Herdshares have been sprouting like grass in a well-watered pasture out in California. No one knows exactly how many there are, but by some estimates, there are 65, or possibly even 100 or more.
As in many states, California has no explicit rules regarding herdshares–in other words, they’re not illegal. Because the herdshares have been allowed to sprout unimpeded, it was thought California’s Department of Food and Agriculture was taking a hands-off approach…until now.
Yesterday, law enforcement and regulatory representatives met with two herdshare operators in San Jose, owners of the last remaining farm in San Jose city limits, and gave them a heavy dose of intimidation. Down in the lobby of the office of the Santa Clara County District Attorney, at least 20 herdshare members and supporters demonstrated, waving placards in support of their raw milk producer (see photo above).
The herdshare operators, Mike and Jane Hulme, owners of Evergreen Acres Goat Farm, have been running their herdshare for six years, during which time it’s grown to nearly 200 full and partial participants. “It was finally at break-even,” Mike Hulme told me. He and his wife tend to about 50 goats, with as many as 30 currently milking. They also breed goats, and have in the past run the farm as a petting zoo.
In late May, the Hulmes received a cease-and-desist letter from the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office. Yesterday, they met with an assistant district attorny, Nahal Irwani-Sani, and via conference call with a representative of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Scarlett Treviso, of the Milk and Dairy Food Safety division.
There were the threats–talk of a possible fine of $10,000 and a year in jail for violating California’s dairy laws. They said the herdshare wouldn’t be allowed even if the shareholders milked the goats themselves. They refused to allow Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to participate via conference call because he isn’t licensed to practice in California.
Yeah, what a bunch of tough guys with a couple of struggling farmers unable to hire the $500-an-hour lawyers places like Kellogg and Dole bring to the table. “They basically said, ‘You need to get a dairy license or go to jail,” Mike Hulmes said afterwards. In the meantime, the couple is abiding by the cease-and-desist, and unable to provide herdshare members, who come from around the Bay Area, with milk at the height of milk production.
Mike Hulme said the couple isn’t interested in having a full-scale dairy production business, and making the investment of many thousands of dollars in equipment and buildings that would be necessary (and likely wouldn’t even get city approval) to obtain a license. “Milk is part of what we do, breeding is part of what we do.”
But boarding and milking the goats for herdshare owners provides the ongoing cash flow essential for maintaining the farm.
Mike Hulme expects to legally challenge the cease-and-desist, but isn’t sure exactly what form the challenge will take. A lot depends on the support he receives from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which is still to be determined.
He feels the herdshare was discovered by authorities because it was listed on the Real Milk web site. Since the farm’s problems with state authorities became known, he says he’s received about 100 emails from people around the state who say they are obtaining milk via herdshares or running herdshares themselves.
It’s easy for me to say, but I hope the Hulmes stand up to the authoritarian busybodies at CDFA (and their public prosecutor friends). If they do, they will need lots of support from California consumers who value food rights–support in the form of demonstrations and donations.
It may be difficult to appreciate, but the persistent warfare being waged against food producers serving private organizations of consumers is actually a sign of desperation by the authorities. The fact that California has many dozens of herdshares is just one indication of the surging demand for nutrient-dense food. The success being achieved by producers in Washington and producers in Idaho is further evidence.
Consumers are voting with their pocket books. But they must continue to fight tooth-and-nail in other ways to ward off the forces of control and repression. The prosecutors and regulators want to make examples of people like the Hulmes in San Jose, and try scare off other producers and consumers.
But a surge of public support could keep that from happening. The Santa Clara County District Attorney is an elected office. Residents might want to let Jeffrey Rosen, the DA, know this case isn’t “the breath of fresh air” he promised in his campaign last year. His office’s phone is (408) 299-7400.
The Raw Milk Revolution
Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights
by David E. Gumpert
FREE Shipping Available!