David G. Cox
A new organization is being formed to help small farmers and growers throughout the country make their products directly available to the private consumer. Called the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), the organization will be launched on July 4th in order to “protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms to provide through any legal means unprocessed and processed farm foods directly to consumers; to protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed farm foods directly from family farms; and to protect the nation’s family farms from harassment by federal, state and local government interference with food production and/or on-farm food processing.” There is a growing need for this type of organization.
For example, during the 2006 “raw milk wars” in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) was attempting to interfere with herdshare operations whereby owners of cows were exercising their right to drink raw milk from the cow they owned. Because the transaction was purely private in nature and did not involve the “public’s health” there was no justification for the ODA to interfere with the transaction. However, that did not stop ODA from pursuing an aggressive and at times abusive program of trying to put herdshare operations out of business, including the operation of Carol Schmitmeyer who temporarily lost her producer’s license until it was reinstated by a local common pleas court Judge on appeal.
In addition, farmers in Virginia have attempted to engage in “artisinal processing” whereby they process a small number of bovines, poultry or lamb on their property, yet are now being treated unfairly by the federal government. For example, after obtaining a license to install, construct and operate a meat processing facility, Bev Eggleston of Eco-Friendly Foods was informed by USDA that they would no longer be inspecting Bev’s facility because it was not processing enough animals. Without such inspections, the facility no longer can be certified. Thus, Bev is not only out of business, he is in debt to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars and other local farmers, including Joel Salatin of Polyface, Inc., cannot supply a growing demand for locally and sustainably produced meat.
Cases can be cited throughout the United States where governmental regulation acts as a roadblock or impediment to the small farm’s ability to make a decent living. The apple cider producer who is told he must pasteurize his product in order to sell it at a farmer’s market; the cheese maker who is informed that website sales of unpasteurized cheese is illegal; the baker who is told that her kitchen must have a license before lacto-fermented products can be sold from the facility; the Indiana dairy farmer who had his product seized by the FDA while it was on its way to herdshare owners located in Michigan. All of these instances and more are fraught with injustice and reflect government’s attitude that industrialized food is safer and better for the public. FTCLDF has been formed to challenge these unfair and discriminatory laws and to correct this injustice.
FTCLDF was formed as an Ohio non-profit corporation on November 9, 2006 and is currently seeking tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Currently, FTCLDF consists of eleven Board members from several states, including President Taaron Meikle, who home schools her sons in Virginia; Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation; Tim Wightman, a dairy farmer from Ohio; Kaayla Daniel, PhD., author of the book “The Whole Soy Story,” Judith McGeary, an anti-NAIS advocate from Texas; Pete Kennedy, an attorney from Florida; plus other individuals committed to defending the right of consumers and farmers to directly contract with one another for wholesome, fresh and healthy food free from governmental interference.
FTCLDF will create business models that small farms and consumers can adopt to ensure that they can operate in accordance with the law free from governmental interference. For example, the Fund will draft articles of incorporation, partnership agreements, herdshare agreements, bills of sale, buyer’s club agreements, etc, and makes these documents available to members only. The Fund will also have an 800 telephone hotline for questions with access to a staff of attorneys who will provide advice and counsel on legal issues. In addition, the Fund will maintain a data base on the applicable laws, regulations, court decisions and opinions that deal with freedom of contract and the right to market directly to consumers. Finally, the Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization with the right to engage in political activities such as lobbying and campaigning during elections.
The Fund hopes for success to change a system where, under the guise of protecting the public health, state and federal laws hinder the ability of the small farmer to provide healthy food directly to the consumer. The Fund seeks to prevent industrial agriculture from eliminating the small farmer and to restore non-toxic, grass-based farms producing life-giving foods to the prominence they once held in American society.
Persons interested in joining the FTCLDF can view the fully functional website after July 4th at www.ftcldf.org and become a member on-line. Once it becomes operational, the Fund’s phone number will be 703.208.FARM. The Fund will be located in Falls Church, VA.
Gary Cox is a former Senior Assistant Attorney General for the State of Ohio, a former organic vegetable farmer, and is now an attorney with the Columbus law firm of Lane, Alton & Horst LLC serving as General Counsel for the Fund. This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be nor should it be construed as either the opinion of Lane, Alton & Horst LLC or as legal advice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the firm.