Michigan levies $700,000 in fines against a small farmer and veteran for raising healthy hogs
After serving his country for 20 years in the military and ten years as a farmer, Mark Baker is “at the end of his rope” and is asking Americans for help.
Baker’s Green Acres is an idyllic, bio-diverse, sustainable farm in Marion, Michigan. Baker, his wife and his six children raise pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, goats and dairy, and a heritage breed of hogs called Mangalitsa.
In December of 2011, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources informed Baker that his hogs were an “invasive species of wild boar” that needed to be exterminated in order to protect wildlife and other farms.
The agency said he had until April of 2012 to destroy all of his pigs or else it would destroy them for him. Baker refused and filed a lawsuit asking for relief.
Fortunately the agency did not follow through on its promise to shoot Baker’s pigs. Unfortunately, it decided to levy $700,000 in fines against him last week for “harboring” them on his property.
That’s $10,000 per hog or per “violation” of the state’s Invasive Species Order.
As of Food Riot Radio’s interview with him last week, Baker had 67 hogs. The state was unaware when it issued the fine that he recently “put down” four hogs because he couldn’t afford to feed them.
Starving them out
When the state tried to get Baker’s trial pushed back to 2014, Baker wrote a letter to the judge saying he’d be out of business and homeless by then. His current trial date of August 27 has been a stretch for him.
He’s been feeding the hogs, without being allowed to sell their meat, for a year and a half now, which he says is extremely difficult because “these pigs eat a lot everyday.”
Normally at this time of year he’d be breeding the pigs in order to have more to sell, but he can’t now, because it would just make “more mouths to feed.”
Add $140,000 spent in legal fees so far to his lack of pork sales, and Baker says his family is on a very tight ship right now.
“My boys are butchering pigs today so we can get them in the freezer, and so they’re not out on the field, where they’ve got to have food,” Baker said. “The nature of pigs is if they see green grass on the other side of fence and they have nothing to eat on their side of the fence, they’re going to figure out a way to get through. We can’t allow a bunch of pigs to get out and get in our garden because that’s our food.”
Baker’s resorted to “scrounging” scrap food for them at local restaurants, but says they’re not getting what they need nutritionally.
“I’m not being fair to the animals…” he paused, voice cracking, “… but I didn’t think it would take this long.”
Had Baker known he’d have to wait a year and a half for a court hearing, he might’ve just killed the hogs in the beginning.
“But what I’m up against now is, if I kill all these pigs, number one, I’m doing what they wanted me to do, and number two, I’d lose my standing in court because I don’t have the animals.”
Baker believes the reason the state has tried so hard to stall his hearing is because it doesn’t have a good defense for what it’s doing to him.
Baker argues that DNR wrote an intentionally ambiguous description of “feral” pigs in its Invasive Species Order, so it could use the law against any hog farmer it wanted to shut down.
“They’re saying any pig with a curly tail or a straight tail is an illegal pig … any pig with floppy ears or erect ears is an illegal pig,” he said. “I think they’re going to have a rough time with that testimony in court. That’s why they don’t want the case to move forward. They want to starve us out.”
“Basically they’re saying any type of pig outside of these confinement-style operations is illegal to have,” added Radio Host Brad “the Butcher” Jordan. “If you have a pig outside, you can’t have it.”
“Exactly,” Baker said.
Baker seeks to prove in court that it is “Big Ag” – especially the Michigan Pork Producers Association – that initiated the law classifying all non-CAFO pigs as a “feral” invasive species.
He believes big agribusiness sees the growing popularity of heritage-breed meat and poultry as a threat to their factory-farming model, and will stop at no end to eliminate the competition.
“If they can issue a declaratory ruling that says anything with a straight tail or curly tail is an illegal pig, and neither the governor, the legislature or the courts say ‘hey wait a minute,’ then what’s to stop them from issuing a declaratory ruling that says any cow that is brown is feral and must be disposed of, or any chicken that is not raised in a hen house is a feral chicken?”
“Industrial agriculture wants all the market share,” he added. “They want all the small farmers off the land, and they want to own the entire food production model.”
Baker asks for “ammunition”
“They’re putting me out on the street and they’re not blinking an eye about it,” Baker said. “I need American people to get fired up about this. And I need wealthy Americans to come alongside us and join our legal team, so we can start going after them [DNR officials] individually and putting them out on the street.”
Baker said there is much more at stake than his farm. “Our little pig thing is a microcosm of what’s going on nationally.” If we let Big Ag win, he said, it will be a grim future for our children and grandchildren. “We’re all in this together.”
“There are plenty of us [farmers] that are fighters, perpetual warriors, but we don’t have ammunition to put this fight on. So we’re looking to other Americans and saying please give us some ammunition, and that’s money, U.S. dollars. You can pray for me and pat me on the back and that’s great, but if I can’t pay lawyers to do their job, it doesn’t happen. And I’m at the end of my rope right now, and I need help. There it is – I need help.”
Brad Jordan hosts a podcast called Food Riot Radio where this article first appeared. He and his co-host Sara Burrows work to expose how a collusion between government, big agriculture, big pharma and big food has determined what ends up on our plates and offer ideas for how to fight back.