“Praise be to God!” I exclaimed when I read the email. My husband, sitting at his desk on the opposite side of our office looked up from his work and said, “What? What happened?”
The kids were wrestling on the floor, their squawks escalating into shrieking laughs.
“I’d rather not talk over the kids,” I smiled. “But it’s good news.”
Yes, my dear readers, I’ve got GOOD news to share. Alvin Schlangen has been acquitted on all three counts of criminal charges brought against him by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office! Mr. Schlangen is a managing member for the Freedom Farms Coop and was preparing to deliver raw milk to fellow co-op members in March of 2011 when the MDA raided his truck and confiscated his raw milk and food.
Minnesota law allows for raw milk to be sold directly to consumers on the farm in which it’s produced. The MDA charged Mr. Schlangen with selling raw milk off the farm, handling the food without first possessing a food handler’s permit, and distributing misbranded and/or adulterated dairy products. A fourth charge on a labeling violation was dropped at the beginning of his criminal trial.
Mr. Schlangen, however, argued that he was not selling milk or food to anyone. Rather, the co-op leases the animals from a nearby Amish farmer and pays for their care. Any milk or dairy products coming from the herd is already the property of the co-op, so he was merely delivering their own food to them as a voluntary manager of the private club. The same is true of the other foods the co-op purchases together including bison, salmon, and grapefruit among others.
Schlangen said he knew criminal charges were a possibility but is surprised the government is pursuing the case against a small farmer who isn’t producing milk.
“I didn’t think this small farmer with an egg-production unit would get in trouble for carrying my neighbor’s food on a truck,” he said.
Schlangen argues that he’s doing nothing wrong because members of his co-op lease the animals that provide the raw milk, so there’s no purchase or sale.
He said his club is a new design of a food system that “allows the consumer. . .to be involved in the quality of the food they’re getting, and not just settle for what’s there on the shelf.”
As you know, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is one of my favorite non-profit organizations. It’s dedicated to providing farmers and consumers with the legal help they need to consume the foods of their choice. Both The Fund (as we affectionately call it) and the Weston A Price Foundation provided legal assistance to Mr. Schlangen, essentially bankrolling his defense.
“You’re talking about someone who’s never been accused of making anyone sick,” said attorney Peter Kennedy, president of the legal defense fund. The members of Schlangen’s club arranged for him to deliver food to them.
“They’re happy with what he does for them, and yet the state is trying to get in the way of this private, contractual relationship between Alvin and the members of the food club,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t really seem like they’re protecting the public health and safety.”
Perhaps one of the most deft moves made by Mr. Schangen’s legal defense team was requesting a trial by jury. Any clear-thinking citizen who sees the private contract drawn up for co-op membership is unlikely to hold the co-op’s delivery guy responsible for criminally re-selling raw dairy and food. Plus, a trial by jury requires a higher burden of proof from the prosecution.
According to Dr. David Gumpert of The Complete Patient:
A jury of six ordinary Americans did something no judge, federal or state, has been willing to do anywhere in the country, whether in New York, California, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maryland, or Wisconsin — it ruled in favor of a farmer-food club operator providing raw milk and other nutrient-dense foods privately to its members.
And the jurors made their decision to find Alvin Schlangen not guilty of three misdemeanor counts having to do with distributing raw milk and other foods in probably the most food-repressive state in the country: Minnesota.
So, kudos to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund! Kudos to his attorney, Nathan Hansen! And kudos to the fine Minnesotan jury that saw through the anti raw milk hype mounted by the prosecution to the heart of the matter — the state wanted to keep people from drinking milk that came from animals they leased/owned.
Mr. Schlangen faces a second criminal trial in a different jurisdiction, Stearns County, on six misdemeanor counts for alleged violations of the Minnesota food and dairy code. A pre-trial hearing in the case is scheduled for November 2nd.
(photo by Bruce Bisping)
Denise @WholemadeGoodness says
So glad to see this news. I’m thankful to live in a state where we at least can obtain raw milk by cow share, but find it so sad that we have to jump through those hoops. Thanks for including the link to the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund!
Why wouldn’t I? Surely I’m one of their most vocal members?
GREAT news! I hope this is the beginning of the end of non-local involvement in local food matters.
I too was so happy when I got the message that Alvin was not guilty! Our family is part of his freedom farm coop so we got to know him personally! He is the sweetest farmer and should never have had to go through this. At least he had (and still has) tons of support. My mom got to go to the trial and she told me that there were tons of little kids and moms supporting him in the court room. One of the jury’s commented on how well behaved all the kids were. Some one shouted out “its the raw milk”. The jury then said “I didn’t hear that!” haha 🙂 just thought that was funny! By the end of the trial I guess some court people were also very interested in raw milk..hmm they definitely know that if all these people are defending it so badly, it must be that good! So glad you posted this article 🙂 thanks
That reminds me of this paragraph from David Gumpert’s blog, recounting the hearing of the verdict:
“When the jury rendered its decision on Thursday afternoon, Schlangen remained stone-faced, seemingly disbelieving what had just happened…until he turned around. Behind him, in the spectator area, there were hugs and kisses and crying among the 30 or 40 members of his food club and other supporters who have stood by the slender low-key farmer.”
Caroline, we were part of the Freedom Farm Co-op as well, until we moved to UT earlier this year. He is a soft spoken, caring man and I really enjoyed getting to know him. Too bad I had to leave MN to be closer to family, but I do have access to raw milk, real eggs, grassfed beef, etc and I feel so lucky.
I am so happy Al has been acquitted. This is a call for the Happy Dance!
One small step for man…
Matt Jabs says
Praise be to God is right. The charges brought against him in a “free” country are depressing, but this news is great, and should act as a precedent for similar cases going forward.
This is good news and nullification http://fija.org/document-library/videos/ should be encouraged but the truth be told we are just looking at a symptom. The disease is a criminal out of control government at both the federal and the state levels. Until that sad fact is addressed we won’t have ehough time in the day to put band aides on all of the symptoms.
As Henry David Thoreau said:
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”
I urge you to strike the root in this matter.
Liz oke says
Amazing that in the land of the so called free where you are allowed by law to carry a gun, you can’t have milk delivered to you as nature intended. Power to all the brave souls who are fighting big business, and a big hooray for a jury seeing sense.
Love to our food fighter brothers and sisters across the pond. xx
Dan @ Casual Kitchen says
One thing that’s worth noting as we’re seeing various raw milk controversies around the nation: stiffer and stiffer regulations aren’t always the answer for our food industry.
If you give your government the ability to regulate you and restrict commence, you also give it the ability to do things like this to perfectly harmless dairy farmers.
Mark Baranowski says
Keep current with Food Safety standards and regulations!
Mark Baranowski says
Businesses are more likely to hire food safety trained handlers and are willing to pay higher wages to those trained.