At Mother Earth News Conference, Food Rights Message Begins to Resonate

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by David Gumpert

Lots more people are beginning to get it on food rights. They are coming to understand  they can’t look the other way when regulators try to intimidate farmers on trumped-up charges. They are beginning to appreciate the importance of becoming directly involved in fighting the assault on private food arrangements. Most important, they are realizing the necessity of standing up to regulators who bob and weave on what is and isn’t allowable on food availability.

These are a few of my take-aways from a couple days spent at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, where I was a speaker. I gave two talks based on my book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, and I was impressed by not only the interest in my talks (150 people filled up the room for one), but the enthusiasm, along with questions and comments afterwards….along with the whole tenor of the fair, which is a huge celebration of farming, gardening, and sustainability.

When I described at one of my talks how Michigan hog farmer Mark Baker convinced a judge to let his case go to trial, the audience burst into applause.

“How do we get the word out about all these injustices?” asked one man during the question period.

“What is your outlook for the next five years?” asked another. “Will we make gains, or is it hopeless?”

To that last question, I had to hedge. There have been a number of negative outcomes. But there have also been some very encouraging signs of people coming together in support of food rights. And I heard from two examples at the conference.

One young couple came up to me after one talk to tell me how they had been hassled over possible zoning problems in connection with their farming activities in Michigan. When they invoked the Michigan Right to Farm Act, which is designed to encourage sustainable farming and reduce nuisance charges, the officials backed off. While the matter hasn’t been completely resolved, and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund has been providing the couple with advice, they told me they were encouraged to learn that knowing the laws can be so immediately helpful in making officials hesitate.

I was also approached by a woman who is involved in the ongoing conflict over raw milk in Illinois. She explained how raw milk supporters have been confused by seemingly contradictory actions from the state’s Department of Public Health, and were wondering if they should challenge state officials on what seemed to be backtracking and double-talk.

I wrote about the power grab by the Illinois Department of Public Health earlier this year. Following my blog post, raw milk proponents felt as if they made some progress in meetings with regulators–a number of seemingly arbitrary new rules were taken off the table….or so the advocates were told.

Then, in a meeting a few days ago, presto, the arbitrary rules were back on the table. It’s all done in a very officious way, with lots of paper shuffling and reference to lawyer concerns and so on, but the intent is clear: bob, weave, confuse….and deceive as much as possible.

The raw milk supporters have decided to continue to challenge the Illinois regulators rather than meekly give in, as Donna O’Shaughnessy, an Illinois raw dairy farmer, explains well in this blog post.

As I was leaving the conference late Saturday afternoon, I bumped into Mark Baker, who had conducted a hog-butchering lesson at the conference. I told him about the applause from the crowd when I mentioned his case at my talk. “It’s very uplifting,” he told me. “People are beginning to get it.”

Yes, people are beginning to get it. At least one lesson is clear: As much as possible, the official efforts to isolate and eradicate small farms selling food privately must be challenged. As I ask in an article in Alternet, where else in the world, besides Cuba and North Korea, is the government so abusive toward its farmers and their food?

http://thecompletepatient.com/article/2013/september/23/mother-earth-news-conference-food-rights-message-begins-resonate