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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.

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Foley and Grusky had to call shareholders and inform them that they would no longer have access to the milk from their goats. Grusky says it was one of the hardest things to do.

Grusky submitted a local food sovereignty resolution similar to the El Dorado County ordinance and a Santa Cruz County resolution to the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors in October.

Working Group on Small Dairies

Chelseth, Foley and other farmers across California met with California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. At that meeting, according to those who attended, the CDFA recognized that commercial dairy regulations were not appropriate for herdshares and micro-dairies. Secretary Ross suggested a "Working Group on Small Dairies" to propose a new regulatory framework for herd shares and micro-dairies.

The second meeting of the working group was December 7. Chelseth and Foley are on the working group, as are Mendocino County Agriculture Commisioner Tony Linegar, the Western Dairymen Association, a Farm Bureau representative and California State Grange Legislative Outreach Advocate Yannick Phillips, who helped organize the initial meeting with Secretary Ross.

Phillips spoke to CMD about the group's progress and challenges. "The good news," she says, is that the CDFA does "want to fix what's going on, so now we're all part of this working group, people on the consuming side, people on the farming side, myself as an advocate, and now CDFA has opened up to a much larger roundtable."

Phillips called the passage of local ordinances and resolutions "an insurance, a different strategy," and added, "I believe in a diversity of ways to get something done."

California, like Maine, is a home rule state, which means that cities, municipalities, and counties have the ability to pass laws to govern themselves, as long as those laws don't conflict with the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit against Dan Brown has been called a challenge to Blue Hill's local ordinance. When asked if she thought similar lawsuits could be brought in California, Phillips expressed confidence in the strategies of California food rights advocates:

I think anything is possible, but we have numerous people that are very involved, very passionate about this issue, in the urban, suburban and rural areas of California. I have to really applaud Secretary Karen Ross for putting this working group together. I think that's a great move in putting everyone together at the table. . . . We have . . . legislators that are involved as well, and informed. All this said, I believe. . . that the close relationship between the co-owners in such a herd share arrangement naturally initiates a self-regulating system. I think, for certain counties, that they [CDFA] wouldn't dare set foot on farms to stop herd shares.


Rebekah Wilce is the lead writer for the Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network.

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