When the approximately twenty agents arrived at her farmhouse door at 7 a.m. last Wednesday–from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Ventura County sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture–Sharon Palmer didn’t know what to say. She had just the previous day pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of mislabeling goat’s milk cheese that took more than a year to materialize from two previous raids in late 2008 and 2009, pushed by CDFA. She thought that at the least the authorities would leave her alone until that case was resolved, since she had made no attempt to get back into her original business of selling raw goat’s milk and cheese.
But her 12-year-old daughter, Jasmine, wasn’t the least bit tongue-tied. “She started back-talking to them,” recalls Palmer. “She said, ‘If you take my computer again, I can’t do my homework.’ This would be the third computer we will have lost. I still haven’t gotten the computers back that they took in the previous two raids.” (I wrote several posts about Sharon Palmer after the first raid, and then about her ongoing legal problems.)
Alas, the agents took nearly six hours to conduct their “search,” and took the replacement computer, along with goat’s milk Palmer feeds her chickens and pigs, since she can’t sell it–“The chickens get the curd and the pigs get the whey,” she told me.
The raid last Wednesday on Sharon Palmer’s farm was carried out on the same day as a raid on Rawesome Foods, the Venice, CA, buying club run by nutritionist and raw-food advocate Aajonus Vonderplanitz. The main difference seems to be that her raiding party didn’t include agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Canada, as did the Rawesome raid.
Because the CDFA had previously suspended her dairy license, in late 2008, Palmer says she had worked hard to survive without selling dairy products, instead selling beef, pork, chickens, and eggs she raises on the farm. “They nearly forced me out of business with the previous raids,” she says. She and her three children “are barely surviving.”
She had continued providing milk to Vanderplanitz’s Rawesome as part of a previously existing herdshare arrangement. “I’m not part of Aajonus’ business,” Palmer told me. He and other owners of the goats “have their herdshare and pick up their milk here.” They even do their own bottling.
The search warrant, executed by a CDFA agent, refers to “ongoing criminal actions since January 2009.” She says one of the agents said it was ongoing “about cheese and milk.” When she inquired of the man who identified himself as being with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office as to why they were after her again when all she was doing was fulfilling terms of a herdshare agreement, he said, “We don’t agree you can have a private membership.”
What’s perhaps most astonishing to Palmer is that, at a time when California state and local agencies are announcing mammoth layoffs–more than 200,000 state employees have been furloughed–an assortment of agencies are throwing huge amounts of manpower at her and Aajonus Vonderplanitz.
“They can afford to have between both locations (Rawesome and Palmer’s farm) 65 different people spend a day. And how much time was spent preparing everything? Who authorizes that kind of money from Los Angeles County to go through my receipts?…It’s not about public safety. These are all private members. I could see if I was peddling milk to the public, but I’m not. It’s disgusting that they can abuse public funds for something that doesn’t involve public safety.”
Her main hope is that by going after Aajonus Vonderplanitz and his food club, authorities might at last rile up consumers enough that they will contact their local politicians, and force authorities to explain what is driving such a high-priority investigation. Following the previous raids on her farm in late 2008 and early 2009, she says she didn’t see much evidence of consumer support. “People tend to stand back,” she says.
Vonderplanitz, for his part, is threatening to sue government agencies for the attack on the food club.
He said in a statement over the weekend, “The club is severely in debt because of the confiscation of members’ food. Warrant stated that authorities could take samples (vials) but they took 17 huge coolers of product.”
He added: “Several of the volunteers for our club, including me (I do not make one cent from anything distributed at Rawesome and I pay for farmers’ services like everyone else), conferenced with several attorneys and paralegals. We have decided to sue the government for their violations.”
Vonderplanitz had previously stated that his nonprofit organization, Right to Consume Healthy Food, “contracts with farmers (including Palmer’s) to lease their animals and/or fields and owns the produce of those animals and fields. Therefore, all members of all clubs owns the produce, not the farmer. The farmer does not sell people anything but gets paid for his services to cultivate, grow, harvest, board and care for animals, collect, package and ship the produce owned by club members.”
For all the dust and confusion raised by last week’s raids, I’d say one major target is the entire herdshare/buying club structure. And don’t be surprised if there are others.