Live Real. Eat Real.

And Now For Something Completely Infuriating

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


24 comments

Wow. I can’t believe these people even have this kind of power? The event was private, and to say he couldn’t even feed it to his family? To make them pour bleach over everything?
I understand a legal defense is in order, but why are these people (read bureaucrats) even allowed on private property? I understand an inspection, I can even understand shutting the place down, but since the place wasn’t a permanent establishment, what gives the health board the right to dictate these actions? Indeed, she would have been escorted off my premises in a hurry. Let her fight me in court, where I will make a mockery of her and the health board.

Michele says:

That was despicable of that inspector. If more people knew what and where their food came from they may give what they are willing to put into their bodies more consideration. Small farmers and co-opts are one place that can provide this valuable service. More Farm-to-table events should happen, also. Thank you for bringing this bureaucratic abuse to light.

Be says:

Actually, they ended up calling the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense fund who suggested they require a warrant, which they didn’t have. So they kicked them off their property. The twerp bureaucrat did go to the police. I think the local officer got some food. It is an amazing story that just infuriates the hell out of me.

We’ll be joining this group. At the rate things are going we may all need legal help just to eat what we want to eat.

Why a mismanagement of power. After reading this post more carefully, I see that the event was a dinner where the farm sold the tickets to the event. This is the only way I can think of that makes it a “public” event. (I am speaking as a professional chef, but of course state and county laws and bylaws differ.) from what I understand, the inspector has the right to demand that something cannot be served, but has NO right to dictate the disposal thereof. They can make a suggestion, but that’s it. It looks like a case of someone getting too big for their britches. Perhaps if the twerp lost her position because of multiple harassment complaints, a complaint on abuse of power, and a more national level of exposure? This is something I would take to the news.

Jan says:

Jason, the event may have been “public” but it was held on private property and the inspector had NO right to come onto their farm, much less order the food destroyed without a search warrant and arrest warrant. She was COMPLETELY WITHOUT any authority (the U.S. Constitution protects us from unlawful search and seizure), and this should have NEVER happened.

I agree Jan. The point I am trying to make is that since they “sold” tickets to the event, the event ended up being akin to a catering event. (Much like a restaurant.) At that point, the health board could get involved. Granted, they pushed too far – but they also had the opening to do so because of the nature of the transactions. Now, if the event was a “fundraiser,” for a cause, or something to that effect, or if there was no transaction changing hands for the evgent, then I would fully agree with the Farm.
This is one area where I can see the point of the health board. See, after many years of working in various establishments, (and seeing what gets put out in what you would call horrifying conditions,) I understand the reason that a lot of regulations are in place.
Take for example the restriction of selling canned goods in a restaurant – the reasons for the regulation might be false, but the health board is trying to prevent an outbreak of botulism – clearly a problem that they had before. Sure, a restaurant might follow all the steps properly to ensure that it won’t be an issue, but then there is that one restaurant that messes up, or perhaps a bunch of restaurants mess it up – and the health board has a problem on their hands.
I am no way advocating for the actions of this despicable inspector for the health board, but I am just playing devil’s advocate to explain how they even were able to get their foot in the door.
A red flag would be the requirement for a permit. Why would they require a permit? Because money changed hands for the event, making it an establishment – that has to follow the rules of the state (or county) health codes – no matter how draconian.
I suspect it had something to do with this condition of the SNHD code:
“(A) FOOD ESTABLISHMENT means an operation at a particular location that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides FOOD for human consumption which:

(1) Includes but is not limited to a restaurant, satellite or catered feeding location, catering operation if the operation provides FOOD directly to a CONSUMER, market, vending location, a conveyance used to transport people, or an institution.

(2) Includes an operator that relinquishes possession of FOOD to a CONSUMER, directly or indirectly, through a delivery service including but not limited to home delivery of grocery orders, restaurant take-out orders, or service that is provided by common carriers.”

A couple of paragraphs later, it states:
(C) FOOD ESTABLISHMENT does not include:

(1) An establishment that offers meets the exemption requirements pursuant to NRS 446.870 and is subject to the requirements of NAC 446.042.

(2) Private homes, unless the FOOD prepared or manufactured in the home is sold, offered or displayed for sale, or for compensation or contractual consideration of any kind.

(3) Fraternal or social clubhouses at which attendance is limited to members of the club.

(4) VEHICLES operated by common carriers engaged in interstate commerce.

(5) Any establishment in which religious, charitable, and other non-profit organizations sell FOOD occasionally to raise money, or in which charitable organizations receive salvaged FOOD in bulk quantities for free distribution, unless the establishment is open on a regular basis to sell FOOD to members of the general public.

(6) Any establishment where animals are slaughtered which is regulated and inspected by the State Department of Agriculture.

(7) Dairy farms and plants which process milk and products of milk, or frozen desserts, which are regulated in NRS Chapter 584.

(8) The PREMISES of a wholesale dealer of alcoholic BEVERAGES licensed in NRS Chapter 369 and who handles only alcoholic BEVERAGES which are in SEALED containers.”

You can find the health code here: http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/food-regulations/

I don’t agree with the way things were handled… but I do have to point out that the farm did contravene the health code restrictions, and were asking for a problem. I am all for legal defense for the farmer, but I am not into throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to the regulations that govern a restaurant establishment codes of conduct.
By charging for the event, in my eyes it was no different than an event that I would cater – yet I would be bound by the laws of the state’s heath board to comply with the sanitation, operations codes. If I had to comply, but then a farm didn’t (because they were catering to a “private” event,) then I’d be pissed.

Sorry Jan, I know this is all rambling, but I am trying to provide a bit on the other side of the debate here.

Jan – Thank you! You gave me a fight back Friday Post! Well, it will take the opposite view though. <3 u!

Jan says:

Jason, have you read the article? The farmers did everything they could to comply with health codes, including having all of the food prepared in advance in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas – it was being rewarmed when the inspector showed up, and the reason she ordered it destroyed is because it wasn’t “hot enough.”

Also, the cost to the diners was not a fundraiser, no – it was simply to cover the costs of the dinner itself. The farm made NO money off of this, so if you want to argue semantics it was a not-for-profit event.

AND did you know that the CDC considers ONE case of botulism an “outbreak”? And that there are less than 20 individual occurrences each year, mostly caused by simple human stupidity? (I just recently blogged about this myself.)

I’m sorry, my friend – but I gotta disagree with you on this one.

Ah, disagree away. That’s what debate is for.
Yes, I searched for the original article, and read the post from the farm itself. From what I understand, just by accepting the need for the permit, they opened the door to be inspected. I have gone through the SNHC quickly, and found the inspectors, while draconian, were actually working inside of the letter of the law. (As stupid as that is.)
Whether the farm made a profit or not is irrelavant. The code states that a “Food Establishment” “Includes but is not limited to a restaurant, satellite or catered feeding location, catering operation if the operation provides FOOD directly to a CONSUMER, market, vending location, a conveyance used to transport people, or an institution.”
In the original article, I read that a lot of the food was prepared offsite in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas, then transported to the site. This is one of those grey areas.

As for botulism – I agree with you. Unfortunately, the state health codes don’t. The way I get around something like this is to make the item, then make sure it is refrigerated. I can’t sell it, only use it to make items. (At least here in Quebec – whose regulations would make the SNBH’s regulations look like a cakewalk in comparison.)

Notice that I am not saying I agree with a lot of the regulations. I am only speaking from a professional standpoint, as a chef.

I am not allowed to prepare food from my home to bring to an restaurant for consumption – by doing so, I would be violating the health code. I can take the risk, but then perhaps be shut down.

In the case of the farmers, I wouldn’t have accepted the fact that I needed the permit. There is a fine that can be associated with non-compliance, but the burden of proof is on the state at that point. Then the Farmer’s Legal defense can get involved.

By getting the permit, they basically admitted they were a food establishment, and were subject to the codes and regulations (however draconic,) laid out by the SNBH. Even if they didn’t make a dime of profit, they were still charging for the food, and to be non-profit they woudn’t require the permit in the first place.

With the permit, the inspector is allowed to do the following:

“When the HEALTH AUTHORITY suspects that a SPECIAL EVENT, TEMPORARY FOOD ESTABLISHMENT, or its employees may be the source of a FOOD BORNE ILLNESS, appropriate action shall be taken to control transmission of the FOOD BORNE ILLNESS. Such action may include, but is not limited to, any or all of the following:

(A) Secure records that may enable identification of PERSONS potentially exposed to the illness, and/or requiring additional assistance in locating such PERSONS. This includes records of hotels, motels, or any other facilities on whose PREMISES the TEMPORARY FOOD ESTABLISHMENT is operating.

(B) Obtain samples of any suspect FOOD for laboratory examination.

(C) Require the destruction of suspect FOOD, or preventing the suspect FOOD being served until such time as the FOOD has been deemed safe for human consumption.”

I’m not trying to be inflammatory here, I am trying to point out that from the get go, on BOTH sides, this was a grand mismanagement of time, energy, and bureaucratic tape. Worse, it presents a case precedent later on to show that small farms like this are not willing to comply with the state health code, and that in turn hurts the whole movement of farm to table.

My question is, what now? You can fight the law and win, but what have BOTH sides learned from this? If I was the farmer organizing an event like this in the future, I would make sure that I knew where I stood in terms of the health board. Perhaps I am speaking as a chef here – whose had to deal with inspectors making surprise visits, and kind of understands what the health code is there for.

Monica R. says:

You weren’t kidding – this story IS infuriating. I’m glad that evening had a happy ending though.

Dave, RN says:

It’s sad the we even NEED a legal defense team just so we can eat what we want. :(

Is the farm filing any charges against this person for abuse of power?

Jan says:

Wow, Dave – I didn’t realize you read Ye Olde Blawg (I see you often over at Tom’s blog).

As far as I know, nothing’s been resolved – their county commissioner, who was formerly a member of the South Nevada Health District – is apparently outraged by what happened and is convening a meeting of himself, the current board and the farmers to make some sense out of the mess. I can only think that they’ll see who was at fault and fire both the inspector and her supervisor, who was calling the shots.

Just all of the nonsense on the inspector’s side shows how inexperienced she was. Having to take orders by phone while doing an inspection during an event? I would be pushing for a lawsuit if I were them, but having read the article now, I can clearly see that these farmers want to be able to move on from this and right the wrongs, not punish the idiotic. It truly shows who is the victor in any case.

Jan says:

I agree with you, but I don’t believe a moral victory is going to suffice – they need a legal one, so this cannot happen to someone else. And things like this happen EVERY DAY, and not just in this country – a Canadian farmer was arrested for selling raw milk (which, yes, is illegal there) is currently on a hunger strike while being incarcerated. I hope it does some good, because I’ve been given the distinct impression he’s not going to last much longer.

Oh man, that would piss me off. I haven’t clicked on the link yet but I sure hope they got reimbursed for what that “event” cost them.

Jan says:

Not that I’m aware of, but it wasn’t a total bust – they just went out and picked more fresh produce off the farm and the chef, his staff and the guests all pitched in and prepared what was apparently a delicious, if meat-free, meal.

[...] just read an awesome, thought-provoking piece over at Jan’s Sushi Bar about a Farm-To-Table event that was practically kyboshed by the “evil [...]

Jan says:

My friend Jason has written a rebuttal to this post on his blog (see the pingback listed in these comments) and I’ve commented on it, but I feel that it bears repeating here.

The food wasn’t up to temp because IT WAS IN THE PROCESSED OF BEING REHEATED. These people didn’t “incredibly” apply for the permit – the applied because they were told if they didn’t, they would be fined tens of thousands of dollars. Certainly more than a small, family farm could afford. It was nothing more than sheer intimidation.

But this is all irrelevant – when they called their attorney, he told them to ask two simple questions: did the inspector have a search warrant? Did she have an arrest warrant? The answer to both questions was NO, and she HAD to leave when they told her to – she literally had NO LEGAL AUTHORITY to do what she was doing. I don’t know about Canada, but in the U.S. we are protected from unlawful search and seizure of our property. She could come in and inspect until the cows come home and write citation after citation and fine these people to death, but she had absolutely no legal right, permit or no permit, to confiscate the food and destroy it. NONE. I’ve worked in food service too, and the most any of our health inspectors could do was inspect, write us up, and give us the evaluation. If they felt we were in serious violation of any health codes, they had to come back with the proper warrants to shut us down. THE INSPECTOR WAS BREAKING THE LAW. Period.

Thanks Jan! I want to state that I am not for the pricks on the health board. What they did was reprehensible. OTOH, I do believe that there is a little good to come out of the health code, albeit not for poindexter cellphone pushing twerps who have a problem with self image so they need to bug on a local farmer. Just sayin!

Be says:

No government is a good government. Let me choose my food and its source. I don’t need a code for that.

Anne Gibert says:

What a great story. They should write a book and start a movement. I have had to deal with the local health people here on my island a couple of times. For the most part they were pesty but relatively harmless. It’s annoying when you are trying to cook for a charity event to have some officious youth hanging around taking the temperature of the food and eying you to see whether you rinse your hands in bleach water, dispose correctly of plastic gloves, etc. One of our organizations gets around the regulations by calling the chile cook-off a private party and then “suggesting” a donation. That works here, I don’t know about other States.

Jan says:

Anne the “donation” thing is actually quite popular, since there is apparently little regulation involved in donating money for goods rather than purchasing them (at least here in the U.S.). The farmers that run one of the local farmer’s markets provides fresh eggs, taking “donations” of a set amount for them, and the health department does nothing about it – he can even leave them lying in the sun for hours at a time. If he chooses to “sell” them, however, he must have a permit that is $600 a year, pay periodic fees, have a refrigerated truck on the premises at all times, yadda yadda yadda bullshit bullshit.

It all makes so little sense, my head could explode.

Be says:

That should be next Friday’s post.

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