War Story From The Local Food Front

Because I am a raw milk drinker, I hear about this sort of scenario all the time. But this time, the scene that unfolded on September 2nd in Charlottesville, VA had nothing to do with raw milk. This story is about eggs. Farm fresh eggs. You didn’t know those were criminal did you?

Turns out, they aren’t.

The story concerns Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms eggs. From the Polyface YUM blog, we read:

Thursday, Sept. 2 Mark Gresge, owner/chef of L’etoile Restaurant in Charlottesville, notified us that Pamela Burke, a Charlottesville City Health Inspector had been in and written up a critical hazard for using eggs from an “unapproved source.” Interestingly, and in totally aberrant behavior, she did not confiscate the eggs on the spot–probably oversight more than charity.

This citation included not only the Polyface chicken eggs, but also the duck eggs from another local farmer. The citation included the remedy and cited code requirements that the eggs come from a source of B grade consumer-ready eggs as certified by the USDA. Never did it indicate the eggs were less than B grade.

In fact, Polyface eggs far exceed B grade.

Joel Salatin immediately called the owner/chef, Gresge, to get the legal language and the code numbers cited. Then he called Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, where legal counsel Pete Kennedy, Esq., answered the phone. Kennedy took down the information, did his sleuthing, and within 24 hours had an admission from Burke that the citation was in error and that the eggs were indeed legal for commerce.

Tuesday, Sept. 7 Kennedy will seek to get the citation expunged from the restaurant’s record.

What lesson should you take from all this?

The Polyface YUM blog suggests three. But the one I want to drive home to you is the first:

The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is THE vanguard of food freedom. Without FTCLDF, Joel and Polyface would have spent hours wrangling, haggling, getting ulcers and fighting a battle with food police bureaucrats. Precious time, energy, and emotional capital would have been squandered trying to secure basic food rights and parse the regulatory labyrinth.

Here’s the point: JOINING FTCLDF, more than Nature Conservancy, Audobon Society, Humane Society, Slow Food, Sierra Club, or whatever, is THE MOST IMPORTANT and fundamental thing you can do right now to secure your freedom to eat the food of your choice. Polyface urges, implores, begs you to encourage this national organization that offers legal relief in these days in which the interests hostile to food choice are becoming more aggressive and more bold. Please do this for your children.

I really couldn’t have said that any better.

The Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund Mission

  • Protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means.
  • Protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed farm foods directly from family farms.
  • Protect the nation’s family farms from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and on-farm food processing.

Translation? They’re fighting for your right to have access to raw milk, your right to choose what foods you will and will not eat, your right to buy directly from farmers.

Even if you don’t want to become a member, you can still donate to help them in their fight!

Their website is a wealth of information. Go check them out!

(photo by cskk)


  1. Cindy says

    I would like a little additional information, please. Not disagreeing with you in any way, because I wholeheartedly agree about the need to protect food choices, but just for reference purposes, regarding the mission of FTCLDF: how is food choice specifically a constitutional right? Under which clause, specifically?

    I am just wondering, since, as a homeschooler concerned about the possible radification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, I know that I do not constitutionally even have the right to guide and direct the upbringing of my own children – which I why I support the effort underway to make parental rights a constitutional right through parentalrights.org. If we aren’t even guaranteed this fundamental right, in what way are we constitionally guaranteed to have food choice?

    Thank you very much for the information,

    • KristenM says

      Cindy, I believe our right to buy whatever foods we choose falls under the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution — our right to privately contract without interference from government. I’m sure that in any particular situation, there may also be other constitutional rights that apply. But generally speaking, contract law is the first that comes to my mind when we’re talking about food rights.

    • gary cox says

      cindy, as the general counsel for the farm-to-consumer legal defense fund, i would like to reply to your post.

      as a parent, you actually DO have the right to raise your children in the manner you see fit. the u.s. supreme court has decided this issue in favor of parents since at least 1923. See the case of Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390. See also the case of Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). unless you are deemed an “unfit parent,” you decide how to raise your kids. and this is as it should be.

      with respect to food rights, one of the fundamental rights that the FTCDLF is talking about is called the right to privacy. although there is no “right to privacy” clause per se in the U.S. Constitution, the courts have long recognized that we all have fundamental rights to privacy, like the right to marry, the right to refuse medical treatment, the right to have children, the right to send our children to the schools of our own choice, etc. consequently, the right to privacy, we argue, should include the right to our own food choices.

      remember, the constitution is a document that describes the limitations on the power of government. in other words, government has NO authority whatsoever EXCEPT that which is conferred upon it in the constitution. all other powers/rights not granted to government are either inherent in the people (the 9th amendment) on in the states (the 10th amendment).

  2. GabbyC says

    Unfortunately the contract clause has long been decimated in the name of “public safety.” If the government can force you to buy health insurance from a third party, they can certainly make rules about something as “dangerous” as raw milk and unlabeled foods. It’s all related — I don’t see how folks can be pro-Big Government and pro-local food at the same time. I remember when people were saying that Obama was going to appoint Michael Pollan as Ag Secretary — yeah, that didn’t happen. I hope in the upcoming elections, people vote with their heads. Fool me once ,shame on you. Fool me twice…

    • Nicole says

      I agree with you, Gabby. Being supportive of an interventionist style of government (i.e. BIG government), which is excessive with its spending of our tax dollars and controls over our lives does not jive with the pro-local food ideology. If David needs a quanity to define “big,” how about $13,550,192,000,000+ . . . that’s the amount of DEBT the centralized political power called our Federal government has put us into. Come to think of it, the word “big” just doesn’t fit anymore. I think Enormous Government is more accurate!

      • says

        I’m not certain that using the “Big Government” frame is the best way to consider what are the appropriate roles of government. It’s not necessarily as simple as whether government is overly-intrusive or not. It should be about considering what areas the government should influence and what areas they shouldn’t. I place the highest value on my food freedom, and believe that government’s influence should be minimized. At the same time, I don’t like that some coal companies assert a fundamental right to blow the tops off of mountains because it’s the cheapest way to get their coal. I want government to influence that situation. The “Big Government vs. Small Government” frame is insufficient to give proper consideration to what we want our government to be.

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing the link to this organization. I am interested in learning more! My husband always asks why I don’t sell my excess organic vegetables. While I enjoy blessing friends with baskets of veggies, the main reason I don’t sell my produce is because I don’t want to jump through all of the hoops required just to set up a stand at the farmer’s market.

  4. says

    The law that governs egg sales in VA is strange – I can sell ungraded eggs labeled as such in the local supermarket but can’t sell them to restaurants. Last time I checked, the eggs must be washed and dated and sized and that is all it takes for them to be Grade A. Shocking to me was the fact that they didn’t have to have an expiration date, a “best if used by” date is fine. Eggs have no set shelf life apparently (yuck!). I don’t understand why selling eggs to restaurants is even an issue. The restaurants should technically be serving the eggs well cooked anyways because even the graded eggs should be thoroughly cooked. So what is the difference? Every few years there is a huge disease outbreak causing eggs to be recalled and/or birds to be euthanized. Yet the farmer 1/10th of a mile down the road from me can spread poultry manure from superfarms on their fields. When I called VDACS and DEQ to complain, each shrugged me off. Yet they want me to test for all these diseases and report dead/sick birds. I was really upset when both people from both agencies told me that my chickens are at risk from diseases from the manure spread on the field. And if my birds were to come up with a disease, they’d likely be gassed and incinerated. I’m currently selling hatching eggs for $25 a dozen and I just spent a whole year building up my flock and I have to worry about my entire flock being incinerated!?!?

  5. David says


    I respectfully request that you and all other people try and refrain from using the terms “big government” and “small government.” Firstly, it is impossible to quantify. How big is “big”? Secondly, it implies that all government is “bad,” and that less of a bad thing is good. The point here is that size is not the issue, it’s the quality of government that counts (who’s interests are they representing, what is being regulated, and why?). Personally, I’m fine with regulation when it comes to what financial institutions can and cannot do. Will the intended regulation be in the best interest of the masses and personal freedoms, or will it be disguised as such, but ultimately have some built in loophole(s) that are at first not readily apparent, and which only benefit the wealthiest 1% of the population? There are regulations in planning that prevent your neighbor from building a toxic waste disposal site next door to where you live, and we are all better off for it! I could go on, but insinuating that something is good or bad by virtue of an unquantifiable size really says nothing at all, and is, IMHO, just “lazy speech” with little substantive value. Let’s focus on specific issues, and perhaps the “state” of the power structure that currently exists, and then we would find ourselves (as a society) better educated and prepared to enact whatever change(s) we see fit.

  6. says

    I’m a Democrat and pro “big” government when it comes to rights of of underprivileged people. I follow many feminist blogs and feel strongly that the privilege of being white, middle- or upper-class, and male are all very real things. I support legislation that protects citizens from those privileges separating us into less-then groups. I support gay marriage, women’s choice, and all those others kind of programs that level out the playing field so that our humanity stays in tact and we all enjoy similar freedoms regardless of what color, gender, or socioeconomic status we are born into. How is that different from the kind of freedom I want to have as a real food activist? I support equality for people, and the right to eat whatever food I choose. I’m not going to back down from either one of those, even though some of you can’t see why. And maybe I’m just feeling snarky, but if you can’t see that, then you aren’t looking hard enough.

  7. Kevin Gordon says

    I was at the Farm-to-Consumer Annual FUNDraiser event at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm on September 11, and of course he told us about this incident (just the week before at that time) to stress the need for a group like FTCLDF to protect our food rights, explicitly constitutional or not…as Joel has so eloquently stated before:

    “What good is the freedom to worship, the right to keep and bear arms, and the freedom of the press if we don’t have the freedom to choose what to feed our bodies so we can go sing, shoot, and speak? The only reason the founding fathers did not grant the freedom to choose our food was because it was such a basic, fundamental personal right that they could not conceive that special protection would be needed. Granting citizens the right to choose their food would have been similar to granting them the right to see the sun rise, or to breathe.”

    One of my favorite vendors at our farmers’ market recently said to me that “we need an NRA for food”…he is most certainly right, and FTCLDF is it! That is why I am a consumer member and donor, and I would encourage others to join as well.

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