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>> Now Mike is taking MDA to court.
>> Dairyman Dave Berglund is also challenging MDA’s power over farms.
From 2010–2014, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) did everything it could to put Gibbon dairy farmer Mike Hartmann out of business. Whether it was raiding Hartmann’s farm, impounding his truck, confiscating and destroying his products, embargoing his products, endlessly testing his products for pathogens, bringing an administrative case against him for violations of the state food and dairy code, having criminal charges for violations of the state food and dairy code brought against him or against Hartmann’s wife, Diana, and Linda Schultz, a 68-year-old woman on disability, who was helping the farm sell its products, or having contempt of court charges brought against the farmer.
MDA tried all it could, at great expense to the taxpayer, to shut down Hartmann. The end result was that the department failed; now it’s Hartmann’s turn to go after MDA. The farmer and his attorney Zenas Baer have filed a petition with the Sibley County District court seeking the return of property illegally seized by MDA; the petition is an effort to permanently keep the department out of Hartmann’s business.
Hartmann has long sold raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense farm foods direct to his customers in Minnesota. The farmer has always stuck to his belief that he has the right to conduct his business without government regulation because of a provision in the Minnesota Constitution stating, “Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor.” [Article XIII, Section 7]
Hartmann’s petition stems from a December 2, 2012 illegal search by a state trooper who had stopped the farmer for suspected vehicle violations. The trooper conducted three warrantless searches of Hartmann’s truck without probable cause and, at MDA’s instruction, seized raw milk and raw cheeses. The vehicle stop led to a January 9, 2013 MDA raid of his farm where computers and business records were confiscated. The state used the evidence to bring criminal charges against Hartmann as well as a contempt charge for violating probation; the farmer had pled guilty in October 2012 to two violations of state law to spare his wife and Schultz criminal prosecution. Sibley County District Court Judge Erica H. McDonald dismissed the criminal charges because they were based on the illegally obtained evidence and refused to punish Hartmann for the contempt violation on the grounds that he was sincere in his belief that the Minnesota Constitution gave him the right to sell and peddle the products of his farm without regulation. Once McDonald issued her decision on the contempt violation, Hartmann and Baer began the process of filing the petition to obtain a court order returning the farmer’s seized property.
Hartmann’s petition “demands return of all the food products, even though they may be out of date, and all personal property seized as a result of the illegal search and seizure” as well as damages for any of the seized property that was destroyed. Beyond the requests on the seized property, the petition also asks that the Court enjoin MDA “from interfering with the private transaction between Hartmann and his consumers,” in other words, a court ruling that the department has no jurisdiction over Hartmann’s operation whatsoever. With this last request, the farmer is trying to change the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in his 2005 case against the State. In that ruling, the Court held that while Article XIII, Section 7 of the Minnesota Constitution exempts farmers selling and peddling the products of the farm from licensing, it does not exempt them from inspection or other regulatory requirements. MDA has filed a motion to dismiss the petition.
The difference between his current lawsuit against MDA and the 2005 case is that this time Hartmann is making other constitutional arguments as to why he shouldn’t be regulated at all such as the right of association between Hartmann and each of his individual customers and the right to privacy. Baer argues that part of the constitutional right to privacy is informed adults having the right to make a choice about the foods they eat. Baer argues as well in the petition that “consumers have a fundamental right to nurture their families which includes making decisions on what food to place on the dinner table.”
In addition to Hartmann, Grand Marais dairy farmer Dave Berglund is also litigating the issue of whether MDA has jurisdiction to inspect his dairy. Like Hartmann, Berglund only sells the products of his farm, primarily raw dairy, direct to consumers; Berglund has refused to let MDA officials onto his property, claiming they have no jurisdiction to inspect his farm. In the Berglund case, the Cook County judge hearing the matter distinguished the 2005 case on the grounds that the Supreme Court addressed the issue of the right to sell custom processed meat, not the issue of MDA’s authority to inspect a farm in the first place. There will likely be a ruling before the end of the year on whether MDA has jurisdiction over the Berglund farm.
The Hartmann and Berglund cases are bookend challenges to MDA’s power to regulate farms selling and peddling their products direct to consumers. A favorable ruling in either case can lead back to a time in Minnesota when the government left direct transactions between family farms and consumers alone.
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