I saw Kristin Candy’s documentary “Farmageddon” last Friday, when it opened in Boston (including having the privilege of introducing the producer to the film audience). Even though I knew about all the cases of hit-upon farmers and food clubs, a few pictures are sometimes worth a few thousand words, and in that vein, two scenes stick most vividly in my mind.
The first is the video of Georgia consumers pouring out in a farm field the raw milk they had already purchased, under the watchful eyes of agents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Even though I’ve seen the photos and video before, seeing the dozens of consumers meekly acquiesce to the orders to dispose of their good food was still upsetting to me–a totally humiliating experience for the victims.
The second haunting scene is one of police and agents from the FDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture raiding Mennonite farmer Mark Nolt’s farm in 2008. It was one of three raids he endured.
At one point during the raid, a policeman tells Nolt, while both are standing on the porch of his farm store, that he can’t go inside while the agents are searching and confiscating food and equipment. Nolt walks past him into the store, and the cop does nothing. The action was symbolic of Nolt’s entire approach to the PDA’s campaign against him.
After raiding Nolt’s farm three times, the PDA gave up on Nolt. My guess is that the case against him, for giving up his PDA raw milk permit and instead selling privately, had become so complicated and convoluted that even the regulators could no longer figure it out.
I have to admit that at one point while it was happening I became very frustrated with Nolt’s passivity in dealing with the authorities. Why didn’t ‘t he just try to resolve the situation, I wondered.
Well, now having seen other farmers like Vernon Hershberger in Wisconsin and Brigitte Ruthman in Massachusetts, and Michael Schmidt in Canada, along with the food club group in Kentucky, having defied orders, I realize that they have it right.
Yes, they had to pay heavy dues by enduring the threats and pressure and even the invasion of their homes, but in the end, they have won. I can appreciate that Mark McAfee is frustrated that some California dairy farmers are wary of joining in discussions with the California Department of Food and Agriculture over herdshare rules. It may be we don’t want unanimity. The authorities need to know there are growing numbers of people out there very suspicious of official motives and totally fed up with the clampdowns, ostensibly in the interests of “food safety,” even when there is no safety problem.
The reality is that the authorities are more afraid than we realize, and with good reason. They don’t want to risk alienating local residents, prosecutors, and law enforcement to such an extent that they have widespread resistance on their hands from one or another of these parties.
So they will no doubt continue their practice of trying to intimidate by going after one or another farmer or food club. It seems ever clearer that the best strategy is non-cooperation, or even resistance. We have enough heroes now who have taken that route, and we know it works. It’s a strategy not without costs, but then, whoever said freedom came cheaply? Indeed, it might be said that we are fighting a guerilla war, which means that everyone contributes to the common goal in his or her own best way.
And we know people are catching on to the notion of food freedom. All the private home restaurants springing up, even travelers smuggling in soft cheeses aged less than 60 days from Europe.
By the way, “Farmageddon” will definitely get you thinking, and isn’t that the best sign of a good movie? (Upcoming showings will be taking place in San Francisco and Hartford, CT.)