Been thinking, in the midst of this East Coast hurricane… and hurrying to post while electricity and modems still working…What are we to make of this seemingly conciliatory gesture by the head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in meeting with raw milk supporters and suppliers last week to establish a “working group” on herdshares and cowshares?

I was away, out of email and cell phone contact (it’s weird at first, though by the time I returned home, I found I had come to appreciate the quiet, till this hurricane business started)…and now am trying to make sense out of this strange West Coast development.

Is it, as Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures suggests, that California is leading the nation on the nutrient-dense-food liberation front? Or is it something else, something potentially more ominous?

As much as I’d like to feel good about a possible CDFA olive branch offering, especially coming as it does in the aftermath of the Rawesome raid, the cease-and-desist orders against California herdshares, and the federal court action against Amish farmer Dan Allgyer, the fact that it is coming so soon after those events seems a warning sign in and of itself.

Think about it…Is there any reason at all to believe that the federal and state authorities behind these aggressively hostile actions have suddenly changed their stripes and become reasonable and rational people, opening their arms to discussion and compromise? I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest even a slight shift in attitudes.

So, if there’s no change in fundamental attitudes, why the shift in approach and tone? I can think of three reasons:

* The legislators and regulators have been hearing from a ton of unhappy voters. As McAfee quotes the Agriculture Secretary, “these public servants have recently been threatened and abused by the raw milk crowd.” Poor little babies. When they come with guns and handcuffs and flat-bed trucks to steal food, it’s “enforcement,” but when outraged citizens flood their phone lines and email boxes with complaints, it’s “abuse.”

* The court suit by Michael Hulme challenging the right of citizens to own goats and consume the milk from their goats has the CDFA lawyers nervous. After all, isn’t it entirely possible that a judge might answer affirmatively, that, yes, California residents most definitely have the right to own goats in contractual business arrangements with farms and to drink the milk from their goats?

* Consumers are buying in to private food groups en masse as the last reasonable approach to maintaining their food freedom, and the authorities are ever more fearful that they are losing any hope of control.

What better way to halt any momentum that might be accumulating from the angry voters, a kick-ass court action, and rapidly spreading private locally-based food acquisition groups than to distract everyone with a “working group.” And not just any working group. A working group, as McAfee describes it following my previous post, “to work on the issue of cow shares in CA. Top level legal advisors (from CDFA, I presume) that have looked at the cow share issue have clearly shared with us today, that the entire issue must be analyzed. It could very well be that if a cow share is really a consumer owned co-producer contract…..that CDFA would completely leave them alone.”

Now, I don’t want to single McAfee out for criticism and ridicule here. I have long admired his sincerity and commitment in pushing for food rights. He’s been tireless in his efforts, and I’ve been right there with him at any number of events to back raw dairy producers.

But, as was discussed at some length following my previous post, those of us promoting the same cause can disagree sincerely on particular issues. I, for one, can’t imagine any scenario in which “CDFA would completely leave them alone.” I mean, has there ever been a situation in which regulators have become actively involved in which the final result was to completely leave anyone alone?

No, regulators are in business to regulate. The more they can regulate, the more they justify their existence. It’s been that way from time immemorial, everywhere in the world.

The part of this entire situation I find most troubling is the idea that we need a CDFA working group to define herdshares and cowshares. They are already well defined, and Don Neeper offers crystal clear re-caps of those definitions following my previous post.

No, once the regulators become involved in establishing the rules for these contractual relationships, it’s all over, especially when it comes to raw milk. Let’s not forget, the regulators are essentially committed nearly as one to restricting or eliminating access to raw dairy. In Ohio, where a state judge took the Ohio Department of Agriculture to task and sanctioned herdshares and cowshares in 2006, the regulators are now suddenly reconsidering, re-evaluating, as Don Neeper reports. They don’t like yogurt, or butter, or this, or that. In other words, they want more restrictions.  

Some people don’t like it when I say we’re in a war over food rights. We are, and the reason I repeatedly emphasize that point is that the war analogy helps us understand more clearly what’s going on around us. In wars, it’s common practice for the aggressor to offer a potential settlement or compromise after launching a huge military assault, and the enemy has fought back harder than expected. The aggressor hopes to de-rail any momentum, and divide the enemy with an offer that seems tempting to everyone who hates war, which is most of us.

Even if nothing comes of the discussions, the aggressor uses the pause to gather information and intelligence, and to re-group. McAfee indicates CDFA officials were surprised to learn there are likely more than 100 dairies with herdshare/cowshare arrangements in California. Of course they were. They don’t know much of what’s going on in the real world they regulate.

What better way to identify these dairies than to invite them to participate in a working group? Remember, the CDFA hasn’t offered immunity from prosecution, amnesty, or anything else. It hasn’t offered to discontinue going after dairies with additional cease-and-desist letters or prosecution. All it’s offering is its reputation for good heartedness. Yeah, sure.

I’m not saying you don’t communicate with the enemy. But you don’t automatically sanction the enemy’s maneuvers to lure you off the battlefield, and into sham peace discussions. In this case, there must not be any sort of advance agreement to allow CDFA to  “define” herdshares and cowshares. Perhaps eventually there is some discussion about testing protocols or similar day-to-day operational and safety matters. In the meantime, there is plenty of precedent under contract law to give these private contractual ownership arrangements a very good shot at being endorsed by a California judge, or perhaps a federal judge on appeal.

Instead of defining herdshares, perhaps the more appropriate subject for discussion is how to dismantle the undercover investigations state and federal regulators have become so fond of using in recent years.

Let’s remember, we are battling as enemies some very shrewd people. Some of them are experienced professional law enforcement professionals, some are lawyers, and some are tough regulators consulting with smart lawyers (as in U.S. Department of Justice lawyers). They are spending much time, and money, probing our weaknesses, exploiting our disagreements or personal animosities.

That’s all not to say we have to be in agreement on everything, as was discussed following my previous post. We just need to counter-attack ever more shrewdly ourselves. We have the ultimate weapon: there are many more of us than them. We can’t forget that fundamental reality.


I appreciated the discussion following my previous post, about blog protocol and tone. I’m sorry to see long-time commentator Bill Anderson leave, but I understand his rationale. As a number of people pointed out, online communication and debate offers special challenges. It’s an ongoing learning process.