Heritage Hog Farmer Mark Baker Struggles to Hold on to His Livelihood, and His Patriotism; Michael Schmidt Update
Imagine leaving the military after a long career, enthusiastically launching a new business, and then, after much business trauma, concluding that the system you spent years defending with your life is corrupt.
That kind of summarizes Mark Baker’s experience over the last few years. He spent twenty years in the U.S. Air Force, left to launch a hog farm specializing in producing gourmet heritage breeds that were prized by high-end restaurants, and then suddenly found himself fighting one of the states he had committed to giving his life for.
The problems began in 2011, when the state of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources issued the Invasive Species Ordinance, signed by the state’s governor, banning essentially all heritage pigs. (More background from a post I did on the ISO and Baker last April.) Baker filed a suit challenging the state, as did a number of farmers and hunting clubs. The suit points to the inherent corruption of the ISO, when it argues the ISO “literally outlaws every pig in the State of Michigan. Then, in an obvious concession to special interest groups, the DNR exempts pigs used in undefined ‘domestic hog production.’ Although according to Legislative definitions [Baker] is engaged in precisely that activity, nenetheless he is informed by the DNR that his particular breeds of pig are prohibited while the breeds of pig used in large factory-style pork production facilities are lawful, even though they are all the same species.”
Now, the various regulators are closing the barn doors on Baker. He can't send his pigs to be slaughtered at a USDA-regulated slaughterhouse because he risks having the animals rejected under the ISO--once the pigs have been given over for slaughter, they can't be taken back. So if they are rejected, they would essentially be turned into trash, and both Baker and the slaughterhouse could incur substantial fees from the USDA in the process.
He’s finding vets reluctant to certify his hogs for state-owned facilities--apparently they don’t want to risk problems with the DNR.
Essentially, Baker says his farm has been embargoed. He can’t service his restaurant customers, and they have gone elsewhere for meat. He couldn’t afford to continue feeding his 40 or so pigs, so over the holidays he and some friends slaughtered the 15 biggest pigs, the sows, weighing about 400 pounds each, and gave the meat to two churches.
“I have given my food away to people who don’t have enough to eat,” he told me. “Where did I miss them? I didn’t know we had so many people who are hungry.”
In the meantime, he’s holding his remaining hogs, desperately trying to get by financially in hopes he will win his court case to get the ISO thrown out. “If I kill off the rest, I will have nothing.”
In addition to trying to stave off financial collapse, he tries to stave off bitterness. “I am dealing with a system where we have lawyers I pay very well. Then there are state lawyers I am also paying, and the judges who work for the state, whom I am paying as well.”
The upshot: “My state, Michigan, has become my mortal enemy. They are destroying my livelihood and trying to put my family and me on the streets.”
He says that other farmers have destroyed their heritage pigs under threat that the state would come in an do the job. He speculates that the reason the state hasn’t come in and destroyed his hogs is “because I’m a veteran.”
As a former military man, he understands in military terms what is happening--he has compared Michigan's isolation of his and other farms to the Soviet Union's blockade of Berlin in the years immediately after World War II. It was a blockade the U.S. helped break by flying in food to keep Berlin fed. Now, Michigan is playing the role of the Soviet Union, and Baker wonders whether enough people will care to keep his farm afloat for the next few months of winter.
He is asking those who support his stand here to donate to his defense fund--just go to his web site, and click on the “Donate” button to the far right.
Here is more from ActivistPost.
A good and complete update on Canadian farmer Michael Schmidt’s legal situation from The Bovine--good and complete is quite a compliment, given how complicated Schmidt’s legal life has become. His own raw milk case in Ontario, the case of a British Columbia farm he helped out, and the case involving the protection of rare breed sheep. The unpredictable and legally dangerous life of a farmer-activist.