Canadian sheep farmer Montana Jones with Virginia farmer Joel Salatin at Food Freedom Fest on Friday.The first-ever, and hopefully first annual, Food Freedom Fest brought together about 200 food rights advocates from around the country on Saturday to farmer Joel Salatin’s scenic home town in the Shenandoah Valley. The focus was on overcoming the sense of an expanding, and ever-more-controlling, food regulatory structure. 


Here are key observations and predictions I took from the cast of speakers who presented:


Gary Cox of conference sponsor Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund: In his review of the organization’s seven-year history, its chief trial lawyer said that regulatory enforcement has shifted from raw milk to zoning. “We hardly ever see a raw dairy case any more…It is interesting how local zoning cases are most important to government right now. “


Looking ahead, the big issues he sees are beef and poultry regulation, food sovereignty, and the Food Safety Modernization Act. He sees more clashes over locally produced meat, and food sovereignty “sweeping the nation.” The FSMA could provide the most fireworks in a battle over U.S. Food and Drug Administration efforts to control intrastate commerce. “The FDA is putting its finger into everything,” Cox said, and a court challenge to its likely efforts to use the FSMA to restrict intrastate food sales could be in the offing. 


Tennessee Sen. Frank Niceley, chief architect of herdsharing legislation five years ago, said that after a four-year effort, the law has opened up the raw milk market in the state far beyond expectations. The state’s attorney general favorably interpreted the legislation to allow additional raw dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and butter. Niceley said that reports he’s received indicate there are now slightly more raw dairies in the  state—somewhere on the order of 450 to 500—than commercial dairies. And the the gap is likely to grow, as ten commercial dairies a month go under.  


Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie at the Food Freedom Fest on Friday. U.S. Congressman Thomas Massie, who made headlines earlier this year when he assembled a couple dozen co-sponsors for legislation to dilute the effects of the federal prohibition on interstate raw milk sales and shipments, was pessimistic about the chances of actually passing anything in the House of Representatives. Indeed, it isn’t even likely the legislation will get a hearing. “The dairy industry went apoplectic when we introduced the legislation,” he said. “My wife said she didn’t know the lactose industry was so intolerant.” 


Cong. Massie told me after his talk that the best chance to get raw milk legislation through Congress and into law would be as part of some other appropriations bill guaranteed passage. Even that route is a long shot, he said, since not many appropriations bills are likely to get through in the coming year or so. 


Elizabeth Rich, FTCLDF lawyer: She expressed concerns about the expanding power accorded bureaucrats everywhere, comparing the trend to the British King’s Minions who ruled in the American colonies in the years prior to the Revolutionary War of the late 1700s. The inclination of judges to rubber-stamp nearly all regulators’ enforcement actions “has brought us to a very dangerous place,” she said. 


Joel Salatin: The celebrity farmer encouraged food rights advocates to “re-position themselves” so as to get their ideas taken more seriously by mainstream media. He advocated a focus on such things as “personalized stewardship ethics,” “democratized empowerment,” and “safety.” He suggested a different view of safety than that of regulators and corporate food companies to counter the idea “that coke is safer than raw milk.” His advice to sustainable food producers: “Be the lunatic fringe of innovation.”


I predicted in a talk that the food oligarchs, as powerful as they seem not to be with their control of multibillion-dollar industries like dairy, chicken  pork, cereal, and beverages, are doomed, because rapidly growing numbers of people are learning about the dangers of factory food. I pointed to downward sales trends showing up in a number of well known foods. They won’t go easily. “But if there is one thing people like even less than eating bad food, it is serving dangerous food to their families,” I said. 


FTCLDF lawyer Gary Cox clowns around while grilling burgers at a Staunton street fair following the Food Freedom Fest on Friday. The event was attended by about 200 people, including such food rights luminaries as Canadian sheep farmer Montana Jones, Maine food sovereignty organizers Heather Retberg and Bonnie Preston, Maryland food rights activists and organizers Liz Reitzig and Carolyn Moffa, California food club organizer Melissa Henig, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund president Pete Kennedy, Keep Food Legal Foundation founder Baylen Linnekin, and Kentucky food club organizer John Moody

On the sidelines, there were some interesting discussions involving Canadian rights lawyer Karen Selick over which country has become most repressive on food and other rights abuses– the U.S. or Canada. She had an argument for Canada at the conference–Montana Jones only received her passport back from Canadian authorities a couple days before the event; her passport is being held in connection with criminal charges she and dairy farmer Michael Schmidt face related to allegations last year they tried to protect Shropshire sheep the government contended were diseased. That case could come to trial next year.

There was this advice from Martha Boneta of Liberty Farm, based on her intensive efforts helping push through pioneering food freedom legislation in Virginia: “Never ever give up.”  And from Baylen Linnekin of the Keep Food Legal Foundation, this apt observation: “The food rights movement came of age at this conference.”