There are lots of people who justifiably wish all the conflict and legal stuff associated with Rawesome Food Club would just go away. Even those who are sympathetic wish it weren’t so messy.
If only Sharon Palmer wasn’t involved. If only Aajonus Vonderplanitz hadn’t gone public with his accusatory web site. If only James Stewart weren’t so loyal to Palmer. If only…if only…
In going through such mental calisthenics, it’s easy to lose sight that the government–it’s hard to say which agency or locale because so many different entities have participated in the get-Rawesome campaign–is determined to throw the book at everyone involved. And that’s the part that is essential to remember.
Why would they be going after felony violations in connection with the allegedly illegal distribution of raw milk? Why would they be filing several dozen felony counts against Palmer and Stewart in California’s Ventura County in connection with mortgages and loans in connection with Palmer’s acquisition of the farm, when there are much less painful remedies?
The fraud-related charges against Palmer, as well as James Stewart and Larry Otting, aren’t the result of a devious effort by some to pocket investors’ money and get rich. They grow out of an effort to develop a local farm that would produce organic nutrient-dense foods. The process of raising the money was not unlike effprts that take place all around America every day, commonly known as “informal” or “angel” financing.
Organic Pastures Dairy Co., for one, benefited from such informal financing when it became a raw dairy producer in 2001, as owner Mark McAfee noted in a recent comment: “As I hear people and see people picking up stones and throwing them on the souls of Lucky (Larry Otting) and James….I remember well the beginning days of OPDC when the bank would not loan us a dime because we were producing raw milk. Alta Dena had just closed its doors after years of raw milk torment…James and Lucky deserve credit for raw milk being available in CA. It was their assistance that made it possible.”
I’m not saying that certain technical rules around mortgages and fund-raising weren’t violated in the case of Palmer-Stewart-Otting, but they weren’t of a sort to justify potential state-prison sentences of thirty-plus years for Palmer and Stewart. (Palmer remains jailed as of this moment under the $500,000 bail.) Nor am I suggesting that individuals who loaned money weren’t damaged in not getting their money repaid in a timely way.
Just keep in mind that, unlike most serious frauds, the alleged perpetrators haven’t left town. Indeed, Palmer has retained contact with the borrowers. Nor is this any kind of Ponzi scheme. There are real assets to cover the loans–the Healthy Family Farms property is located in one of America’s wealthiest counties, and my understanding is that it may well have appreciated in value since Palmer took it over in 2008. It is possible to file civil suits and liens to gain financial redress.
Keep in mind as well that Aajonus Vonderplanitz, one of Rawesome’s founders, went to the authorities to file a complaint about his allegation that Palmer was substituting conventional food for organic nutrient-dense food for Rawesome, and in his judgment jeopardizing members’ health. The authorities ignored him, probably laughed once he departed. That’s because the authorities don’t consider such outsourcing a serious matter–they definitely don’t see any health problems associated with consuming lots of conventional food.
So why, then, are the authorities throwing the book at Palmer and Stewart over the mortgage and loans? For the same reason they did so about distribution of raw milk. First of all, they want to scare away those who may be thinking of setting up a similar kind of farm, with a goal of producing raw-milk cheese, which is how Palmer’s farm started. Next, they want to create confusion in the food movement, via a divide-and-conquer strategy. And finally, they want to assert control, discourage privately contracted food arrangements.
Those of us who believe in food rights don’t need to support everyone involved in the Rawesome situation. Just don’t turn away from the situation. If the individuals here, who took big risks to supply nutrient-dense foods to people seeking them, are locked up, it will cast a pall over the entire food rights movement. The authorities are picking and choosing our battles to an important degree. We can’t make it easier for them.
As you might imagine, I’m relieved that the blog move came off as smoothly as it did. The developers told me not to worry, piece of cake, but I’ve heard that one a few times before. I appreciate the favorable comments a number of you have posted. And hopefully those few who ran into glitches are getting them straightened away. Please feel free to send along suggestions for improvement to Andrew Ward, the webmaster (firstname.lastname@example.org).