Last night, I wrote only about my own experience (scroll down on my website to see these posts), as a way for me to process the events of yesterday, with my farmer, Alvin Schlangen, and the MN Department of Agriculture (MDA). This was much easier for me, than trying to report hard facts, especially when I am tired. I don’t want to misrepresent anyone, even the “other” side! And I also don’t want to be dismissed for getting something wrong. But here it goes now…here is the story, as I see it.
Yesterday morning, Wed. Mar. 9, 2011, probably shortly after 9A, Alvin Schlangen, a chicken and egg farmer, of Schlangen Family Farm in Freeport, MN, was intercepted by the St. Paul police and James R. Roetter of the MDA, Dairy and Food Inspection Division, at his first stop of the day, near the campus of Macalester, a private liberal arts college, in St. Paul, MN. Once he got out of his truck, described as a white Dodge van, he was not allowed to get back in. Nor was he allowed to hand over the eggs, his own product, to the students who had ordered them.
It was only moments later, that he called me, to ask if I would be willing to notify the people who pick up at my home, that there wouldn’t be a delivery that day. He told me that he was being detained and had been informed that he was going to be charged for operating without a license. Apparently, when the back of his truck was opened, the MDA employees could see a 4 pound bag of organic oranges, and another 5 pound bag, of organic grapefruit. This was enough for them to have suspicion that he was carrying product, other than that produced at his farm, and to ask a judge to issue a search warrant, of which they were awaiting it’s arrival.
Instead of rushing down there, with Alvin’s blessing, I chose to start a phone and e-mail tree to let people, in our entire food community, know of the development, and ask that they show up to give him support. Before anyone could arrive, he was told that his truck would be towed to the MDA. The MDA, for whatever reason, refused to give him a ride there. But the St. Paul police agreed to drop him off, which they did. This caused him though, to be separated from his truck, for a considerable amount of time.
By the time I arrived at the MDA, at 625 North Robert St., very near the Capitol, Alvin had already left there. John Myser, having quickly joined him, had arranged for him to speak with Senator Sean Neinow, who is the chief author of the Raw Milk Bill #147 in the Senate (which I like to call the Consumer Access to Raw Milk Bill). I was able to join this meeting as it started, and my request to videotape this information-gathering session was granted.
When given a chance to tell his story to the Senator, instead of the expected details of what happened, and all he could have said, about how he was treated, and how frustrating it was, and how he is a victim of the system, etc., Alvin launched into describing his mission and what drives him to overcome the challenges involved in providing nutrient-dense food to families, with no mention of his ongoing personal and financial sacrifices, or how this particular day was ruined.
Stacy Pearson, Sen. Neinow’s, very capable and take-charge Legislative Assistant, and a champion in the Raw Milk, Food Freedom effort, of the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project, was able to question him afterward, in order to understand the various aspects of the day’s experience. She also made copies of the Search Warrant and Supporting Affidavit (that included surveillance pictures) given to Alvin by the MDA.
I spoke to Alvin again about 8:30P last night. He had just arrived home, to his farm, with a splitting headache, which he attributed to barely having an opportunity to eat or drink anything all day. His truck had been released to him from the MDA around 4:45P, empty of all the food products, with the ironic exception of the 2 bags of citrus. Lost were 100 dozen eggs, I think he said, and enough grass-fed ground beef to fill the day’s orders, along with about 100 gallons of raw milk.
The first thing he did when he got his truck back, was go to check out his rented space, in a portion of what many of us know as the Traditional Foods Warehouse location, at 302 61st. West, in Minneapolis, MN. Although he didn’t notice any signs of forced entry, he found that it had also been cleared of everything, including lots of empty, reusable, plastic milk and egg crates. Among the missing food items, was approximately $1000 of newly purchased coconut oil, the rest of the organic citrus, handmade raw cheese, a freezer full of Sno Pac frozen fruits and vegetables, several pounds of wild salmon and cod, and dozens of his own eggs.
He reports that the wording on the documentation he received, when leaving the MDA, was that all product would be destroyed. He roughly estimates that the losses of the day may reach or surpass $5000. I can’t resist commenting, that it is our loss as well.
© 2011 Kathryn Niflis Johnson