Posted by: jackslife | June 24, 2009

Everything I Want to Do is Illegal

Sharon Astyk posts on the state of small farms in the wake of ridiculous regulation and the overly parental state.  The title of this post is a reference to the book that Joel Salatin wrote by the same name, which Sharon mentions.  She shares a story about an event that she attended at a fledgling goat dairy.  From the post –

I was speaking at this meeting, and I began my schtick about how important it is for many people to get involved in human-scale agriculture, but as I did, the primary farmer for their household kept observing that it wasn’t very cheap to start a farm for her.  And she is right, of course, if you are speaking of dairy farming.  My CSA was begun with a very tiny investment – we spent $40 on an advertisement, and maybe $60 on seeds and soil amendments over and above our usual purchase –  but a dairy (which is a wonderful industry for much of the Northeast, given our prepoderence of thin soils, steep rocky land and rain) requires start-up costs beyond those available to most people.

Now the reasons for these restrictions is that milk is a potent harborer of bacteria.  Restrictions on dairy go back to early public health measures, and the constraint of tuberculosis and other diseases.  There are genuinely and sincerely good reasons to be concerned about bacterial contamination of milk.  Of course, on the other hand, I can personally hand slaughter and sell, with no inspection or oversight at all, 1,000 pastured poultry birds every single year.  We all know that chicken could never be a source of dangerous pathogens, right?

The point, of course, is that raw meat is dangerous if it is contaminated or not handled appropriately.  Milk is dangerous if it is contaminated or not handled appropriately.  But the two things are not treated in parallel – customers of my poultry are permitted to accept the risk that I might mishandle my birds, and buy and eat them.  Customers of milk, at least in New York, are not permitted to accept the risk that I might mishandle my goat’s milk – in fact, I can’t legally even give milk away to someone who desperately wants it.  That is, there’s very little sense in the laws.

Sharon goes on to quote a Wendell Berry quote that I referenced the other day in a post.  She quotes more of the speech than I did, and I’m going to post it here too –

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry – which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail”.

This is the first agricultural meeting I’ve ever been to in my life that was attended by the police. I asked one of them why he was there and he said: “Rural Kentucky”. So thank you for your vote of confidence in the people you are supposed to be representing. (applause) I think the rural people of Kentucky are as civilized as anybody else.

But the police are here prematurely. If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator.

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country.

Sharon is completely right about the fact that people should be able to decide what risks they want to take with their food, especially given that we are taking much worse risks with much of our federally approved food sources. We have got to restore sanity to our food system in this country. The small farm should not be forced to pay for the evils of the industrial farms.



  1. Hello

    I’ve recently uploaded two rare interviews with the Wobblie, anarchist, and activist Dorothy Day.

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable humanist.

    They may be located here:

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor

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