Swarms of Officers:
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
– Declaration of Independence
“Use your milkman. Don’t let him become a thing of the past”
Swarms Post: Two farmers, Mike Hartmann and Alvin Schlangen, head to court this week. Just last Thursday, Hartman was stopped and his truck impounded.
The plight of two Minnesota raw milk providers and those families who depend on them seems to get worse by the minute. As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) continues to prosecute the two main providers of raw milk in the state, the real story becomes clear: the state wants to completely shut down raw milk, criminalize those who provide it, and make a living hell for the two peaceful men who serve their community so lovingly and consistently.
Thankfully, the MDA’s attempts to eliminate raw milk in the state are only serving to strengthen the resolve of the farmers and the communities who they serve. The stories that provide the background for what these two men are experiencing is dizzying. It is the kind of complexity one cannot make up. The stories are filled with the suspense and drama that usually is reserved for summer blockbusters. Only, this is real life.
At 5:30 in the morning on Thursday, August 8, during routine deliveries to his customers, an officer pulled over the milk truck of dairy farmer Mike Hartmann. The officer called the MDA who told him to immediately impound the truck and everything in it (farm food). After the truck was unloaded of the remainder of the farm food, they towed the truck to an impound lot for Mike to pick up after paying the $350 fee. They took the property and labor of an honest, hardworking peaceful farmer and the families who depend on him.
No End to Harassment of Principled Milkmen
Calf on Pasture
As Alvin Schlangen awaited his second criminal trial related to feeding his community and Mike Hartmann’s years long saga with the MDA continued, the state of Minnesota persisted in their aggressive harassment against these two peaceful men.
The ordeal began, for Hartmann, over a decade ago in 1997 when he transitioned his farm from selling his milk to the processor and began pasteurizing it on the farm and selling to local stores. Greeted with huge success and even greater support by his loyal customers, Hartmann loved the relationships he was building and the stable income it provided his dairy. [Note: many dairies that sell to the processor are not financially sustainable especially those with a small number of cows.] Soon though, the MDA decided that his operation was not in compliance and told the stores that carried his perfectly pasteurized milk, that Minnesota milkman Hartmann was no longer a grade A dairy and that it was illegal to carry his products. Overnight, his success ended and Hartmann had to find other creative solutions.
His solution came in the form of direct sales to his customers and eventually a transition to raw milk produced sustainably and offered in glass bottles direct to customers who sought this particular product. For a few years, the Hartmanns and the others like this Minnesota milkman went about their business peacefully providing wanting customers with a high quality, valued product.
Questionable Claims of Tainted Milk
An unfortunate E. coli outbreak in Minnesota in May 2010 had the MDA immediately blaming it on Hartmann’s milk, with evidence he strongly questioned. Because of the accusations, he has endured years of ongoing harassment and raids from the MDA and alienation from the public. All the while, his loyal customer base defended him fiercely and most denied that the milk had caused any outbreak. This did nothing to slow or stop the media assault from the MDA.
State Seeks Penalties for Another Milkman
Raw Milk Under Arrest
Also in 2010, about a month after the outbreak was blamed on Hartmann’s farm, the MDA brought its attention squarely onto Alvin Schlangen and his Freedom Farms Co-op with a double raid at a warehouse he used and his farm. He provided eggs and other products while volunteering his delivery service to obtain and deliver raw milk from local farmers to his customers. Everyone loved the arrangement except a few people at the MDA.
Alvin was charged criminally for the “crime” of not having a food handler’s license. Meanwhile, Mike continued to endure repeated raids of his farm, court appearances, hearings and being pulled over. Shortly before Alvin’s 2012 trial in Hennepin County, several of Mike’s customers who served as drop sites for his products received warning letters from the MDA that they would be charged criminally if they continued to support Mike. Jim Roettger, a Food Standards Compliance Officer with the MDA, signed these letters.
Two Milkmen Face Court Proceedings
The fate of consumer access to fresh milk delivered by a Minnesota milkman will be determined by the final outcome of the legal cases these farmers still face.
Alvin was acquitted of all his charges in Hennepin County in 2012. He continued his operations, peacefully feeding his community the foods they chose. However, MDA, through the prosecutor’s office in nearby Stearns County, had already brought additional criminal charges against Alvin. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is funding Alvin’s legal defense. His trial in Stearns is slated to run August 13-15. See Minnesota Aims—Again—to Jail Peaceful Farmer.
Mike Hartmann appeared in court Monday (August 12) for a hearing related to two sets of criminal charges leveled against him.
Unfortunately, the police stops and court actions have become all too routine for Hartmann and when the trooper began reading him his rights, he knew his next steps. Hartmann is facing two different sets of criminal charges for alleged violation of the Minnesota food and dairy code filed by the state after he entered into a plea bargain on separate charges last year. The only reason Hartmann agreed to the plea bargain was that the state dropped criminal charges filed against his wife and a 68-year-old woman on disability who assisted the farm in coordinating food deliveries.
What You Can Do
Moms, We’ve Got Your Backs!
The judicial nonsense these men are going through along with the ridiculous raids and theft of personal property shows the ‘police state’ Minnesota has become and MDA’s intention to eliminate access to real milk delivered by a bona fide Minnesota milkman in the state. While the details of these two cases are extensive and quite exhausting, they hardly matter. What matters is the principle—people are engaging in voluntary, peaceful exchange for the foods of their choice with the producer of their choice and the producers are being criminalized for providing it.
What can you do to stop this? Find your local raw milk producers and support them. Ask the farmers who give everything to serve us what you can do to support them and then do it! Do what they ask!
In the case of Alvin and Mike, they want your attendance in the courtroom. They want you to pay attention to what is happening to them and be there for others like them.
Join Food Rights Activists for Save Your Bacon Weekend, including the Annual Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund Benefactor Event at Polyface in Virginia
If you feel inclined, please donate to the organization that defends Alvin and other farmers like him in court—the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund—and sends them home to their families after trial rather than to a jail cell.
Minnesota Milkman Michael Hartmann’s hearing Monday began at 9:00 a.m. and was held at Gaylord Courthouse, 400 Court Avenue in Gaylord. A potluck lunch was also served in the park next to the courthouse during the all day hearing.
Also, here is the facebook event for Alvin Schlangen’s trial which begins 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, August 13, at 705 Courthouse Square in Saint Cloud. The trial is expected to run thru August 15.
Liz Reitzig is a co-founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition and a publicist for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. This article, originally posted at HartkeIsOnline.com, was edited by permission.