One of Mark Nolt’s lasting images from last Friday’s raid of his farm by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, is of Bill Chirdon, the top PDA food safety official, walking off with a copy of Joel Salatin’s book, “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.”
Of course, that’s not the only lasting image. There are also the images of half a dozen police cars “coming in like a bunch of Vikings” last Friday morning, recalls Mark. And of Chirdon and his henchmen from the PDA, armed with a search warrant, confiscating up to $50,000 worth of dairy products and equipment. The worst was the equipment, says Mark, including a stainless steel cream separator, cheese-making tools, and valves for the vats, along with all the milk jugs. “A lot of it is older equipment—they don’t make the small dairy equipment any more.”
But the most curious was the seizure of Joel Salatin’s book, which recounts Joel’s run-ins with state and federal regulators who have made life miserable on his Virginia farm over the years. Mark sells the book from the farm (“I’ve sold quite a few of them”). “I just wish we had a photo of him leaving with the book,” says Mark. “I think he must have a sense of humor.”
I think Mark is quite generous to Chirdon. To me, there’s something obscene about Chirdon, who’s spent the last year harassing Mark Nolt and many of Pennsylvania’s raw milk farmers through discovery of pathogens that never make anyone sick on more than half a dozen dairies, just walking off with the book. It’s almost as if he’s mocking Mark and the other farmers Chirdon is trying to drive out of business. In fact, I don’t get the entire equipment-seizure part at all. If Mark is violating some law, then shouldn’t he be charged with violating the law and tried for that? Isn’t the seizure of equipment, and books, simply arbitrary and harassing?
As Mark says, “One thing we’re all clear on is that this is not about food safety.”
No, this is a struggle over freedom and rights. Mark doesn’t want to say what his legal approach will be when his trial comes up next Monday.
Mark is convinced Pennsylvania’s raw milk permitting doesn’t apply to people like him, who are engaged in private transactions with individual consumers. My guess is that while he could well be found guilty of violating PDA regulations by refusing to operate with a raw milk permit, officials will try to avoid putting this father of ten children into jail and turning him into even more of a cause celebre. Instead, they will likely try to drag the process out and bleed him financially via more product confiscations and other such harassment.
In such a situation, a PR and lobbying campaign could make a huge difference. When it comes to civil disobedience, the step that helps most is for others to join in—in this case, for other farmers to similarly refuse to obtain permits. There are any number of other Pennsylvania farmers who have refused to obtain permits, but haven’t been willing to stand up as Mark has done. That’s been the situation in other states as well, including New York and Michigan, for the simple reason that most farmers feel they can’t afford to jeopardize their businesses and properties in the interests of a cause. The state is okay with that, preferring to set an example of Mark to intimidate the others to come around. But the next worst thing from their viewpoint is for Mark to become a cause celebre, so the best option for opponents is to take Bob Hayles’ great suggestions (following my Friday post about Mark), and make sure Mark does in fact become a cause celebre, via press releases, calls to legislators and PDA’s office (number on the page I link to in the first paragraph), and attendance at his trial Monday (per Don’s advice following my previous post about California).
In the meantime, Mark says he will continue milking his cows and supplying his customers. Maybe Bill Chirdon will do some reading to prepare on his end.