I have been captivated by the story of the Rawsome raid in Venice, CA for the last week. The Nourished Kitchen first published a great article detailing not only the details of the case but how one could get involved. Rallies have been staged, protests have been waged.
But something seemed off to me when reading the article.
Since reading Jenny’s account of the raid, I have read several different versions, from the article at Natural News which it seems has been publishing more than a few articles on the topic. Forbes magazine published an article. So did a site called yovenice.com. To recap for those who haven’t heard, on August 3rd Rawsome Foods a raw milk buying club in Venice, CA was raided by armed agents who seized raw milk, raw cheese, raw kefir, computers and $4,536 in cash. They also arrested three people, the owner of Rawsome Foods owner James Stewart, Weston A Price liason Victoria Bloch and Healthy Family Farms owner Sharon Palmer. The raw milk community has cried foul on the raid as the government’s intimidation of raw dairy consumers in the marketplace. The allegation has flown that the FDA wants to limit our food freedoms and the state government of California is trying to force a private buying club into paying state sales tax to which it should not be subject. Every account that I have read has accurately centered around the fact that the 13 count arrest warrant alleges that Rawsome Foods was operating an illegal grocery store because they did not have the proper permits to sell raw milk in the state of California, among other conspiracy charges.
Here is a copy of the search warrant provided by Natural News
It is worth it to note that the sale of raw milk is LEGAL in the state of California. One must obtain the proper permits in order to sell unpasteurized dairy. However the news coverage of this case alleges that Rawsome was NOT a grocery store at all, but a private buying club. The Natural News went even further as to say “they are not a public store. Rawesome Foods is a private member club where members actually own a percentage of the cows, goats and farms that produce the raw dairy.” Rawsome, they say is just the pick-up location. Anyone would agree that if you and your family across town all owned the rights to a little plot of land, any vegetables grown on the land that you formally agreed to split would not be a sale technically. You would simply be co-operative owners. You would all be subject to splitting the maintanence costs, property taxes on the land, investment in the farming operation and any yield that the land might bring. That makes sense right?
Is this a case of the government squeezing your rights as a consumer to freely choose the most healthful food you wish? Is the FDA stepping over your civil rights by intimidating sellers of raw milk? Some things for me…well they just didn’t add up. First and foremost, if Rawsome foods was just a pick up and drop off location, why did they have so much cash? The more I kept thinking about it, I belong to a CSA. I pay a lump sum in spring and enjoy fresh vegetables delivered to me all summer and fall. My CSA has organized a drop off location. It is a couple of folding tables at a restaurant in the park. No one has ever asked me for cash. I send that via mail directly to the farmer. And in my CSA which is private, while I pay for a share, I do not co-operatively own parts of the farm. What kind of business model is Rawsome? The reports aren’t clear. If people joined with a membership fee and then purchased however much or as little as they wanted from week to week, that sounds like a co-operative grocery store, not a co-operative ownership. Still semi private, but a business nonetheless, as far as I understand subject to the tax and licensing laws of the land. I visited the website of this Healthy Family Farms owned by Sharon Palmer. They are truly set up as a private buying club, with a membership fee of between $25-$35 in order to purchase products. Then you simply order what you want from their website. There is not an ‘about’ page where interested people can gain more information. There is no info, location or otherwise, about the farm, and several products listed for sale are noted as coming from out of state. A membership is easily attainable through a fee, making this in my opinion a completely public group. It is simply a more expensive handling fee, just like I pay when I shop at Target.com. My CSA runs a waiting list, and each year you wait 4-6 weeks to find out IF you have been accepted. I don’t just go to an open website and load the CSA fee in my cart.
Of course the most heated debate was about the permits themselves. It is clear that Rawsome did not obtain permits to sell unpasteurized dairy in California. The three were arraigned in court August 9th after being held on bail since August 3rd. So it is clear that the judge feels that a law has been broken sufficient to bring the case to court and not just throw it out. But that debate will continue as details of the case come out. Likely though the case will progress as it is not the first infraction against Rawsome. They were raided in 2010 for similar violations.
My problem with all of this is that it detracts from the larger issue at hand, your right to buy the foods you want to. This meddling over permits and taxes doesn’t do anything to change the fact that RAW MILK IS LEGAL IN CALIFORNIA. All you have to do is follow the rules. There are dozens of states, including Wisconsin, the largest milk producing state in the country, that do not even allow people to purchase raw milk from the farmer at his own farm. The case against Rawsome has a lot to do with how laws are IMPLEMENTED, but I prefer to fight against BAD LAWS. I think there are few mainstreamers who would want to deregulate the food industry. There are enough egg recalls and ground turkey fiascos to go around right now. Additional deregulation isn’t the answer in my opinion. Fair laws in every state that are in place for the consumer rather than agri-business are the answer. I mean, do we really think that there are zero unscrupulous people in the raw milk business? Are all small farmers so honest and true that NOT A SINGLE ONE would ever sell meat from a sick animal? And what happens when demand outpaces supply of raw milk? Will the community grow ever larger with still no scandal or charlatans looking to make a buck off of you?
In fact, The LA Times reported on August 9th that Healthy Family Farms Owner Sharon Palmer “may be considered a flight risk given that in 2000 she and her partner Edward Rostami were arrested near the U.S.-Mexico border as they fled to avoid prosecution for a real estate swindle.” The linked article details how Palmer (allegedly then Palmer-Ross) was sentenced to three years probation for a reverse mortgage scheme targeted at an eldery woman in Malibu. The article states that Palmer-Ross had previously served a prison sentence for the same crime against a Santa Clara homeowner. Palmer-Ross has also according to the LA Times been “arrested while trying to reenter the country with three Mexican nationals in the trunk of her car.”
It is true. There is nothing definite except death and taxes. I don’t try and fight taxes. I am not going to sit here and fight the tax laws that are on the books. If my state says I need to pay sales tax on my ground turkey, so be it. But please don’t let a small group of people who simply are denying the government’s right to govern them make all of the raw food advocates look like a bunch of people on the political fringe. Business of scale indeed do need to be regulated and thanks to all our writing, cooking, word of mouth and passion, the local and raw food movements are a business of scale. Maybe not the same scale as agri-business, but we are getting there. We can't expect to continually escape regulations.
I will fight for raw milk. But I can’t fight for these people if they simply didn’t follow the letter of the law. I will continue to watch as the story unfolds. But it smells a little spoiled to me.
Also see: You Tube Footage of Stewart at Healthy Family Farms.
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