Warren Burgess has a difficult decision to make.
Burgess is a partner in Traditional Foods Minnesota , which was raided by state agriculture authorities in mid-June, and has been shuttered since. Its crime, like that of Rawesome Foods in Venice, CA, and Manna Storehouse in 2008, seems to be that it makes nutrient-dense food available to a private membership.
Basically, Burgess’ decision is this: Does he cool his heels indefinitely while local licensing officials jerk him around, or does he do what Aajonus Vonderplanitz, a founder of Rawesome, did in California, and defy the ordered shutdown by independently re-opening
Until now, Burgess has taken the approach of being super cooperative with the authorities. He says the half-dozen agents who appeared at the club’s warehouse from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, accompanied by a local cop, didn’t have a search warrant. Nearly all the food is locally produced by small producers, and not available via commercial outlets–things like home-made kombucha and pickled quail eggs.
“I didn’t claim my rights,” Burgess told me in explaining why he didn’t insist on a search warrant. He’s a software engineer, originally from Australia, having settled in the U.S. in 1993. He had just bought out one of the partners of Traditional Foods Minnesota, Alan Kantrud, six weeks earlier. The outlet was founded by Will Winter and a partner in 2008. (Winter subsequently sold his share to Alvin Schlangen.)
The one step he took to protect himself during the raid was to insist on split samples. The agriculture agents refused, only allowing him to keep items from the same shipment–for example, like bottles of pickled quail eggs.
The MDA put an embargo on the outlet, freezing sales. But in the spirit of cooperation, “Within a half hour of the raid, I gave them a complete list of everything that had been sold in the last thirty days.” His reasoning: the agents said they were concerned with the safety of the products on sale, and Burgess wanted to provide full disclosure. “They said they were looking for putrid foods and unsanitary foods.”
The result of Burgess’ largesse? “They basically used the information I gave them to raid other people.” A producer of raw milk who sublet part of the warehouse where Traditional Foods Minnesota is located to distribute his milk was one of those raided. (Traditional Foods Minnesota doesn’t sell raw milk.)
He says he was told there were licensing issues, and that he’s inquired about which licenses to obtain. But the guidance he’s received has been contradictory. Initially he was told he needed a retailing license, “But we are zoned industrial-two, so we can’t be a retail shop. Besides, we’re not retailers. We were doing manufacturing, of kombucha and sauerkraut.” The outlet also has an aquaculture operation, growing yellow perch, and vegetables in the mineral-rich water.
Of late, the officials have stopped responding altogether to Burgess’ requests for guidance, according to emails Burgess shared with me.
He’s not sure what to do. I have a suggestion, though I must acknowledge upfront it’s not my skin or food club at risk. Assume the authorities are out to keep you and your members from obtaining nutrient-dense food, and take the Aajonus Vonderplanitz route. Screw ’em.
Much as I enjoy the array of raw milk cheeses increasingly available in Vermont, I didn’t fully appreciate that it’s become the center of artisanal cheese-making in the U.S. I received a fascinating introduction to the dynamics of cheesemaking when I caught up with cheesemaker Bill Anderson (aka WI Raw Milk Consumer on this blog) in the midst of a Vermont cheesemaker tour he was taking.
Anderson is in the midst of moving from Wisconsin to launch a cheesemaking operation in Ohio. We arranged to meet, and just as I had hoped, he showed up with samples of seven different Vermont cheeses. My favorite was a raw goats milk camembert with a distinct barnyard taste. Yum.