“I’m new to this community and…get food from Alvin (Schlangen),” writes Elisa on a listserve. “I’m so upset they have done this, as is my whole family.”
Welcome to Minnesota, Elisa, where official interference in ordinary people’s access to food has become a major public initiative, along with paving roads and building schools.
And let me introduce you to James Roettger, the man who coordinated the “this” you refer to–the seizure of $5,000-$6,000 worth of food from Alvin Schlangen’s van yesterday.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you already know something about Roettger–he’s the Minnesota Department of Agriculture agent who seized food being distributed from the Hartmann farm in a Minneapolis suburb last December, mis-using his handicapped plate in the process.
The Minnesota campaign against nutrient-dense foods actually began last spring, when Michael Hartmann’s farm was linked to eight cases of infection from E.coli 0157-H7, apparently in his raw milk. That led to court-ordered embargoing of food from his farm.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Public Health could be seen as doing their jobs in that case, since people became sick. The problem is that the MDA, in particular, didn’t end its enforcement efforts with Hartmann. The MDA made a big part of its overall mission the destruction of anyone who had any connection to raw dairy, and nutrient-dense foods in general, totally apart from Hartmann.
On June 15, it conducted a raid on a Minneapolis food club, Traditional Foods Minnesota, and seized more than 50 different products, which didn’t include raw dairy, since the outlet didn’t sell raw milk. It accused Traditional Foods of operating without a license and violating zoning laws, and the outlet has been shut down ever since, as its owners seek to comply with seemingly endless red tape created by MDA, together with the city of Minneapolis.
As for the food seized in that raid, I understand from sources close to the situation that all the foods were tested, at a cost approaching $40,000. The result? Some pickles were found to have been packed in liquid considered to have a high Ph reading.
After shutting down Traditional Foods Minnesota, the MDA sought to shut down Alvin Schlangen’s operations. He made raw milk available from a facility adjoining that of Traditional Foods Minnesota, as well as from his farm, along with eggs, meat, and even fresh citrus.
Wait, I’ll let Roettger tell the story, per his statement to a Minnesota judge in support of the search warrant he obtained to carry out yesterday’s raid.
“I have been assigned as the lead investigator in a case involving Alvin Schlangen. I have gathered information that leads me to believe that Mr. Schlangen is selling food not produced on his farm without a license and is selling unpasteurized milk to the public at locations other than the farm on which the milk was produced. Each act is a violation of Minnesota law…”
Hmmm, the fact he’s “the lead investigator” suggests he is leading a team of investigators. So let’s see, if Roettger is paid $80,000 a year (without benefits), and leads a team of investigators who are each paid $60,000 a year, the numbers are starting to add up. Along with the $40,000 to test all the food from Traditional Foods Minnesota, we’re into the hundreds of thousands of dollars…to take food from ordinary people.
Keep in mind, this has been going on since last June. According to Roettger’s statement, “In June 2010, inspectors with the Dairy and Food Inspection Division Department found Mr. Schlangen selling food of various types from space in the Traditional Foods Warehouse building…without having a license to sell food. Mr. Schlangen also was selling unpasteurized milk and butter and uninspected custom slaughtered meat at this location which could not legally be sold even with a license.”
Then, Roettger says, “A search warrant was executed at Mr. Schlangen’s farm in Stearns County on June 23, 2010. Mr. Schlangen produces and sells chicken eggs and chickens on his small (approximately 5 acre) farm. The search found evidence of illegal unlicensed food sales…”
On July 27, Roettger says, “MDA had an administrative meeting with Mr. Schlangen and again informed him not to sell any food that he did not prdouce without a license, not to sell unpasteurized milk and butter and not to sell uninspected custom slaughter meat.”
In December, “MDA inspectors inspected (not a sanitary inspection) Mr. Schlangen’s farm…and found evidence that he had been selling food that he had not produced on his farm without a license.”
But Roettger’s big break in the case was still to come, on Valentine’s Day, no less. “On February 14, 2011, I received a telephone call from a person who identified himself and sated that he is a tenant of the building” where Schlangen has facilities. I’m breathless as I read. “The tenant informed me of the following:…That Mr. Schlangen is storing and selling foods at that location, including apples, oranges, lemons, almonds, unpasteurized butter, and unpasteurized milk.” It goes on to say how Schlangen makes deliveries and brings in unpasteurized milk on Tuesdays.
Then yesterday, the big raid. Roettger obtained help from St. Paul police, and cornered Schlangen as he was dropping off food at a local college. Roettger looked inside the van, saw some citrus, which told his sharp investigative mind that Schlangen’s farm hadn’t grown it, and sought immediate approval of the search warrant, which was quickly delivered. (There’s an excellent account of the raid and aftermath at the blog of one of Schlangen’s food club members._)
The big problem with search warrants of this type is that the suspected criminal doesn’t get to present his side of the story. Nowhere in the search warrant is there the slightest hint of Schlangen’s defense–that he makes food available privately to members of his food club who sign a statement to that effect and pay an annual membership fee, and that he doesn’t sell to the general public.
But there’s another question as well. Why does the MDA insist on obtaining search warrants and harassing visits instead of simply taking suspects like Schlangen to court? In fact, despite eight months of harassment, or call it theft of food, legal charges have yet to be filed against Schlangen.
Maybe the answer is to be found in the case of Michael Hartmann. The state condemned thousands of dollars of his cheese and meat products last June, and recently sought to hold the farmer in contempt when the MDA discovered, just as it was about to have the food destroyed, that substantial amounts had disappeared.
Today, a state judge declined to find him in contempt when he said that the reason there was less food was that he and his family ate it…and everyone was still around to tell the story. Maybe the judge was saying that it’s okay to eat the food you produce. Maybe the MDA is afraid to challenge Alvin Schlangen’s right to distribute food privately to consenting adults, because they’ll have a similar defense–they obtained it privately…to eat it.
Schlangen remains committed to making nutrient-dense food available to individuals who want it. Late yesterday, he wrote this statement to supporters:
“This three day marathon to bring nutrient dense food to our network of families is so much more satisfying when we can actually deliver the food. This day showed, once again, the arrogance of our Dept of Ag and the collective ignorance of our rights as Americans and Minnesotans. We will not allow fear and aggression to undermine our principals as we continue to promote health through our food supply. It seems ironic to me that the very food items that were used to obtain a warrant to search and detain our farm delivery truck, (4# of oranges and 5# of grapefruit) were the only food items left behind after the looting was done.” ?
So, Elisa, you seem to have picked a difficult state to live in if it’s nutrient-dense food you’re after.