Bitter Harvest for Small Farms
Legal Troubles Mount as Local Producers Buck Food Safety Rules
By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2007; A01
WINGINA, Va. -- To some, Richard Bean is a folk hero: the small farmer who dared to sell local, naturally raised pork chops, ribs, sausages and bacon. To the government, Bean looks like a felon.
Since 2001, Bean has sold his pork to restaurants and at farmers markets in the Charlottesville area, where he also offers chicken, vegetables and homemade bread. In many ways, his Double H Farm is exactly what the burgeoning eat-local movement wants: a diversified, family-run farm that sells to nearby customers.
But to make farming sustainable, Bean said, he has evaded government requirements that producers have animals slaughtered and processed in inspected facilities. His defiance led to his arrest Sept. 21 when state police officers, armed and dressed in flak jackets, arrived at the Double H with a search warrant and arrested Bean and his partner, Jean Rinaldi.
. . . The growing defiance from small farmers illustrates their increasing frustration with rules that they say penalize them and favor industrial producers, who were the source of headline-grabbing disease outbreaks such as the E.coli-infected spinach that killed three people last year and last month's recall of 21.7 million pounds of E.coli-infected ground beef.
. . . Bean and other farmers advocate unregulated direct sales of locally grown foods. "What we would like to see is an exemption from government intrusion in direct farmer-to-consumer food transactions," said Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm in nearby Swoope, a pioneer of the local food movement and author of "Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front." "In other words, if you want to come to my farm, look and smell around, and make an informed decision to opt out of Wal-Mart, you should have the freedom to do so."
Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm is perhaps the most intriguing story in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in factory vs private farms.
Essentially, there are two things going on here at he same time and the federal government is not good at that. There is the nationwide responsibility of the FDA to keep us reasonably healthy and the freedom of producer and consumer to protect and continue to conduct a one-on-one system of trust.
Once upon a time that farmer-consumer thread was unbroken, but those were the days before lettuce in January. Who among us remembers the precursor to farmers' markets, the farm-stand on the rural highway at a farm gate? Sweet corn, tomatoes and home-pu-up preserves to die for (no pun intended--it wasn't the local farmer who recalled 22 million pounds of ground beef).
Were those corn-relish preserves put up in properly sterilized Mason jars? We presumed so--and this is the thrust of the argument, that eyeball to eyeball, people take care of one another.
This particular omnivore's dilemma will probably be settled in the courts, which is never a good place to be the little guy. Read Pollan's book--it's 425 pages about how our food comes to us and, amaziingly, it's hard to put it down.