Pause for a moment, and imagine this:
You are the owner of a small family farm in Nevada. You are a model of sustainable farming practices, growing a variety of foods – fruits and vegetables – and raising small animals; goats, pigs, rabbits, chickens and turkeys. You not only run a popular CSA co-op, but sell your excellent meats and produce to nearby restaurants, including some located in Las Vegas.
Now imagine that you’ve gotten together with other small family farms in your area and have planned a “Farm-to-Fork Dinner” – a dinner in which you and your peers will feed your guests meats and produce entirely raised and grown on your farms, lovingly prepared by a local chef and his staff, on your property. You come up with a (very) fair price for the event and send out invitations:
By bringing the table to the farm we want to reconnect our guests to the land and the origin of their food and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate the local bounty that we enjoy here in the Moapa Valley. It’s not everyday one has the privilege to sit next to the person who planted the beans, raised the beef, shaped the cheese, or who milked the cow that was the source of that luscious cream on your plate.
After a tour of the farm, dinner will be served family style (or farm style). The menu will be dictated by what we freshly harvest from our farm and other local small family farms.
Join us for an amazing dining experience. The sun will set. Candles and a fire will be lit. You will enjoy live music (Bach under the stars), a magical atmosphere, great company and incredible food with a mileage footprint of 5 feet!
Met with enthusiasm, the event sells out quickly.
Now, imagine that it’s two days before the event and everything is proceeding according to plan. You receive a phone call from the Southern Nevada Health District informing you that because this is a “public” event (??), you need a “special use permit” or you will be fined a ridiculous amount of money. You immediately comply and apply (and pay for!) the permit.
The day of the dinner arrives. All of your invited guests (which you thought would make this a “private” event, but never mind that) arrive, some from a considerable distance away. They tour your farm and are having a lovely time. Drinks are being poured and the first course – Mint Lamb Meatballs – is just about to be served, when an inspector from the Health Department shows up to “validate” the permit you just applied for.
After a brief, cursory inspection, the contentious young bureaucrat – who spends the entire time on the phone with her supervisor – decrees that none of the food can be served to your guests and demands that you throw it all away.
When you ask if you can save it to serve to your family, she tells you “NO.”
When you ask if you can feed it to your pigs, she tells you “NO.”
When you ask if you can make the event “private” by inviting all of your guests to join your CSA co-op (many are already members), she not only tells you “NO” but threatens to call the police and have you arrested.
Then, after threatening you and forcing you to throw away all of the food, she demands you pour bleach over it, making it unfit even for compost.
Y’all, you don’t have to imagine any of this, because it happened to Monte and Laura Bledsoe of Quail Hollow Farm located in lovely Moapa Valley in southern Nevada. Fortunately, the story has a somewhat happy ending – click here to read the entire story – in which the inspector was duly ejected from the farm for attempting an unlawful search and seizure (alas, not before she accomplished the destruction of the entire dinner) and the chef, his staff and the guests of the event rallied to make it a success.
If the Bledsoes hadn’t been members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization founded to protect the rights of farmers and consumers to engage in direct commerce, protect the rights of farmers to sell the products of the farm and the rights of consumers to access the foods of their choice from the source of their choice, things may not have turned out as well as they did. For a reasonable membership fee ($125/year for farmers, $50/year for consumers, $250/year for co-ops and buying clubs), the organization provides legal counseling as well as legal representation, often without any additional cost. For small farmers, often beset by unfair regulations and bureaucratic bullying tactics, this fund is a godsend (and if you know me, you know I don’t use that term lightly).
If you care about where your food comes from, or simply your right to buy and eat the food YOU deem fit, please consider a Consumer Membership to this excellent organization; if not a membership, then a donation. As for us…when we lived in Dallas, we purchased a $50 family membership every year to Shakespeare In The Park. Surely the food we eat, and our right to eat it, is worth that.
Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday