Larry Otting and James Stewart Agree: Isn’t It Time to “Mend Fences”?
It’s easy to forget in all the dustup between Aajonus Vonderplanitz and Sharon Palmer that her Ventura County farm began as a nearly romantic project back in 2008, supported financially by nearly a dozen Rawesome members and other supporters of locally-produced nutrient-dense food.
The principal backer was a Los Angeles area real estate investor, Larry “Lucky” Otting, who had been involved with Rawesome since its earliest days. He allowed Palmer to use $1.1 million of his credit to obtain a mortgage on the property. Another $800,000 came from other members and supporters, including James Stewart, Rawesome’s owner. I explain in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights the story of Palmer and the launch of Healthy Family Farms as illustrative of important local-food trends going on nationally.
The romanticism associated with creating this particular new local source of nutrient-dense food for the Los Angeles area has long since dissipated amid the government raids on Rawesome and on Healthy Family Farms, and felony charges, along with the bitter dispute that enveloped Rawesome members afterwards. Now, at long last, the story seems to be winding toward a conclusion that, based on the court settlement two weeks ago, should take Otting and Stewart out of the Healthy Family Farms equation by the end of this year. I had conversations with both of them, and each is relieved to be moving on.
Following the settlement, “I walked out of the courtroom feeling like a free man,” Otting said.
After he left the courtroom, he said, “I read what everyone said” on this blog, and he became upset. In his estimation, there were a few misstatements by both Victoria Bloch and me in posts summarizing the occurrences. For one thing, he says the code violations at Healthy Family Farms were costly to him in legal fees, and that they weren’t dealt with until the civil suit was finally about to come to trial. He also says the portrayal of a 2010 visit made by Vonderplanitz and Otting to the Ventura County District Attorney wasn’t accurately portrayed.
He said he went to the D.A., not because of concerns about Palmer’s food, but to complain that Palmer hadn’t repaid backers of the farm acquisition. “They were complaining to me and saying it was my fault,” since he had helped obtain the principal mortgage.
Vonderplanitz, he said, went to the D.A. to argue that Palmer was selling conventionally produced food as if it came from her farm, as I have reported a number of times. The D.A. took action on the complaints about lenders not being repaid, resulting in 38 felony charges against Palmer and Stewart for alleged security law violations, and about a dozen felony counts against Otting. Palmer has since repaid most of those who loaned money for her to acquire the farm.
The D.A. ignored Vonderplanitz’s allegations about food fraud. “They don’t give a crap about the food,” says Otting. “All they care about is if you are breaking the law...They don't care if eggs are commercial.”
Otting said he and Vonderplanitz agreed to take down the Unhealthyfamilyfarm web site, but doubts that will end the latter’s bitterness against Palmer, Stewart, and Bloch, among others. “Vonderplanitz is a pit bull and he will never let go” of what he sees as Palmer’s food-related offenses. “He thinks his reputation is at stake.” Otting feels that the Vonderplanitz's ongoing accusations, together with the uncertainty about Vonderplanitz's academic credentials, “have damaged his reputation.”
Though Stewart has been a regular target of Vonderplanitz, the former Rawesome owner told me, “I don’t have ongoing animosity against him. I feel badly for him” with Vonderplanitz’s rage and animosity against an ever-expanding group of people, including yours truly, whom he has labeled a government agent.
Stewart has been occupied launching a new business importing and distributing olive oil from a grower in Spain who Stewart says uses 300-year-old-plus trees and traditional storage and aging techniques.
Otting said he and Stewart have begun patching things up. Otting says he also developed some compassion for Palmer, despite his upset about the way he feels she has run the farm. “Her business has suffered,” he noted.
The same goes for Vonderplanitz. “His business [of offering dietary consulting services] has suffered as well.”
The main piece of unfinished business for both Otting and Stewart, as well as Palmer, are the felony charges still pending against all of them in Ventura County. There are the 38 felony counts against Palmer and Stewart in connection with the mortgage Otting obtained and the loans extended by Rawesome members and backers. As part of a plea deal, Otting has already pleaded guilty to one felony charge--”bank fraud with enhancement, of over $500,000”-- and could be looking at some months of jail time. Palmer and Stewart are looking at a more threatening situation in terms of potential jail time, with a jury trial expected to take place later this year. What they have going for them is the fact that Palmer has repaid lenders and Stewart's involvement with the financial transactions involving acquisition of the farm seems to have been very limited.
In the meantime, says Otting, “It’s time to mend fences.” To which I’ll just add: Amen.
As Ora Moose pointed out, NaturalNews.com has an interesting feature citing my book for its contention that regulator attacks on family farms are affecting our food choices.
I’ll be speaking at 7 pm Thursday evening at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT. I understand it is a wonderful bookstore.