Mark BakerWhat makes the case of farmer Mark Baker and his campaign to reverse the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ feral-hog genetic purification program different from other food rights cases that have taken place in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and California over the last few years?


Well, the fact that it doesn’t involve raw milk makes it different. But there is something else: the transparent economic agenda. 


When the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in April 2012 implemented its Invasive Species Order (ISO) aimed at ridding the state of pig breeds the DNR designated  as feral, the economic aspects of the order were clear for all to see. As the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is helping provide legal representation to Baker has explained it, the state can ban pig breeds on the basis of characteristics it disapproves of, not whether certain pigs are creating a nuisance (the supposed original intent of the ISO). Obviously, the pig breeds the state disapproves of are never the ones being raised by the state’s large pork producers. The disapproved ones are those being raised for their superior meat, by farmers like Baker. 


In the last few weeks, Michigan has added a new wrinkle to its economic squeeze play against small pig breeders, beyond pushing farmers like Baker to the brink of financial ruin by scaring off his commercial customers, including high-end restaurants in Detroit and other metropolitan areas. 


The state, via the Michigan Attorney General, has demanded a $700,000 fine against Baker–based on the maximum $10,000 for each of 70 pigs. 


The fine came in just the last few weeks, after the state offered Baker, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a “settlement”–get rid of the banned pigs and promise never to raise banned species again, in exchange for not incurring a fine. 


Baker’s one-word response to the Michigan Attorney General was in the spirit of another military man once asked to surrender in Germany during World War II: “Nuts!” 


Moreover, he is potentially raising the stakes by allowing several sows to give birth in the next few weeks. The fine could hit $1 million or more. 


To Baker, the state’s financial assault is “crazy.” Moreover, it is fundamentally illegal, in his view. “It is illegal under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” (Which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.”) “They’re in violation on two of the provisions–the excessive fines and the cruel and unusual punishment,” says Baker. 


The whole legal mish-mash–Baker’s contention the state is interfering with his livelihood and the state’s effort to impose the huge fine–comes to a head at 1 p.m. Friday, when supporters of food rights from around the country will gather at the Missaukee County Courthouse in Lake City, MI, for an initial hearing on Baker’s case against the state. The court hearing will be followed by a pig roast at Baker’s farm on Saturday. 


The food police are obviously groping for new tactics to intimidate farmers. Their criminal charges against Alvin Schlangen in Minnesota and Vernon Hershberger in Wisconsin have been rejected by juries. So now, in Michigan, enforcers are trying to scare a farmer with the threat of huge fines. But they are up against one tough guy. And lots of people in back of him. Hundreds are expected to show up on Friday and Saturday. 


So far, Baker’s campaign to stay in business and fight the state has raised more than $35,000 of its $50,000 goal. Impressive as the support has been, there is still a need for more help beyond the 634 pledges made so far. 




I’m sorry to be missing the Baker court hearing and pig roast this weekend, but I have had a long-standing commitment to speak at the Solarfest Festival in Tinmouth, VT, signing copies of my new book (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights) and speaking at 10:30 Sunday morning about the struggle for food rights. If you’re not too far away, it’s an impressive gathering of people doing great things with solar energy–I’ve spoken there before, and all the tents where speakers do their PowerPoint and video presentations are powered with solar energy.