As Claravale Farm Is Quarantined, Frustration Grows, Whispers Get Louder; Legal Check Mate

Claravale-cows grazing.jpg

A third sizable raw dairy in the last four months has been temporarily shuttered–in addition to Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in California and The Family Cow in Pennsylvania. Lots of frustration, and unpleasant questions, are coming up as a result. The biggest question may be this: Is there some kind of common theme here?

Cows grazing at Claravale FarmClaravale Farm is one of only two dairies in California with a permit to sell raw dairy products (the other being Organic Pastures Dairy Co.). Perhaps most notably, in nearly 100 years of existence, it has never had an outbreak of illness.

Yet late last week, the California Department of Food and Agriculture forced the dairy into a recall of its products and a quarantine, whereby the dairy is essentially shut down, based on the discovery of campylobacter in its cow’s milk cream.

“No illnesses have been definitively attributed to the products at this time,” CDFA said in its statement. “However, the California Department of Public Health is conducting an epidemiological investigation of reported clusters of campylobacter illness where consumption of raw milk products may have occurred.” To re-open, the dairy must show two milkings of pathogen-free product from state tests. 

Opponents of raw milk would certainly like us to think that an increase in the number of illnesses from raw milk is inevitable, the result of expanding consumption. Proponents wonder if other factors may be at work.

The situation isn’t helped by the reticence of Claravale’s owner, Ron Garthwaite, to make himself available to the media. He seems only to communicate with a few of his customers. One customer, who runs a buying club, said in a note to its members a few days ago:  “Claravale is very disappointed as this is the first time in their nearly 100 year history that they have ever had a test come back positive for a pathogen.  They take so much pride on how clean and safe their milk is.

“Claravale spent the beginning part of the week again cleaning their dairy from top to bottom with following CDFA guidelines.  In order to go back into production, they have to have tests for two milkings that come back completely clean.  The CDFA took samples on Wednesday, after the full clean and so they hope that they will get the all clear this weekend, and will be selling again on Sunday.”

One line of reasoning, as Mark McAfee suggests in a comment following my previous post, attributes the dairy’s problems to Claravale’s expansion into other product areas over the last year, most notably, raw goat’s milk, and pasteurized ice cream. New products require new systems, and increase complexity.  McAfee also points to potential problems from the dairy’s use of glass bottles, which are re-cycled, and may not be cleaned properly.

Califarmer notes following my last post that only the cream has turned up showing contamination, suggesting the possibility of campylobacter problems with the cream separating or bottling equipment.

Finally, there is the whisper of conspiracy and sabotage. The whispers began among raw milk drinkers and distributors after there were some 80 campylobacter illnesses attributed to The Family Cow dairy in Pennsylvania. Now they have become a tag stronger with the Claravale outbreak. There was talk at one of the dairies about a disgruntled employee who supposedly made threats before departing.

As the California buying club manager stated in a message to members: “I personally would not be surprised if (Claravale’s problems) were a part of a bigger plan to try to get rid of raw milk dairies in CA and in the U.S.” 

I generally don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories. On the other hand, I don’t think producers of unpasteurized milk would be misguided if they increased the security around their barns and milking areas.

“As federal criminal statutes have ballooned, it has become increasingly easy for Americans to end up on the wrong side of the law. Many of the new federal laws also set a lower bar for conviction than in the past: Prosecutors don’t necessarily need to show that the defendant had criminal intent.”

This quote is from a lengthy Wall Street Journal article that detailed a half dozen or more cases of ordinary citizens being charged with breaking laws, and then being convicted of misdemeanors and felonies, some of them very minor technical offenses. Though the article refers to the rapidly growing number of federal laws, the same thing has happened on a state level as well. I was reminded about this article, which came out last summer, by the sad events unfolding around the fraud charges against James Stewart and Larry “Lucky” Otting, of Rawesome fame.

They were long-time friends at Rawesome. As Mark McAfee noted in a comment recently, the two provided important support to his dairy when its raw milk operation was launched in 2001. Now they are ensnared in America’s criminal justice system, which is not a good place to get stuck.

I’m convinced they all had good intentions when Stewart introduced Otting to Palmer back in 2008. “We all believed in the cause” of sustainable locally-produced food,” Otting told me a few days ago. “We all wanted the best.” (Thanks to Wendy for the excellent explanation, following my previous post, from Sharon Palmer’s perspective.)

But there was the falling out over Palmer’s alleged outsourcing of food. Plus, says Otting,  he and Palmer quarreled over changes she made to the property–changes he says got him, as the owner, into trouble with local authorities. Stewart continued to support Palmer, as Otting became her adversary.

Even though both men were charged with fraud-related offenses in Ventura County, their adversarial relationship has continued into the courts. Otting worked out a deal with the Ventura County District Attorney to testify against Stewart and Palmer, in exchange for having his dozen or so charges reduced to a single offense, grand theft, punishable by a maximum six months in jail.

Stewart and Palmer, in the meantime, are still charged with dozens of felonies and misdemeanors that could lead to jail terms of thirty-plus years. Stewart is understandably bitter. “I sat there watching the hearing for three days,” he told me a few days ago. “There is no justice…The whole thing is so insane.”

“Lucky has millions of dollars. Sharon and I are broke and looking at jail terms.”

America has long boasted the best system of justice money can buy. But more to the point, the system has ever more ways to ensnare people who may simply be trying to do good things for their communities. When the authorities want to come after you, it’s increasingly easy for them to find some legality or another to trip you up on. And once they have you, there are all kinds of technicalities and potential deals that only those with top lawyers can handle; plea deals in which friends testify against each other is just one such arena.

The food rights movement needs to face up to these ugly realities as well. As much as many want to pretend Stewart doesn’t exist, or cast him out as collateral damage, they need to face up to the possibility that what happened to him could happen to others. The case against him has much less to do with fraud and much more to do with derailing the availability of privately available food.

Here’s another way of looking at it, pointed out by lawyer Bill Marler on his blog. It’s been three years since Peanut Corp. of America sickened more than 700 and killed nine with tainted peanut butter, yet charges were never filed against its CEO. And James Stewart, whose food never made anyone sick, faces two trials in which he could be sentenced to possibly 40 years in jail–all for distributing food on a private member-only basis. I know life is unfair, but this unfair?

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31 Comments on "As Claravale Farm Is Quarantined, Frustration Grows, Whispers Get Louder; Legal Check Mate"

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Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 25, 2012 11:02 pm

“nearly 100 year history that they have ever had a test come back positive for a pathogen. ”

It does seem strange that after so many years without problems, to now have a positive test . Thee is no trust in the govt entities so the conspiracy theories will be strong, and there may very well be truth to them. I think they’ve always used glass bottles. Is different machines used for cream and milk? I never saw Claravale cream in the stores in Sacramento, only whole and skim milk. … Read more »

Michael Schmidt
March 26, 2012 1:55 am

Why in all honesty would the Government agents NOT try to contaminate milk from those “legal” farms. As long these cases are reported they will tilt the statistics even if after the fact it was a tempered case.
Why do we have all these cases in the last while.
I do not buy the official version. Tooo many lies, too many hidden agendas, too dirty intentions.
These “statistic boosting” outbreaks are tooo obvious.
Reminds me off the scenario in Nazi Germany where the Parliament was torched by insiders of the regime. That event triggered radical legislation beyond imagination. The rest is known very… Read more »

Deborah - Pacifica
March 26, 2012 3:04 am

Okay…what’s with all the bail bonds postings here?!

Deborah - Pacifica
March 26, 2012 3:05 am

I’m referring to the posts made by ymarquez. Is this perhaps some spam postings?!

mark mcafee
March 26, 2012 3:15 am


Excellent coverage of these historically significant events. I must agree with Bill Anderson. America has been sold to the richest cheater, the highest bidder.

Reminds me of what I learned from some dairymen l last week that were part of a group from Pen State. On the 44th floor of a building that overlooks the Dallas Fortworth Airport, executives that work for Deans Foods are paid millions per year to keep dairymen as serf. They are paid to keep CWT pay prices dirt cheap.

Little does anyone know that the national CWT pay price is set by a couple of… Read more »

March 26, 2012 5:21 am

There must be more to the Claravale story. In September of 2008 there was a quarantine order on cream from Organic Pastures. Why was the dairy was still able to sell whole milk? Shouldn’t that also be the case for Claravale?

Mark at the time stated “What we find very puzzling is that the milk that the cream came from tested negative for campylobacter”

I have read that there was a mix up at the CDFA that caused the bad test at Organic Pastures.

CDC states “Unpasteurized milk can become contaminated if the cow has an infection with Campylobacter in… Read more »

March 26, 2012 6:32 am

probably a troll subtly mocking those of us who sympathize with Palmer and Stewart

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 26, 2012 12:54 pm

“at Your Family Cow the problem was with the water heaters not cycling to 180 degrees. So the equipment was not being properly sanitized.”

Does the equipment have gauges or some type of alarm to alert you when this happens?

March 26, 2012 7:18 pm

I read that they were creating a system that smart phones would alert the owners if the temperatures were dropping.

mark mcafee
March 26, 2012 7:32 pm

Yes…part of the Grade A Raw Milk standards required for raw milk production in CA is the use of a temperature recorder. The temp recorder is a circular heat sensitive paper document that records all activities that are temperature related that occur in a milk tank ( or other system like a cold room or chiller etc ). These include: cold water temps, hot water wash temps, milk temps and etc…..the farmer documents by writing on the temp chart the various activities that occured and the chart heat stylus shows this time as each event occurs. if… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 26, 2012 11:28 pm

“The company, meanwhile, will develop a strategy for rebuilding business and addressing what Letch called misconceptions about the beef the company makes.

“We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back,” he said. “It’s 100 percent beef.””

As said in previous posting…they will come back as something else, still adulterated and misleading the people.

mark mcafee
March 27, 2012 12:11 am

A SMART phone internet connected cell based system is already available to report violations of temperature control etc….it is just a matter of money$$$$ The same can be done for remote video surveilance.

D. Smith
March 27, 2012 2:55 am

Our sovereign food rights are being eroded quickly and deliberately, if you ask me.

Very deliberately.

Not sure anything can stop this train now.

The biggest problem I can see is there are so many (too many) *arms* – and different guberment agencies – involved with the control and safety (a complete oxymoron in my estimation) of our food “system”, that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is really doing.

Admidst that confusion is planned chaos designed to look unplanned. IOW, deliberate, as I stated earlier.

Then you toss in the DOJ and you’ve got another… Read more »

joelie hicks
March 27, 2012 12:39 pm

Too bad I can’t make it to this….

———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 2:57 PM
Subject: Valparaiso Law – Invite to Monsanto Lecture & Campus Tour


The Dean and faculty of Valparaiso University Law School invite you to attend the 2012 Monsanto Lecture on Tort Jurisprudence.

Monsanto Lecture on Tort Jurisprudence
“What Does Tort Law Do? What Can It Do?”

by Professor Scott Hershovitz

Friday, March 30, 2012
4:00 p.m.
Wesemann Hall – Benson Classroom

Our guest speaker, Professor Scott Hershovitz, will defend the claim that tort law aims to do corrective justice, but not in the way that… Read more »

joelie hicks
March 27, 2012 12:41 pm

This came to my daughter, when she was accepted to law school I told her I hoped she would fight for food rights, she made a joke about Monsanto-not so funny really.

Ora Moose
Ora Moose
March 27, 2012 6:25 pm

I don’t think anyone here has posted about this recent study about immunity, but it is very relevant in light of the fact that pasteurization is all about killing microbes in food. Is it possible that the authorities could actually read some of the scientific data and reconsider their position and prosecution of live food producers?

“The idea that exposure to microbes can be good for us—by tuning up our immune systems and preventing overreactions like asthma and autoimmune diseases—is catching. Now, a new study of this provocative notion, known as the hygiene hypothesis, suggests that microbes furnish some… Read more »

mark mcafee
March 27, 2012 7:26 pm


Great links….keep them coming. This is the science behind why raw milk rocks!!

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 27, 2012 10:23 pm

.” Is it possible that the authorities could actually read some of the scientific data and reconsider their position and prosecution of live food producers?”

No, not possible, if tptb were to actually be for the people, they would require the cafo’s, mega farms adulterated foods,etc to change….There is way too much money involved and tptb are owned completely by the big corporations, etc.

mark mcafee
March 28, 2012 1:15 am

Sylvia Gibson for Secretary of Health and Human Services ( FDA )…you are dead on it.
When science and truth become inconvient… Houston we have a problem.

Kristen P
March 28, 2012 7:30 am
Shana Milkie
March 28, 2012 1:02 pm

Privatization of prisons, ugh.

Please keep up the excellent journalism, David. I grieve for the country the United States is becoming, and I hope we the people can keep responding to the increasing repression.

– Shana Milkie

Ken Conrad
Ken Conrad
March 28, 2012 4:02 pm

Due to overwhelming opposition to GMO technology in Europe, German-based BASF the world’s largest chemical company is withdrawing their biotech division and relocating its plant in the good old US of A so that it can concentrate its plant biotechnology activities on markets in North and South America.

“In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State. “
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Ken Conrad

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 28, 2012 5:51 pm

Just what we need…more toxins.

D. Smith
March 28, 2012 6:46 pm

Here’s what I meant in my previous comment where I mentioned that the planned chaos is meant to look unplanned, IOW deliberate. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks that’s exactly what’s happening, although the words “soft kill” weren’t in my previous post. If you don’t want to view the vid in the link above (it’s Alex Jones and some people don’t care for him) at least read the wealth of information in the article itself. I don’t always agree with Alex Jones and his voice gives me turkey marbles, but he may have… Read more »

Deborah - Pacifica
March 28, 2012 10:04 pm

Nice article here:
and features our own David as well.

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 28, 2012 10:11 pm

“Jackie Ownes, the DATCP inspector carrying out action against Hershberger calls herself a judge, but has no sworn oath on file and therefore, no real judicial authority. The rally organizers are suing her for fraud and misrepresentation.”

Isn’t it illegal to represent yourself as a judge when you are not one? I’m glad the organizers are suing. It is illegal to call yourself a nurse if you are not a licensed nurse.

March 31, 2012 6:06 am

It sure is great that Mark is so willing to point out that glass bottles could be a problem to his competitors. It is sad that he has to resort to dirty tactics on Claravale who in my opinion has way more integrity. Shame on you Mark.

March 31, 2012 7:27 am

the lie can be maintained only for such a time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie

It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie and thus by extension …. the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the state”

who said dat? not exactly at the pinnacle of his popularity, laterly … but, if the Devil himself tells you that 2 + 2 = 4, then how much is two plus… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
Sylvia Gibson
March 31, 2012 12:44 pm

I would doubt that glass was the cause as they have been using glass since they started, 75 yrs? If it was from the bottles it would be a malfunction in the cleaning process of the bottles. I and many others prefer glass bottles.

joelie hicks
March 31, 2012 1:16 pm

My milk is always in glass.