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Regulators Crack Down on Micro-Dairies, But Small Farmers Fight Back With Local Food Sovereignty Ordinances

From Maine to California, regulators are trying to push laws meant for mega-dairies and agribusiness on small farmers, but the farmers have another idea.

This is the second in a two-part series by the Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network (FRN) about challenges to local food sovereignty across the United States. For more, see the first article, on the lawsuit against Blue Hill, Maine farmer Dan Brown brought by the State of Maine and Maine's Agriculture Commissioner.

Maine farmer Dan Brown, who only milks a single cow and sells the milk he and his family don't use to his neighbors, is being sued by the State of Maine for "unlicensed distribution and sale of milk and food products." The lawsuit has sparked protest in Maine and concern in other communities around the country. In an interview with the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Brown said, "One of these times, they're going to come after one of us, and it's going to be that Rosa Parks moment . . . [for] the food system."

The Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance that passed in Brown's town of Blue Hill, Maine, on April 2, 2011, and asserts its "citizens' right to foods of their choice" without impediment by federal and state regulations, served as a model for several counties in California. CMD spoke with three farmers and activists about the food sovereignty movement there, and how the suit against Farmer Brown may affect their struggle.

Protecting the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System

Pattie Chelseth, who farms with her two sisters at My Sisters' Farm in El Dorado County, California bought a cow in order to get r aw milk for a grandchild. When others started coming to her for raw milk, she started a herd share. The farm now boards two cows owned by 15 people, whom Chelseth believes are all entitled to a share of raw milk under their private ownership contract.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), however, served her with a cease-and-desist order. So Chelseth and other local farmers are promoting " An Ordinance to Protect the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System in the County of El Dorado, California." She believes it will be brought up at the December 13 County Board of Supervisors' meeting.

In an interview with CMD, Chelseth said that the El Dorado County ordinance "was absolutely based on the Maine ordinance originally," but that she and other drafters "took out everything construed as public (farmers' markets, bake sales, etc.) and focused on private agreements between patrons and their farmer." When asked how she thought the challenge to the Maine ordinance would affect their local efforts, Chelseth said, "If it's shot down somewhere else, that does not mean it will not prevail here."

Try to Get Goats to "Cease and Desist"

Sara Grusky and Michael Foley of Green Uprising Farm in Mendocino County, California, also participate in a small herd share program. A group of their neighbors pooled their money and bought a herd of goats. They help run the share program and pay Green Uprising Farm a fee for boarding and milking the goats they own.

Foley was handed a cease-and-desist order from the CDFA while manning the farm's booth at the Willits Farmers' Market in June of 2011.

In an interview with CMD, Grusky said, "That was right after the spring freshening, which means that all the goats have kids and are full of milk. I went home and tried to figure out what to do as I was milking that evening. I joked with the goats, 'The CDFA told you to cease and desist the production of raw milk!' But obviously they could not."

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