As I began reading through the court suit that Jacqueline and John Stowers have filed against various Ohio officials, I kept wondering about the retail licensing provision that supposedly prompted the entire affair. How was it that the Manna Storehouse was exempt, or possibly violated it?
But as I continued reading, and learning that the level of violence and abuse was probably even worse than what I and other bloggers previously described, I found myself considering another question: What was the real message the Lorain County and Ohio Department of Agriculture officials were trying to deliver, to the Stowers, and to the community at large?
For it’s clear from the suit that the state’s retail licensing provisions are vague at best in terms of their application to the Manna Storehouse cooperative. There are all kinds of exemptions. In that spirit, the Stowers had, a year earlier, requested via certified mail clarification of the regulations as would apply to Manna Storehouse.
The answer was a knock on the door December 1, according to the suit, “and Katie Stowers opened. Police shoved Katie Stowers to the side, and immediately entered the residence, without first announcing (1) that they were police; or (2) the purpose of the visit. During the raid, at least one, if not several police entered the home with guns drawn, and the Stowers home was surrounded by police who also had guns drawn. Once having obtained entry into the home, the lead officer on the raid, with his gun drawn, swiftly and immediately moved to the upstairs of the home, where he found 8 small children in the middle of a home-schooling lesson. The officer used physical force to get Jacqueline Stowers and her children down the stairs. The officers held the Stowers family captive in their living room for in excess of six hours. During the time that the Stowers were held captive, police and the Ohio Department of Agriculture agents, directed by agent William Lesho, searched not just the Manna Storehouse portion of the Stowers’ property, but also the Stowers’ entire personal residence, and their entire 26-acre property. The police and Ohio Department of Agriculture agents seized the Stowers’ personal family computers, personal cell phones, and personal food supply…” And on and on it goes.
The suit charges that the search was unlawful because “there is no evidence whatsoever, to support anything other than a calm, peaceful and consented-to entry into, and search and seizure of, the Manna Storehouse and the Stowers’ private residence.” It also charges that the ODA and Lorain County health officials “acted beyond the scope of its administrative authority when it directed the police raid, search, and seizure…”
There was “taking of private property without compensation”—on the order of more than $10,000 worth of food, of which “$8,030 was for personal and family use. The reason this amount is so significant is because (1) ten children currently live with the Stowers; and (2) the Stowers had recently taken much of their personal herd of sheep to the butcher, which furnished a year’s supply of meat for the family.”
These are all violations of the U.S. and Ohio constitution, the suit argues. As for the retail licensing matter, the Manna Storehouse’s activities, which “include buying local food from farmers, growing their own food on their own farm, consuming, as a family, food they have grown and purchased, and distributing excess food that they have grown or purchased to members of their co-op in prearranged amounts. This activity is entirely different than operating retail food establishment. The Stowers and/or Manna Storehouse cannot reasonably be classified as a ‘retail food establishment’ because it does not store, process, prepare, manufacture or otherwise handle food for retail sale.”
So I return to my original question. What was the real message behind the raid? That if regulators decide co-ops should be categorized as retail establishments, and subject to various extra regulations and taxes, that the operators and members better just do what they’re told? That you question the regulators at risk of all your food and even your life, and the lives of your children?
It had to be about more than a retail license. Because of the ODA’s involvement, you can reasonably assume it was about sending a message. The ODA was involved in a violent raid and personal assault on raw milk producer Gary Oaks two years ago in Cincinnati as he distributed milk to herdshare members, and got away without any court action, or exposure beyond what I wrote about it. Gary experienced months of hospitalization associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the assault.
I suspect the message has to do with concern about the growth of private groups, like herdshares and co-ops, to ensure access to organic nutritionally dense foods. Let’s see of the courts will stand up to the police-state tactics that ODA has grown so fond of.
(Thanks to Don Neeper for posting the link to the court case, and to the five-minute YouTube segment of the Stowers telling their tale, which is very moving.)
Speaking of assaults on private groups of consumers, Meadowsweet Dairy and its owners, Barb and Steve Smith, are planning an appeal of the court ruling against them last month, based on a decision by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The Smiths had claimed that their limited liability company and its 100-plus members were exempt from regulation by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, but a state court disagreed, ruling the members were “consumers” and thus subject to the same regulation as any farm with a raw milk permit.