Screw-Tightening Time on Michigan Raw Milk Herdshares

In the month-long game between Michigan agriculture regulators and raw milk distributor My Family Co-Op, the regulators today put down the “Gotcha!” card.


If you’ll remember, last month the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development forced My Family Co-Op to dispose of nearly $5,000 worth of raw milk, eggs, cream, and other food after the agency determined the co-op was distributing raw milk products like cream and butter in violation of a policy statement on herd shares issued last year. It also said My Family Co-Op was selling other products like eggs and meat without a retail license. 


At first glance, the letterJenny Samuelson. owner of My Family Co-Op, received from the MDARD today seemed to be good news. “Based on the violations observed on July 15, 2014, the MDARD could seek administrative fines, pursue criminal charges, or seek a restraining order against you and My Family Co-Op. However, because you and My Family Co-Op have no record of previous violations of the Michigan Food Law, the MDARD is electing not to pursue these option.” Translation: We are such good guys, we are letting you off the hook this time. 


More good news. “My Family Co-Op may resume the delivery of Fresh Umprocessed Whole (FUW) Milk to those individuals who have a valid herd share agreement directly with the farm.” 


The letter goes on to suggest that even more favorable news is coming—that a retail food license Samuelson applied for last week is in process. 


The letter does remind Samuelson she “may not resume the delivery of (other raw milk) products, which include butter, buttermilk, and cream.” 


But the real kicker, the "Gotcha!", comes in the letter’s last paragraph: “All products that are sold or delivered will be required to be labeled, stored, and distributed in a manner that conforms to the requirements of the Michigan Food Law. For example, the distribution of FUW milk, using a licensed food establishment vehicle or the storage of FUW milk at a licensed food establishment, would be a violation of the Michigan Food Law and your license.” 


In other words, once Samuelson has her prized retail food license, she will be prohibited from distributing raw milk from the same truck as other foods covered by the license. So theoretically, she’d have to make two trips to deliver food to her members. It wouldn’t be feasible, since she already travels many miles to serve her members. 


Like most farmers in Michigan, Samuelson also didn’t examine the fine print in the policy statement that was issued last year. It wasn’t as if it was a subject for negotiation, in any event. But, of course, the regulators trip farmers up for a living, so they knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the policy statement. 


Nor did I fully appreciate the Catch-22 when I wrote in a post that Michigan was different in its application of licensing laws from Wisconsin. It turns out they aren’t that different—Michigan does allow herdshares, where Wisconsin doesn’t. But Michigan requires herdshares to make a choice—they can distribute raw milk or they can distribute other food, but they can’t very easily do both. 


What is Samuelson to do in light of the fact that she is being told not to distribute raw milk in the same truck as other foods? I know she would welcome suggestions. 

In the meantime, she is suggesting that her members and other supporters call the author of the letter to her, MDARD’s compliance manager, Byron Beerbower, 517-284-5694 (he didn’t include an email.), and voice objections. 

I think the game being played by MDARD is called death by a thousand cuts. 

mark mcafee's picture

Michigan can also be caught in its own web of deceit. A law or regulation that creates a rediculous set of standards is not a good law. No where else in the USA where raw milk is legal are other foods prohibited from being transported in the same vehicle.

One question...did Jenny pay her yearly dues to FTCLDF? This is a no brainer piece of litigation. Commerce clauses surely are being violated by Michigan regulators. It is baseless and violates all sorts of constitutional protections. Sue the oppressive bunch of haters and be done with it.

mark mcafee's picture


Is there some kind of Midwest food seems to run right down the middle of America from Wisconsin straight south...right on the Bible Belt. What is it about these states?

D. Smith's picture

[quote] " . . . it seems to run right down the middle of America from Wisconsin straight south . . ."[end quote]

Yes there is some kind of sickness - it's called a yellow streak down the back of every gubmint worker afraid of losing his/her job. I do believe part of the reason we aren't seeing job growth in America (no we aren't) is because obozo is afraid that people will leave their current jobs and find something else to do if they don't want to obey the current set of regulations they must enforce. If "establishment" workers don't want to do what their *bosses* are forcing them to do (like all this nonsense against raw milk, for instance) they cannot quit and find something else to do - because there ISN'T anything else to do. They are probably offered bonuses to stay and do as told, as well, as an incentive. There's your yellow streak. Oh man, sometimes it pays to be self-employed. ;]

We get no truth about anything out of WADC these days, nor from any of their tentacled agencies either.

David Gumpert's picture

Why does the Midwest have such a hard time with raw milk and food rights, when the West and the Northeast have a much easier time? My guess is that the Midwest's problems have something to do with the dominance by Big Ag in these states, especially in The Dairy State, Wisconsin, which is ruled by Dean Foods. That influence radiates out from Wisconsin to Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Then, I suspect the FDA jumps in and fans the flames as only the FDA can do. We learned much about that in the Max Kane affair in 2008 and 2009, when he obtained summaries of conversations between state ag regulators in WI, IL, IN, MI, and the FDA, conspiring to target farmers for enforcement. Presto, you have a formula for repression. 

D. Smith's picture

Yep, that's another piece of the puzzle. It's just too bad so many people sold out to Dean Foods before they realized the full nature of their intent. Now it's just plain too late because no one could afford to buy out Dean Foods except an even larger corporate conglomerate. What a horrid thought.

The other awful thing about those same midwestern States is they are the same ones who are also catering to all the common core nonsense and try to ban homeschooling, and they have always been the States who push vaccines and try to ban the stuff that really works (alternatives, mostly). Mississippi and West Virginia don't even allow religious exemptions for non-vaxing, only medical exemptions. Yeah, like those are gonna happen.

There's more stuff going on behind the scenes than us average joes will ever know. We probably don't wanna know, either.

D. Smith's picture

Would she be able to pull a trailer (with the other food products like butter etc) behind her milk truck?

I wonder what Sysco would do if they had to have a different truck for all the crappy products they deliver every day.

Ora Moose's picture

Sysco is about the ditiest word in the english language speaking world if you were ever in the food industry or ate.

David Gumpert's picture

D, I had that same idea, of a trailer behind the food truck. Unfortunately, you have to start thinking on their (small) level to come up with solutions. 

Sysco would simply increase their contributions to the local and federal politicians, thus creating a loophole to exempt them from such laws/rules

D. Smith's picture

Sysco obviously already has lobbied for the right to legally break the law in this regard, doncha think?

"Like most farmers in Michigan, Samuelson also ..." As I understand it, she seemingly is providing a service from the farmer (High Hill Dairy) via her herdshare agreement in her name with them to other customers; therefore, she is not operating according to the law. While I don't believe raw milk should even be regulated, this article and many other references to this occurrence misconstrue that she is the farmer and has followed all related Michigan policy and guidelines when in fact she is not the farmer, therefore she is not following policy.

David Gumpert's picture

Nicole, my understanding is that the shareholders have their agreement directly with the farm, High Hill Dairy. Samuelson then delivers the milk to drop points. With other foods, she is similarly acting as a delivery agent. I agree with you--I should have made that point clearer in my post. 

Shelly-D.'s picture

It would be useful to see the separate agreements, so we can see the relationships clarified. We here may also be able to suggest improvements that may help them all. Can you obtain and post, David?

And pray tell what law has Jenny Samuelson violated? I don't think it's clear at all that she's done anything illegal or that any potential charges from the Dept. of Agriculture are legitimate. I admire her entrepreneurial initiative and believe she's doing a service for the citizens of Michigan. We need hundreds more like her in our economically depressed state. She should be celebrated, not persecuted!

While she is not the farmer, she does provide a conduit for the food to go directly from producers to consumers. That route of food distribution is not the equivalent of a retail food establishment and should not be subject to retail food laws. Shame on the state of Michigan for putting roadblocks in her way, instead of sitting down like adults and coming up with creative options that satisfy everyone (except perhaps Big Ag political contributors). I am greatly disappointed in and frustrated with our state government.

Shelly-D.'s picture

No law violated, but maybe the farmers, herdshare members, and Jenny need to work out a plan which looks more above-board and have more arms-length, business relationships. Three separate parties, three separate contracts. Look at the model of consumer food cooperatives in Japan such as SCCC - see - the co-op (the members are consumers) contracts separately with both farmer(s) and the delivery companies, and can then choose whatever farmers and companies provide the best services. Why aren't American and Canadian consumers, with our supposed love of independence, taking the initiative and doing this also? Why are consumers here on this continent acting like passive recipients?

As well, a sole proprietorship calling itself a "co-op" is questionable, at best. If you want to form a co-op, find some interested people, meet, draw up incorporation documents, and form a co-op under the laws of your province or state. As a long-time (40 years+ and counting) co-op member myself, I feel comfortable about people appropriating and using the term "co-op" because it lends an air of sounding very "socially-responsible," but don't do the hard work of actually setting up and running a co-op. A sole proprietorship is not a co-op. Never has been.

Shelly-D.'s picture

Two typos in my previous comment found and corrected:

" Three separate parties, TWO separate contracts."

" I feel UNcomfortable about people appropriating and using the term "co-op" ..."

mark mcafee's picture

Got a call from a single mom today. She needed help because she was under attack from her baby daddy ( she was never married to him ) who wanted custody of their 17 month daughter and was using the " warning " label on the back of our Opdc milk bottle as an example of unfit mothering!!! Now...I have heard it all. The father was using the FDA and national pediatrics anti raw milk garbage against our raw milk mom.

She was pleading for help. Her daughter loves opdc raw milk and has never had anything other than breast milk or OPDC. She is thriving !!

I started by telling her that the fda lists milk ( that is pasteurized milk ) as the number 1 most allergenic food in America. What mom would ever give their child the FDA designated...MOST allergenic food in America when 8 kids have died as a direct result of drinking pasteurized milk!!! ( anaphylactic shock and subsequent death ).

Second....tell the babies dad that at least 75 pasteurized dairy product consumers have died since 1972...(CDC data if the 1985 Jalisco cheese incident is included ). No deaths from fluid raw milk are recorded in the CDC database since 1972....Zero!!! Nada!!

So who are the unfit moms??!! I gave her a mountain of additional data about California state standards verses the non existent federal stardards for raw milk. I explained to her that the father was quoting federal propaganda and not state of CA regs or data.

She was so relieved....but what an interesting way to try and achieve custody of a child.

I have also heard this from very frustrated WAP grandparents that are trying to feed their grand kids OPDC raw milk...when the bacteria phobic purel loving, antibiotics for every sniffle parents freak out.

It is time once again to listen to the 15 minutes of Dr. Bonnie Bassler. My suggestion that we are "bacterialsapiens" and get very sick and auto - immune sick with out our commensal colonies of good bacteria in us and all over us. They feed the genomic human information highway. With out our bacteria...we are confused and lost!! It took $4 billion dollars & 12 years and NIH funds to figure his out. Now we simply live as if we have never heard of this.

America is stupid...because we have lost 98% of our vital genomic partners. We have sterilized ourselves.

Ken Conrad's picture

If this man’s rational holds true, then a parent who vaccinates their child can be sued for custody. Take a look at the warnings on the vaccine package inserts.
Conventional medicine and the health bureaucracy that governs same, is a breeding ground for inconsistent irrational reasoning. Hell… consider abortion where it is a crime for a pregnant woman to make a decision that endangers the life of her unborn child yet she is within her right and legally entitled to abort that child if she so chooses.


David Gumpert's picture

These kinds of threats of using the controversy over raw milk as an excuse to take custody of a child away from a parent are not to be taken lightly. There was a case about a year ago in Maine where youth services threatened a mother's custody because she fed her child raw goal milk. The case got some publicity, and lots of people flocked to defend the mom....and the state and medical people backed off. You never know how a judge is going to react, as we've seen, and once the medical and public health people join in on the fear mongering, anything is possible.

Shelly-D.'s picture

Happened in Ontario too.

mark mcafee's picture

Ok.... After some research, I found out with why Eureka Natural foods located in Humboldt County is on the OPDC store locator. They carry OPDC raw cheese! They are forbidden from selling our raw milk, cream and butter or Kefir.... But our raw cheese is ok to sell in Humboldt County.

Little by little this anomaly is going to be changed .... I dropped in to say hi to the assemblyman that represents district 2 which covers multiple north coast CA counties including Humboldt and Del Norte. I was in Sacramento for a CDFA milk pool meeting. I think it is time to put a little pressure on the Humboldt County Board of Supv again. Consumer Equal access to raw milk in CA is part of our food and Ag code. It is ok to grow marijuana but not state tested and inspected super clean raw milk??

Here is the e-mail I sent to Byron Beerbower at

Dear Mr. Beerbower,

Your recommendation that Jenny Samuelson obtain her retail food license was clearly ill-advised, so I respectfully ask you to begin again. She is arranging for food to be brought directly from producer to consumer, so she is not operating a retail food establishment and therefore should not be subject to retail food laws. Perhaps some new model of food distribution is needed here, or perhaps she fits in as a contractor of the producers or an agent of the consumers. In any case, shouldn't it be the state government's role to facilitate these kinds of producer-consumer relationships, rather than putting roadblocks in their way? After all, "MDARD fully supports the growing movement for residents to obtain local, healthy and safe food." - yes?

Please find some way for Jenny to deliver all raw dairy and other food products.

Thank you for your attention to this concern. I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours truly,

Shana Milkie

D. Smith's picture

Ahhhh, good plan. Put the onus probandi on them!

Samuelson was operating illegally because the law specifically states that all raw milk is to be handled directly from the farmer to the herdshare consumers and although I support everyone being upset about this general topic of the government invading our food rights, it is irresponsible individuals such as Samuelson and High Hill Dairy for that matter that she was a herdshare member at, and facilitated this mess that THREATEN the existence of the Michigan state law by not abiding by it that allows for raw milk to be distributed like this at all. Local farmers and consumers fought extremely hard for us to make this much progress, so fresh dairy advocates and food rights/freedom advocates in general should not promote those who disrespect the law and twist the story.

ingvar's picture

Wouldn’t you also have to say that it is irresponsible for those who were receiving the deliveries to be ignorant of the law and ignorant of their posture as it pertains to the law? Perhaps they were given a bum steer, or hear-say and went with it instead of examining the law for themselves.
Your comment appears sensible.

Can anyone offer a critique or amplification of NicoleM’s comment?

As to whether we sort things out vs. go along with the crowd, I’ve seen a little poster that says:
“Me and you is friends…you smile, I smile…you hurt, I hurt…you cry, I cry…You jump off Bridge, I gonna miss your E-mails.”

I always liked that one.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

D. Smith's picture

@ NicoleM: I found this information regarding another Michigan farm.

"MICHIGAN: Welcome to Bellwether Farm! We are a small, Certified Naturally Grown family farm that focuses on quality and service, not quantity. On our farm we have a small herd of Guernsey cows. Our cows are a heritage breed that produce well on an all grass/hay diet. Guernsey milk has many unique health properties such as; high levels of Beta-Carotene, Omega-3, and Beta-Casein A-2.

We offer a cow share program for customers to obtain chemical- and hormone-free, non-pasteurized and non-homogenized raw milk. Along with the share program we offer a whole line of raw dairy products such as butter, yogurt, cheese, cream, and naturally flavored coffee creamer.

*** Pick-up locations include Farmington (Saturday), Frankenmuth (Wednesday), and on farm (Monday).***

Our farm is also home to a number of wonderful heritage breeds of sheep. Like the cows they receive no grain and are on pasture all year, receiving hay in the winter. We offer several wool products: yarn, pillows, bedding, roving, and hand knitted goods. Also available: all-natural grassfed cuts of lamb or whole lambs for your freezer.

Bellwether Farm, Andrew Mellish, Snover MI. (989) 827-9626."

Taken from this link:

My question is this: if Jenny Samuelson had a cow share rather than a herd share, would this mitigate the problem?

D. Smith's picture

Let me also add, I buy Bellwether Farm Creme Fraiche at Safeway, so these products are all over the map. If cow share vs herd share is the only difference here, something appears to need fixing at the State level in Michigan so people know what they're allowed to do.

As far as I know the only difference between a cow share and a herdshare is that the first is a share of a single cow and the second is a share in a herd of cows. It seems to me that it's more sensible in most cases to have a share in a herd (unless perhaps the farmer has only one or two cows).

D. Smith's picture

Around here where I live, a cow share is usually described as being the cow (only one cow) is owned by the individual, not the farmer. The individual who bought and owns the cow simply pays the farmer to put it on his pasture, the farmer milks it and gives (not sells) the milk to the owner. The owner buys the feed and anything else necessary for that one cow only, but he does not pay the farmer for the milk since the cow is already owned by the individual not the farmer.

With a herd share, the farmer owns the entire herd and sells the products and the milk to consumers. They are essentially cows which belong to the farmer, not the individuals. By making the sales to consumers who've signed up for the products, the farmer makes $ to buy feed during winter months or drought seasons or whatever, and other necessities like mineral blocks, salt blocks, etc.

That's my understanding of the differences, but maybe each state has a different "description" of what each type of *share* means. Of course, the laws are so screwy and have had teeny tiny changes made to them to "refine" them so that only a lawyer or a State worker knows how to decipher these things. Tell me things like that aren't done on purpose to confuse the issue . . .

Shelly-D.'s picture

It seems to be a bit different here in Canada. Herdshare seems to be a generic for whatever animals you have (cowshare, goatshare, both cows and goats, cows-and-sheep, etc. And, the consumers are supposed to legally own the animals, because it's illegal to sell raw milk anywhere in Canada, so the only way to legally obtain it is from your own animal. If you own only one animal, it's pretty impractical because you're out of luck when your animal's dried off, so most folks have joint ownership in a herd, or in several head in that herd. Some herdshares here have better contracts than others.

I'd say that if the farmer still owns the herd, then she/he is selling the milk and it's not a herdshare. It's direct sale.

Let's see, the truck leaves the dairy with the milk and takes it right to herdshare members. How much more direct can you get? Please be careful when alleging that someone is operating illegally.

We in Michigan would do well to support all herdshares in our state. I don't think that any particular herdshare is more or less vulnerable based on who is driving the truck. This attack on My Family Co-Op is clearly an attack on all herdshares. We've seen before that state governments like to pick on one operation at a time. We need to work together in order to combat that.

"MDARD fully supports the growing movement for residents to obtain local, healthy and safe food."

The USDA and State Ag agencies support for the local food movement is smoke and mirrors. They are part and parcel of the Industrial Ag system which intentionally and premeditatedly destroyed millions of farms in the 20th century.

Any support they give is PR cover for their efforts to destroy it, undermine it, or co-opt and kill it.

They are doing that in many ways but one such way is to impede actual farmer-consumer relationships where ever they can while at the same time pushing the comodification of local food. Right now they're doing the latter through pushing food hubs and other similar agrigators to insert themselves between the consumer and the farmer.

D. Smith's picture

@ Pete: Exactly.

No wonder people are selling raw milk as "pet food" or as "cosmetic/bath" products.

ingvar's picture

Thanks for the pointer, Pete.

I found this food hub item from 2011 and it’s Michigan related:

The accompanying copy seems to be of the gushy, blithering, ehnthusiastic style designed to turn the mind off as you are congratulated for stepping aboard the bandwagon.

I guess if we don’t keep our eye on the ball, we might lose the game before we even know what the game was in the first place. One way of looking at it, we’re in a chess match of sorts. The root of this “get big or get out” idea is what? Simple mendacity? Who on earth are we installing in elected office with our votes? And how is it that the law has drifted into the shoals of corruption becoming an mere item in the tool drawer of over weaning muscular commercial enterprise and political trough feeding, unmoored to the principles of civilization? I have no brief against corporations per se. And large cities I do not think are some horrible aberration, an indication of the decline of civilization. People live in cities, often really large cities at that, I think it is a simple as that. Not many people, a tiny percentage overall, live in The Shire. And as important a role as the hobbits played in Tolkien’s tale, they were protected from fierce and cruel players by others who were better organized to protect.

A malediction: may all the evil-hearted of the world be slow of foot, hand, mind, device, and plan.
A benediction: godspeed to all the rest.

Mr. J. Ingvar Odegaard

Ken Conrad's picture

Well said Pete, I’ve had my fill of their “smoke and mirror” or “lip service”. Their continual and persistent insincerity is enough to make one vomit.


@ Shanie:

Direct is from point A (the farmer- in this case High Hill Dairy) to point B (Herd share members) so in the eyes of the policy, the step where Jenny Samuelson/ My family CO-OP takes the milk from the farmer via another agreement to herd share members is not legal because there is no point “C” allowed . And MDARD policy (Policy #1.40, 3/12/2013) clearly states “In a herd share operation, consumers pay a FARMER a fee for boarding their animal…” “Herd Share operations include the following elements: Signed and dated written contract between a SINGLE FARMER and shareholder.”in this particular situation, either there is more than a single contract which is not allowed either..” Milk should be from a single farmer and not CO-mingled” again, policy reiterating that this is from A>B and not A>B>C. “FUW milk is not for sale or RESALE” Basically My-Family Co- OP is reselling the milk because I am sure shes not getting it for free from the farmer and this is not a voluntary operation. “FUW milk cannot be distributed from a licensed food establishment” This policy is in place so there is a defined consumer pool, rapid trace back is possible, the farmer and shareholder are responsible for the quality of the milk. The workgroup wants shareholder knowledgeable about the operation.., Please consult the links below. The first one is the report from MDARD and the second is a link to an article discussing the background of how MI was the first state to make unprocessed milk illegal and how hard a group of individuals worked for 6 years to give us this opportunity via negotiating a middle ground with MDARD. I am not attacking, nor is MDARD all herd shares in MI, on the contrary I am a huge advocate of food rights, but I also understand that policy must be obeyed by all otherwise, we may lose all progress that we have made. I understand that government is overstepping its purpose and that whole issue. My point is, we cannot let one bad apple spoil the whole peck and rather than defending someone who broke the policy, acknowledge the facts and suggest that she admits she was wrong and make recommended corrective actions or close because we (herd share consumers and farmers) cannot give MDARD any excuse for rolling things back to the way they were since 1940.

There is NO LAW stating a group of people can't lease a Herd of cows Nicole that is what we did. Read your Constitutional Rights it is legal to have a Private legal agreement between two parties. What you are referring to is a Policy not a Law. They stated they did this because of a food license issue that had nothing to do with the raw milk. if I was doing something illegal I would been charged. We should supporting raw milk not trying bash specially when you not know the true facts. It about fighting for our rights to food if the consumer wants to hire me or the farm it's their choose not our government. We the people need stand together if you want change for the positive !

Let me add this policy came into effect after My Family Co-Op was established and I was never directly informed about their changes.

Shelly-D.'s picture

I appreciate your passion for food freedom and raw milk, but if you are not a co-op, you should not be calling yourself one. Call yourself a delivery business, yes, and get all the licences and permits that Purolator, UPS, and other such businesses need, yes. But don't misrepresent yourself as being a co-op when you are not. And ... why not help all your current customers actually organize into a co-op? Empower themselves? Become active shareholders in a co-op structure? Have the right to contract with you or any other delivery service they choose to, or contract with any farmers they choose to as well? Think about it.

I think we are seeing two sides of the same coin here, but maybe we should agree to disagree. The milk goes straight from the dairy to the members, period. Jenny Samuelson is operating either as an agent of the farmers or the members to deliver it; she is NOT reselling milk and violating the policy.

I have already read the links you posted and acknowledge the tremendous work done by all members of the workgroup. What patience to meet for six years!

Ora Moose's picture

This is obviously a complex issue that can be interpreted in ways that complement your particular perspective. I have a couple of questions:

If Jenny is NOT reselling the milk (which I personally tend to agree she is not) than who is actually paying for her services, and how does she make a living doing this? Is it a shared cost enterprise?

Why is the government spending so much time and resources going after these small potato operations? It's not like they stand to make a lot more money through taxation or have anything to gain by halting the arrangements. So who is funding it and why?

When did all this small farmer direct to consumer harassment begin? That might offer some clues.

All good questions, Ora Moose, to which I and a lot of other people would like to obtain answers!

We as a co-op shared ownership leasing a herd of cows until the State stepped in. Yes changes will have to be made now. But again you are missing the reason why we are here. No permits are needed when you are private do some reading on your Constitution. We are Private Association it's covered under are legal rights.

Shelly-D.'s picture

"We as a co-op shared ownership leasing a herd of cows until the State stepped in. '

So you are incorporated under the Nonprofit Corporations Act?

Act 162 of 1982

450.3123 Use of term “cooperative,”“co-op,”“consumer cooperative,” or any variation thereof.

Sec. 1123.

(1) The term “cooperative”, “co-op”, or any variation thereof, may only be used in the name of cooperatives organized under or subject to this chapter, corporations organized under or subject to sections 98 to 109 of Act No. 327 of the Public Acts of 1931, being sections 450.98 to 450.109 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, parent cooperative preschools licensed under Act No. 116 of the Public Acts of 1973, being sections 722.111 to 722.128 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, credit unions chartered under the laws of this state or federal law, corporations organized on a cooperative basis or similar basis and organized before the effective date of this amendatory act as nonprofit corporations, unincorporated cooperatives, foreign cooperatives, any entities wholly owned by any of the foregoing or any combination of such entities, and any other entities specifically authorized by statute to use “cooperative”, “co-op”, or any variation thereof.

(2) The term “consumer cooperative” or any variation thereof may only be used in the name of a consumer cooperative or a foreign or unincorporated cooperative the majority of the votes of which are held by consumers and which complies with sections 1132 and 1138.

(3) Unless authorized by subsection (1) or (2), or as otherwise specifically provided by law, a person shall not use the term “cooperative”, “co-op”, “consumer cooperative”, or any variation thereof, as part of a corporate or other business name or title.

(4) This section shall not be construed to authorize any use of the term “co-op”, “cooperative”, “consumer cooperative”, or any variation thereof, that is prohibited by the cooperative identity protection act.

David Gumpert's picture

I believe there is a lot to be said for improving the legal structuring of some of the food distribution organizations, in Michigan and elsewhere. That being said, it is important to understand that none of the regulatory or legal actions taken against My Family Co-Op, or any others, have been based on their contract language or organization. In the case of My Family Co-Op, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said only that the shareholders' contract needed to be directly with the farm producing the milk, and Samuelson appears to have taken care of that to MDARD's satisfaction. But in all of the food rights cases I am aware of over the last eight years, regulators and judges haven't even bothered to review the agreements and contracts. When judges have referred to the contracts, such as in the Daniel Allgyer federal case between 2010 and 2012, the judge labeled the whole arrangement whereby food club contracts were required of members  a "sham." He didn't object to particular clauses or organization (it seemed from his opinion he hadn't done more than scan the agreement if that) but only to the idea that small groups of people could contract privately with farmers for their food, outside the public regulated system. That is essentially a ruse to keep people in the factory food system, and prevent them from accessing nutrient-dense food like raw milk. I wish it were a matter of somehow straightening out contract language and legal organization--then the problems could be easily solved with the help of a few lawyers and accountants. 

Shelly-D.'s picture

That's a huge part of the problem, David - the informality that people assume is going to fly. If there had been a real cooperative, contracting Jenny as a delivery driver with a proper contract, it's likely that this big mess might have been avoided. That situation with Danial Allgyer reminds me of how a judge looked at Michael Schmidt's "contracts" and also concluded that they were a sham. You folks haven't had the court cases that we've had in Canada which have ended badly because of loosey-goosey "contracts" which judges have decided were just a bad attempt to disguise raw milk sales (i.e. This case was a wake-up call for many up here. Maybe these enforcement actions are the start of some wake-up calls down there as well?

"In the case of My Family Co-Op, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said only that the shareholders' contract needed to be directly with the farm producing the milk"

Exactly. And what if the shareholders and Jenny had first taking the trouble to form a legal co-op which actually had bought and owned the animals from which the milk was being obtained? What if they had acted as true "cow owners" (as Tetley pointed out should have been done at Glencolton Farm) and had a formal contract with a farm owner to board their animals and an agister (not necessarily the same person as some agisters rent farm-land) to care for their animals, while still acting as owners, not as just "customers"?

Maybe this isn't a case of "food freedom" being the issue, maybe it's a case of people not taking advantage of the legal tools which your government has provided for you to use to protect yourself, including cooperative and contract law. Not every state allows you to set up co-ops - Michigan is lucky that it has laws that allow this.

"but only to the idea that small groups of people could contract privately with farmers for their food, outside the public regulated system."

But I wonder .. what if these people had incorporated a food co-op, and this co-op had then contracted with the farmer to provide the products? Along about 30 years ago, I was a member of such a food co-op. We never had a problem. That's my point. Do the work in advance, and you save yourself these headaches.

And I don't know about the US, but in Canada as far as I know, sales are sales. There is no legal distinction between "public sales" and "private sales." It's all just "sales." If you have the laws or court cases in the US that hold otherwise, I'd be interested in seeing them.