On Tuesday, James Stewart, the jailed founder and principal of Rawesome Food Co., was offered a deal by the Ventura County prosecutor: Plead guilty to 14 of 37 counts of fraud and securities violations, and you'll receive a six-month jail sentence. The two months you've spent in jail will be credited to the jail sentence, so in the end, you'll "only" have to spend four more months in jail. Then, you'll be a free man.
The 250 or so people attending my presentation Saturday on "America's Underground Food War" at the Mother Earth News Fair
A jury of six ordinary Americans did something no judge, federal or state, has been willing to do anywhere in the country, whether in New York, California, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maryland, or Wisconsin--it ruled in favor of a farmer-food club operator providing raw milk and other nutrient-dense foods privately to its members.
And the jurors made their decision to find Alvin Schlangen not guilty of three misdemeanor counts having to do with distributing raw milk and other foods in probably the most food-repressive state in the country: Minnesota.
Former Rawesome Food Club manager James Stewart received bad news today when a Ventura County judge rejected his request that charges against him in connection with the acquisition of Sharon Palmer's farm in 2008 be dropped.
Even though the evidence against Stewart appears flimsy at best--a flyer posted at Rawesome about the farm acquisition that included his name, and testimony that one lender dropped off a check related to the transaction at Rawesome in Venice Beach--the judge ruled that the evidence is substantive enough that criteria covering a California 995 motion to dismiss charges hadn't been met.
Alvin Schlangen began his first day in court by rejecting a settlement offer from the prosecutor and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that would have had him pleading guilty to one misdemeanor, paying $200 court costs, and possibly going to jail. He has previously expressed his commitment to go through with a trial, and prove his innocence of state charges of illegally selling raw milk and other foods.
Much of Monday was spent selecting a jury, and near the end of the day, the state presented its first witnesses. (A more complete report will follow shortly.)
In the meantime, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture came into court fresh from a big grant from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration--part of its reward for going after farmers like Schlangen so aggressively.
Minnesota farmer Alvin Schlangen goes on trial beginning Monday in Minneapolis in what could be a test case for farmers who make raw milk and other food available privately to members.
The case is comprised of four misdemeanor counts alleging that Schlangen illegally sold raw milk and that he sold other foods without a retail license.
According to Schlangen's lawyer, Nathan Hansen, the trial should go three or four days, with the first half day for jury selection. "Distributing private food is not a crime," he says. Besides, "Minnesota statute allows people to sell raw milk. You can have someone pick it up for you," which is the role Schlangen plays.
Last May, Sen. Rand Paul proposed an amendment to a spending bill for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reduce the agency's police powers. He was especially concerned about "sending armed FDA agents into peaceful farmers’ land and telling them they can’t sell milk directly from the cow."
He added, "Some of you might be surprised the FDA is armed. Well, you shouldn’t be."
Almost like a mirage, the Rawesome Food Club case seems to be disappearing before our eyes.
For months, tedious negotiations have dragged on between the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and a group of dairy farmers over the protocol for herdshares in the state.
Some hundreds of tiny California dairies offer herdshare arrangements, enabling small groups of consumers to gain ownership of cows and goats in exchange for regular supplies of raw milk. Only two dairies, Organic Pastures Dairy Co. and Claravale Farm, are licensed by the state to sell raw milk via retail and other public markets.
The Center for Food Safety has filed suit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over its alleged failure to enforce the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
You may remember the FSMA--it's the contentious law enacted in early 2011 that gives the FDA broad new powers to enter farms and other food producers without warrants, to force food producers to have detailed food safety plans (or show they meet strict requirements for an exemption), and to inspect farms to assess their farming practices (enforce so-called "good agricultural practices"), even gives the FDA potential authority over intrastate food sales.