Minnesota simply cannot get enough of Alvin Schlangen. An egg farmer who tends to and volunteers with a fresh food co-op. Two counties in particular (MDA) have tried him in court over food handling issues, both times trying to paint the co-op of private members as some kind of commercial establishment like a grocery store or restaurant.
It must drive them mad that they simply can’t storm in on a whim and apply their monochromatic commercial test standards onto non-CAFOs goods. Such as during the ongoing bird flu outbreak sweeping through poultry farms across the Midwest. Alvin tells me that Minnesota Department of Health inspectors now call themselves “advisers.”
Ironically, instead of running to Alvin for advice on preventing disease outbreak, they set their sights on him in particular and he was written up in the press. How do “advisers” react when hearing the word “No” while they advise? Show up with two armed local army officers, of course. You read that correctly.
You’ve entered the Food Freedom Zone…
In the SCTimes report, “Court: Freeport farmer must cooperate in bird flu probe,” the title and first paragraph pretty much sets a predictable tone:
A Freeport organic egg farmer who was convicted of violating state food safety laws is at odds with state regulators again.
While that particular choice of words is a source of irritation or bemusement for food freedom lovers, Alvin says that “technically that’s not untrue.” Quick recap: the first trial charging him for four counts of raw milk sales and handling food without a license took place in Hennepin county. Jury nullification resolved that and set him free. Not long after, in a case “double jeopardy,” he was tried in his home county of Stearns for the very same reasons. The raw milk charge was dropped (to reduce media attention). He was facing jail-time and lofty fines and was found guilty by the jury. However, the sentence was reduced to a year of probation, a $700 fine and jail time was stayed.
Alvin has a history of integrous and peaceful non-compliance. Thus, he is considered “at odds” with state regulators again. He boldly denied a court order recently to let inspectors poke around, even though he did not have any animal illnesses to report. The outbreak was high pathogenic avian flu. If birds have it, they fall over dead. He has been court ordered not to make egg deliveries, to allow inspectors to test his chickens and to cooperate with state officials. But he denied them access on the farm until they had a warrant and sheriff’s deputy.
On defiance, he says, “You can’t have people that don’t obey rules…that’s not American….” It’s a shock to the system for people to simply go on their way, no permission needed. It’s nearly unheard of now. The club members rely on his judgement, investments, and quality control to get the end food results they want and need. What is important to them – nutrients? building health? animal welfare?
“It’s such a different paradigm for commitment to food, nobody can understand that unless you get away from the commercial program. When it comes to food production, you can’t follow commercial rules if you want quality food,” he said. Regulators and media only know the other paradigm and bend others to their terms.
“State protocol requires quarantine” and testing for birds within “three kilometers” of flu outbreak, presumably for commercial farms. Board of Animal Health regulators are apparently staying awake at night worried that Alvin will deliver eggs to some of the 200 private members before they can test them. The press, by proxy, paints him as instigator of disease when it’s not his farm that is incubating bird flu.
Alvin contemplates the idea of quarantining eggs that belong to someone else. Can someone stop you from eating your own eggs? Alvin asked them what their standards were for someone eating their home-grown eggs during questionable times. There are none – there’s nothing they can do to stop you if they wanted to. “If I eat four eggs for breakfast, get in a vehicle and go down the road, technically I’m moving those eggs. If I load four dozen eggs, take them down the road to the people that own them, I am moving those eggs.” One is breaking quarantine and one isn’t?
Why does he not simply comply when agents want in? Skipping the obvious intrusiveness, the previous attempts to shut the co-op down, and yet another thick-headed attempt to paint the co-op as a large scale commercial farm – his reason?
It’s not his food. He conveys how rewarding it is to serve with and for the community as part of the real food solution, but he tends to shares that which belongs to the private owners. And they tend to it too on a voluntary basis. It does not belong to anyone else, it is not up for sale, it does not go out to the public and the members understand the risks of partaking in their shares.
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One does not see this type of regulatory zealotry in horse boarding agreements, which have a similar set up. Oh but this is about food – this is an emergency outbreak, and he probably lets the hens run loose outside. Maybe poultry weren’t meant to be stuffed together beak-to-butt, roving through waste in the dark, while a virus rips through. In fact, this strain of avian flu does not like sunlight.
Do you know what happens when inspectors determine that something contains a pathogen? Just about everything related to it can be destroyed or quarantined – hens, eggs, chicks that come from the quarantined eggs…you get the idea. This could even partially explain the massive numbers of euthanized turkeys in the large scale farms. But regulators wouldn’t destroy his farm based on suspicion…or would they?
The problems with unfettered authority on the level of individuals are major civil liberty violations, utter lack of education or feigned incompetence about small farms, biased targeting and worst of all; past examples. Morningland Dairy is just one tragic example of the government crying wolf listeria in a premeditated shut down of a healthy food farm after they found some of their cheese from the Rawesome Food raid. Not once did they test anything for contamination. After dragging the family through a lengthy, indifferent process, agents raided the farm again and trashed $250,000 of their cheese. Micro version: We think you have listeria! No we don’t, test us! No…never. This farm is closed and we’re dumping everything. Goodbye, farm.
So, I wondered if Alvin was worried – are inspectors just being legitimately cautious or is this really a bigger deal for his farm? Is this a critical situation? It could be foreboding – it’s a time to wait and watch, now that they are testing. The first two situations could have been much worse, but if prosecution and the judge had pushed any harder, there would have been a media mess. However, if inspectors decide they have something by the end of the 28-day quarantine, it could be disastrous.
I mentioned his previous support and he reminded me that not only is support often suppressed in those times, but that people trapped in corrupt system can’t just take off and travel to courthouses and lend support.
“I wouldn’t be [t]here unless I had to be. [That’s what I think] about corruption that makes me want to stay away, but you can’t because you can’t change it if you stay away,” he said. And, “The critical part of making something out of a mess like this, or a potential one, is to get the truth out there.”
We both agreed it was worth it.
Visit Schlangen Family Farm. Please check out Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund who helped Alvin and his family during the previous legal battles. Check out Weston A. Price as well. And please support your local farmer!
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