Minnesota aims to fine family farmers $500 per day

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If the Min­neso­ta Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (MDA) gets its way, Lake View Nat­ur­al Dairy Farm, owned and oper­at­ed by David and Hei­di Berglund and their daugh­ter Lyn­d­say, will be fined $500 per day until they sub­mit to an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al inspec­tion of their farm.

When the farm briefly explored the pos­si­bil­i­ty of sell­ing milk for pro­cess­ing, this trig­gered a call to the MDA by the proces­sor, and the MDA real­ized they had no record or con­trol over this farm.

On Octo­ber 14, 2014 the MDA demand­ed to do an inspec­tion of the farm, which the fam­i­ly refused on the grounds that the Min­neso­ta Con­sti­tu­tion acknowl­edges their right to ped­dle the prod­ucts of their farm. Now, the MDA hopes to fine the small oper­a­tion a crip­pling $500 per day after the March 9, 2015 hear­ing if they are found to be in con­tempt.

Berglund cattle

Berglund cat­tle

Lake View Nat­ur­al Dairy Farm, in the quaint town of Grand Marais, MN, has been a sta­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty for the past 100 years that it has been in the Berglund fam­i­ly. Cur­rent­ly, they pro­vide raw milk and local­ly pro­duced meats to their neigh­bors, vis­i­tors and tourists. The locals adore the farm, the fam­i­ly, and the prod­ucts.

Many who vaca­tion in Grand Marais for the sum­mer months make the farm their first stop when they arrive in the town with a pop­u­la­tion of 1,300. Some cus­tomers dri­ve over 200 miles from the twin cities for the prod­ucts from Lake View Nat­ur­al Dairy Farm.

In the spir­it of a fam­i­ly farm oper­a­tion, the senior Berglunds gave their daugh­ter, Lyn­d­say, milk­ing priv­i­leges 7 years ago, which she has whole­heart­ed­ly embraced. The farm boasts a herd of 85–100 dairy cows and beef cat­tle, lay­ing hens, and pork prod­ucts. Hei­di Berglund makes the cov­et­ed yogurt and but­ter from the milk and pro­vides baked good­ies to round out the farm’s offer­ings.

True to its name, the farm sits on an eco­log­i­cal­ly sta­ble piece of land over­look­ing Lake Supe­ri­or. As a cen­tu­ry-old sta­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty, the fam­i­ly is well respect­ed and liked as providers of food to their neigh­bors. It is a dis­con­nect that they are now being held in con­tempt of court for oper­at­ing a farm and pro­vid­ing local­ly pro­duced foods to their neigh­bors.

Cus­tomers of the farm are accus­tomed to con­duct­ing busi­ness com­plete­ly on the hon­or sys­tem. A small cash box in the milk­ing house is avail­able for the com­mu­ni­ty to leave cash for a gal­lon or two of milk true to the Min­neso­ta Con­sti­tu­tion say­ing that farm­ers have a right to ped­dle their prod­ucts direct­ly to the con­sumer.

What is this Real­ly About?

For about two years now, the MDA has request­ed to do an inspec­tion on the farm cit­ing that the farm must pas­teur­ize the milk pri­or to sell­ing it. (For the full legal back­ground on this, see David Gumpert’s excel­lent cov­er­age.)

This rais­es the ques­tion, yet again, whether or not humans have the right to engage in peace­ful, vol­un­tary exchanges for the foods of their choice.

What the Berglunds are doing in pro­vid­ing food to their com­mu­ni­ty is his­tor­i­cal­ly what built this coun­try and con­tin­ues to build com­mu­ni­ties. They are cul­ti­vat­ing land for the pur­pose of feed­ing their neigh­bors. They are adding to the aes­thet­ics of their region by keep­ing land in pro­duc­tion. The Berglund fam­i­ly is lov­ing­ly grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty and nur­tur­ing bonds between com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers.

Now, peo­ple who work for the MDA are assum­ing author­i­ty, decid­ing that they have the right to lord over this peace­ful fam­i­ly and demand that the fam­i­ly con­duct busi­ness in a new way that would, quite lit­er­al­ly, put them out of busi­ness and steal a won­der­ful resource from the region.

Although the lan­guage of the state con­sti­tu­tion is on the side of the farm­ers, the ques­tion here is one of jus­tice.

  • When is it okay to exces­sive­ly fine a fam­i­ly for feed­ing their com­mu­ni­ty?
  • Who gets to decide what foods a farm can pro­vide to their neigh­bors who are enthu­si­as­tic par­tic­i­pants in the exchange?
  • How does the MDA get to demand to inspect a family’s farm­ing oper­a­tion and demand that they change it?
  • Why does the state agency have the assumed author­i­ty to inter­fere between a small farm and those eager to pur­chase from the farm?

If there is a law that has David Berglund in con­tempt of court for not allow­ing aggres­sive, sub­ver­sive agents on his prop­er­ty, that law has no place in a peace­ful Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty.

This is NOT, and nev­er has been, a safe­ty issue. The farm under scruti­ny has been pro­vid­ing their com­mu­ni­ty with raw milk and oth­er whole­some farm prod­ucts includ­ing chick­ens, eggs, pork and beef with­out ever so much as a sus­pect­ed ill­ness since incep­tion. The MDA’s demands, exces­sive fines and now its attempt to hold the fam­i­ly in con­tempt of court, take its author­i­ty out of con­text.

While the fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty suffer—as beau­ti­ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed by cus­tomer Greg Gentz—from not know­ing how this will play out, the MDA con­tin­ues its gra­tu­itous approach of “com­pli­ance for the sake of com­pli­ance.”

How You Can Help the Berglunds

What does this farm fam­i­ly need? They need sup­port at their hear­ing for con­tempt of court on March 9, 2015 with warm bod­ies in the court­room. They need the sup­port of their com­mu­ni­ty by con­tin­u­ing to pur­chase their prod­ucts.

The Berglunds need us to stand in uni­ty with them nation­al­ly and rec­og­nize that it is not the place of gov­ern­ment to inter­fere with the direct farmer-to-con­sumer rela­tion­ship in peace­ful, vol­un­tary exchange for food.

If you are any­where near Cook Coun­ty Min­neso­ta on March 9, please show up in qui­et sup­port of David and Hei­di Berglund, and their daugh­ter, Lyn­d­say, who have spent count­less days lov­ing­ly car­ing for their ani­mals and their com­mu­ni­ty.

It is through your sup­port that, as indi­vid­u­als, we can renor­mal­ize the rela­tion­ship between food pro­duc­er and food con­sumer under­stand­ing that there is noth­ing wrong, or even ille­gal, with a farmer feed­ing his com­mu­ni­ty.

Ulti­mate­ly, this case isn’t about milk or this par­tic­u­lar farm; it is about whether strangers work­ing for a state agency will con­trol peace­ful exchanges for food between hap­py neigh­bors or if the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have the pre­rog­a­tive to make their own choic­es.