When it comes time to slaughter cattle and pigs at Amos Miller’s farm in Bird-in-Hand, PA, the process has been pretty much the same for decades. One of the Amish farm hands brings out a pistol, and shoots each animal between the eyes. “You have to hit them in just the right spot,” the designated farm hand told me a few years ago when I visited the farm. “With the pigs, if you miss, the bullet bounces off the skull. They have a real hard skull.”

The shooter does his work outside the main barn, and works fast to clean up the blood, especially with the pigs. “If you don’t clean the blood up right away, the other pigs will roll around in it.” 

A group of Mennonite butchers are at the ready to skin the hides and take the carcasses to their own facility for butchering. 

But that long-established traditional process is in jeopardy as the U.S. Justice Department moves full speed ahead on its court suit against Miller filed in April (reported on here). to potentially shut down the farm for refusing to use U.S. Department of Agriculture approved facilities for its meat slaughtering. 

Also in jeopardy is the well established private food club model, under which hundreds of private food clubs have been established around the U.S. to obtain food from farms like Miller’s. These farms avoid involvement in state and federal regulatory systemsby virtue of their direct contractual sales to food club members. For many years, government agencies have mostly refrained from challenging such farms, and left them in a legal gray area. However, the U.S. Justice Department, assuming a tough-guy posture against the small Amish farm, bragged in its April announcement about the suit that it represented “the first-ever suit of its kind where FSIS is seeking an injunction against a so-called ‘private membership association’ farm business to enforce food safety laws.” 

There has already been a pretrial conference June 13, when the judge in the case encouraged both parties to seek a settlement. Miller last week wrote his food club members to say he has tried for a settlement, but is pessimistic because the USDA and its inspection arm, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have shown no interest in compromise. 

“On approximately June 18 we got a letter from the court with a date of July 18 in Philadelphia for the settlement conference, and after reading the full letter, in there it stated, ‘Please notify the court if settlement is not a real possibility.”’ I had to think about this. I made a few phone calls to see if there could be a chance.  I had a conversation with USDA/FSIS Director Troy Hambright for a while and the opinion I got from him is that we have to follow all their rules, otherwise we will be in violation. No exceptions.  We did talk about the citric acid solution which seems to be most commonly used in USDA inspected plants.  We have a few team members on duty to look at USDA requirement rules and regulations and they are not comfortable with what USDA/FSIS calls safe or that we can call safe at all due to our very chemical sensitive members.” 

As a result, Miller appears ready to do something few Amish farmers have ever done: fight back with an aggressive legal strategy. A number of his food club members have launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $23,000 to hire a team of lawyers committed to defending the farm and its private member association. 

The new GoFundMe site notes: “Our Farmer,  Amos Miller, needs your help to preserve traditional farming the way God intended. In order to defend the way the farm has produced its pure foods for more than 100 years, Amos has to hire civil rights attorneys to argue the farm’s case in court against the army of lawyers that the USDA are bringing to the courtroom. Amos has been advised that the preliminary defense of his Amish farm will cost at minimum $23,000 and he needs help raising the money to preserve this time-honored way of traditional farming practices.”

In bold type, the request for donations adds: “Please note that accepting contributions are not typically allowed in the Amish culture. The Amish believe in earning what you have – through hard work. But Amos needs help to defend our Association and he agreed to accept donations through the GoFundMe campaign,  as this is a true ‘Emergency.’ “

In his note to members, Miller included statements from more than 1,000 members who have written notes of support. They are nearly unanimous in opposing having their meat go through USDA facilities, where various acids are used to clean the meat and facilities. Here is a selection of their comments: 

“USDA facilities have had many instances of meat contamination over the last few years (even some cows discovered with mad cow disease in your processors facilities) whereas, Miller’s Organic Farm have had none. I am strongly opposed to USDA’s requirements of processing meats at their facilities, especially how you spray citric acid and the use of other preservatives on carcasses (and I have heard that USDA also uses bleach to wash carcasses) .  These type practices reflect that you do not care for the health of us humans and what we consume, but reflect that you have dirty, germ infected facilities that require such practices to keep outbreak of diseases as low as you can, but you still infect healthy people with outbreaks of Salmonella  and other germs because of your practices…..” 

“Every customer of Miller’s Organic Farm signs a contract clearly stating their intended desire to receive food products that are processed and handled according to Miller’s Organic Farm standards, regardless of their adherence to Federal regulations.  This is an agreed upon risk by the customer of these products, and as such, Miller’s Organic Farm should, provided the contract continues to be signed by all prospective and current customers at the necessary intervals, not be required, pressured, or forced in any other manner to begin processing its meat products at USDA facilities.”

“As a free individual and a citizen of the United States of America, I have made the decision to purchase Amos Miller’s raw dairy and grass fed, self processed meat products. I have purchased food from him for years, and feed my wife and children this food not only without reservation, but with pride. I take comfort in knowing exactly where my food is coming from, who is caring for it, and how it is cared for.  It would be a disservice to his customers and quite frankly the country to force his animals and his product out of his control and oversight.”

If there is a hopeful sign, it is that the judge in the case, William G. Smith of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, has in previous hearings involving Miller and the USDA, shown himself to be open and direct in his questioning of the parties and inclined toward compromise. In other words, he doesn’t seem as intent on crushing the farmer, as the U.S. Justice Department and USDA seem to be. 

In the meantime, you can support Amos Miller’s legal fight at his GoFundMe site