When officers from the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio arrived last Monday at the Manna Storehouse food cooperative in LaGrange with weapons drawn and trained on Katie Stowers and her children, along with her in-laws, there was one member of the family missing.
Katie’s husband, Chad, is a U.S. Navy Seabee, helping in construction projects in the midst of combat in Iraq. He’s been there, separated from his family, for the last five months, supposedly protecting our rights from abuse—the sort of abuse that appears to be taking place on an ever-more-frequent basis at farms and food outlets around the country.
I should point out that Katie didn’t broadcast the information about her husband to me—I inquired about it after she had to interrupt our telephone conversation to take a call from Chad in Iraq. Presumably, she was updating him about the raid he missed, in which sheriff’s deputies, together with food inspectors from the Lorain County Health Department and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, herded the family into a home living room, and kept them under the guard of armed officers for about seven hours, while they executed a search warrant, taking food, cell phones, three computers, and business records. I asked Lorain if she was aware of the irony of her husband putting his life on the line in Iraq, while she was being held at gunpoint in her home by American law enforcement officials, and she said, “It occurred to me.”
The reason for the heavy-handed treatment? That’s not certain, since Lorain County officials won’t comment, except to say they are conducting “an investigation.” Katie Stowers says the only reason she’s aware of is a possible disagreement over whether the cooperative should be licensed as a retail establishment. A year ago, county health department officials arrived wanting to do an inspection, which the Stowers refused to allow, pending receipt of a written explanation. “We sent them a letter, asking why. We never received a response”…until Monday.
Manna Storehouse describes itself as a “natural food co-op” that has been supplying members with beef, turkey, dairy products (including pasteurized and unhomogenized milk; photo above from its web site), and other products, for the last nine years. The Stowers family’s experience last Monday has been described on a few web sites, including this one.
Katie Stowers said the account is pretty much accurate. She says the officials showed up with a warrant, but that they didn’t identify themselves or say why they were there. “We don’t know who it was.”
The raid appears to have been launched under the auspices of the Lorain County Health Department, which sent food inspectors. It involved the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which had two employees there “in a supportive role,” according to a Lorain County Health Department employee, Joyce Davis. And then there were the armed guys from the sheriff’s office. The health department referred me to the Lorrain County prosecutor, Dennis Will, for more information, but he didn’t return my call.
It’s getting so that such heavyhanded raids on peaceful farmers and natural food distributors, which have long been exceptions in this country, are getting to be the rule. We’ve seen them in the cases of Gary Oaks in Cincinnati, Richard Hebron in Michigan, Mark Nolt in Pennsylvania, Nature’s Juice Co-op in Illinois. And as we saw in the Meadowsweet Dairy case, judges don’t seem to care any more about abuses of search warrants and questionable seizures of goods. (For background on cases I alluded without links, there are multiple postings, accessible via the search function.)
I suspect the Lorain County officials figured this was just another case of weirdo foodies, and neglected to consider that even weirdo foodie family members fight for their country in faroff lands.