Alvin Schlangen knows the drill by now.
Designate a few members of his Minnesota food club to run things in the event he is thrown in jail. Savor his last few meals at home. Get the word out as far and wide as possible to encourage supporters to attend his criminal trial, beginning August 13.
It’s been less than a year since Schlangen was acquitted of three criminal misdemeanor charges in a trial in Minneapolis’ Hennepin County, in connection with distributing raw milk, and operating his food club without food handler and retailer licenses. But that hasn’t deterred the Minnesota Department of Agriculture from coming after him even more aggressively than the first time around, convincing a prosecutor in Schlangen’s home Stearns County to file the same charges as Schlangen was acquitted of in Hennepin County, plus adding a few having to do with selling adulterated food and storing his eggs under improper conditions.
The Stearns County prosecutor has signaled his intention to try every questionable trick in the books to gain a conviction of the quiet farmer. He has equated raw milk to “a controlled substance” in pretrial arguments. More recently, he has shown public health records suggesting that a member of Schlangen’s food club was sickened by the pathogen campylobacter, even though no tests were conducted of Schlangen’s farm or milk, and even though the individual who became sick admitted he had been eating fast-food in the days preceding his illness.
Still, the prosecution has signaled it will aggressively pursue the illness angle, by listing among its witnesses an MDA expert in pathogens and an official of its laboratory.
The prosecutor’s desperation is understandable. Not only did Schlangen beat the Minneapolis charges, but Vernon Hershberger beat a “special” prosecutor assigned to get him in neighboring Wisconsin, on similar licensing charges. The nationally-directed campaign against small farms is thus zero-for-two in its effort to convict small farmers on criminal charges related to private food sales. A third defeat, “strike three,” as it were, would be terribly humiliating to the food police. But it might also call a halt to the government’s scorched-earth campaign against small farms, since it will become ever more difficult to get prosecutors to go along with the ill-advised legal offensive.
Schlangen knows how important it is to have a show of community support in the courtroom, for the judge, prosecutors, and jury to see. Everyone involved takes a case more seriously if the defendant has visible community support. “Prepare to impress yourselves and your neighbors as we take this discussion to a new level,” he said in a message to supporters. “We know that we have God-given rights and we are not prepared to give up our local food community to the MDA.”
In a clear example of how the glare of publicity and support from the community can make a difference, regulators in California have at long last approved Lindner Bison’s frozen storage facility in the Los Angeles area. This is a farmer regulation issue that has been going on for years. It was finally resolved when people who value food freedom got behind the Lindners and let the Los Angeles public health regulators know that their arbitrary blockage of the Lindners at Los Angeles farmers markets wouldn’t be tolerated.