet they are now being treated unfairly by the federal government.

For example, after obtaining a license to install, construct and operate a meat-processing facility, farmer Bev Eggleston of Eco-Friendly Foods was informed by the USDA that the department would no longer be inspecting Eggleston’s facility because it was not processing enough animals. Without such inspections, the facility can no longer can be certified. Thus, Eggleston is not only out of business, he is in debt to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. Other local farmers, including well-known pasture-based pioneer Joel Salatin of Polyface, Inc., cannot use the facility to supply a growing demand for locally and sustainably produced meat.

Other examples of governmental regulation acting as a roadblock or impediment to the small farm’s ability to make a decent living appear throughout the United States:

  • The apple cider producer who is told he must pasteurize his product in order to sell it at a farmer’s market.
  • The cheese maker who is informed that website sales of unpasteurized cheese are illegal.
  • The baker who is told that her kitchen must have a license before lacto-fermented products can be sold from the facility.
  • The Indiana dairy farmer who had his product seized by the FDA while it was on its way to herd-share owners located in Michigan.

All of these instances, and more, are fraught with injustice and reflect government’s attitude that industrialized food is safer and better for the public. FTCLDF intends to challenge these unfair and discriminatory laws and to correct this injustice.

FTCLDF was formed as an Ohio nonprofit corporation on November 9, 2006, and is currently seeking tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Currently, FTCLDF consists of eleven board members from several states, including Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation; Tim Wightman, a dairy farmer from Ohio; Kaayla Daniel, PhD., author of the book The Whole Soy Story; Judith McGeary, an anti-NAIS advocate from Texas; Pete Kennedy, an attorney from Florida; plus other individuals committed to defending the right of consumers and farmers to directly contract with one another for wholesome, fresh and healthy food free from governmental interference.

FTCLDF will create business models that small farms and consumers can adopt to ensure that they operate in accordance with the law to keep them free from governmental interference. For example, the fund will make available (to members only) draft articles of incorporation, partnership agreements, herd-share agreements, bills of sale and buyer’s-club agreements.

The fund will provide toll-free telephone access to a staff of attorneys who will provide advice and counsel on related legal issues. Furthermore, it will maintain a database on the laws, regulations, court decisions and opinions that deal with freedom of contract and the right to market directly to consumers. Finally, the Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization with the right to engage in political activities such as lobbying and campaigning during elections.

FTCLDF founders hope to change a food system where, under the guise of protecting the public health, state and federal laws actually hinder the ability of the small farmer to provide healthy food directly to the consumer. The fund’s leaders will work to prevent industrial agriculture from eliminating the small farmer. They will seek to restore non-toxic, grass-based farms—producing life-giving foods—to the prominence they once held in American society.

Persons interested in joining the FTCLDF can view the fully functional website after July 4 at www.ftcldf.org and become a member online. Once it becomes operational, the fund’s phone number will be (703) 208-FARM [3276]. Fund headquarters will be in Falls Church, Virginia.