Hello friends and supporters!
We had a fabulous turnout for the hearing in Albany on the 16th and Steve and I want to express our gratitude to all of you! There were about 40 advocates of raw milk, LLC members, and raw milk farmers from around the state in addition to the Ithaca Journal reporter who wrote a great article on the hearing. (http://www.theithacajournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008801180345) We are hoping for an even greater turnout on Tues, Jan 22 in Waterloo (details below in the press release, including time and address).
The hearing was long and exhausting for all of us. It lasted 7 hours on Thursday and then an additional 4 hours on Friday! Gary Cox, our lawyer, threw himself into the proceedings body and soul and gave very passionate and moving opening statement and closing argument. He was aggressive and sharp and we ended up with a really good record to take into the hearings in Waterloo. The hearing officer, a lawyer hired by Ag and Markets to preside at the hearing, now has basically as long as she needs to come to a decision. But as the transcript of the hearing won’t be ready for another couple weeks, and she stated at the end that in difficult cases, like this one, she can take several months, then we won’t be looking for a decision from her for a few months most likely.
Basically this hearing was Ag&Mkts asking the hearing officer to order us to cease and desist from what we are doing and to comply with their permitting because we are violating their regs by “selling” raw milk, by operating a milk plant without a license, and that our farm is unsanitary. Gary took the hearing officer point by point through ALL the Ag and Markets laws and definitions and showed her (and the department) all the flubs and inconsistencies in their laws which in fact point to the fact that we are not a milk plant, not “selling” milk, and that the sanitary conditions on the farm today are the same we have had all the 12 years we had a license under their jurisdiction.
In cross examination Gary got the “spy” to admit in so many words that he did NOT actually “buy” our products, but rather “obtained” them, so the State’s evidence of a sale flew out the window at that point. He got the Director of Milk Control to admit that his “policies” on raw milk licensing are not actually written down but are carried out consistently state wide, which according to Gary can be considered “illegal rulemaking”. And he established that we have never had complaints about our milk from anyone, so the sanitary conditions argument is weak.
The State, on the other hand, ended with very few balloons unpopped. Their closing argument amounted to: The Department has been operating this way since the 1930′s and so should continue to do so. Their policy on raw milk sales is clear (no matter what the laws say – he told the hearing officer she must read the regs “expansively”). The spy never said he didn’t buy the product (a falsehood belied by the stenographer’s notes). The LLC is a sham and just a cover (no evidence offered). And so there!
Toward the end of the proceeding the hearing officer was definitely listening to our testimony with interest, and even rolled her eyes when I said the Department had pretended all summer to not understand that we did not want to be licensed so they had an excuse to continue with inspections. So we are cautiously optimistic about her ruling, though Gary believes she may want to wait to see what the outcome of the hearings in Waterloo is first in order to use the judge’s legal grounds (i.e. which laws he references as justification for his decisions) in her written decision. If the hearing officer rules against us the Department will order us to cease and desist. If she rules in our favor she will be saying we do not need any permit and that our LLC system is a legitimate model for providing raw milk to folks. In either case, we now know the extent of their arguments and know how to rebutt them and have more evidence against them in the form of statements they made themselves and are well set to take a solid case to the judge in Waterloo on Tuesday.
Please join us in Waterloo at the County Courthouse at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, Jan 22. Judge Bender will be hearing oral arguments from Gary Cox and the Ag and Markets lawyer on several issues:
1. A motion, by us, to grant a preliminary injunction against Ag and Markets.
2. A motion, by Ag and Markets, to dismiss the case.
3. A motion, by Ag and Markets, to get the case moved to Albany.
It should be interesting and fun to see everyone! Meet raw milk people from around the country too! David Gumpert, the author of the Complete Patient, may be there as well.
If you are interested in carpooling from Ithaca contact Bethany Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Meadowsweet LLC c/o Steve and Barbara Smith, 2054 Smith Rd., Lodi, NY (607-582-6954) email:email@example.com
Legitimacy of Raw Milk Cow Share Program to be Tested this Week
In March 2007, dairy farmers Steve and Barbara Smith of Seneca County, NY dropped their raw milk dealer’s license in order to start an innovative cow share program. In an era where the pressures of agribusiness and state regulation threaten the viability of family run farms, the Smiths, who have more than 12 years experience at dairy farming, find themselves at odds with the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FCLDF), a national organization set up to defend farmers and consumers from government interference, has taken on the Smiths’ case. The Smiths’ struggles with the Department of Agriculture and Markets will serve as a test case to determine if the State’s regulatory power extends to a group of private citizens who produce and consume their own food of their own choice.
The Smiths reorganized their dairy into a limited liability company, Meadowsweet Dairy LLC (Meadowsweet) in March, 2007. The dairy delivers raw milk, yogurt, butter and buttermilk to the members of the cow share.
The newly formed LLC has only one asset, a herd of dairy cows. Meadowsweet members have an agreement with the Smiths to tend to, manage and house the herd for the benefit of the LLC. The equity interest for the LLC’s 110 members is in the form of raw milk and raw dairy products produced by the cow herd and processed by the Smiths. This is accomplished without permits or licenses. However, the State of New York, through the Department of Agriculture and Markets, is challenging the new farming model.
Since the inception of the cow share, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets has pressured the Smiths and Meadowsweet LLC. Citing their responsibility to protect public health, the regulatory arm of the agency is being used to harass the dairy. The state agency has conducted numerous inspections, seized products, ordered the destruction of 260 pounds of raw dairy products, attempted to search the Smith’s house, issued letters threatening fines and penalties. And now the Department of Agriculture and Markets has ordered the Smiths and Meadowsweet Dairy LLC to appear in Albany and show cause why the Department should not shut down the operation and levy fines.
Over the next two weeks, Meadowsweet will confront the Department of Agriculture and Markets in two separate hearings. The first hearing will be at the Department offices in Albany on JANUARY 17 at 11AM. This is an administrative hearing within Department of Agriculture and Markets. The Department will consider ordering the Smiths to CEASE AND DESIST from providing milk to its cow share members.
The second hearing is set for JANUARY 22 at 1:30PM in Seneca County Court in Waterloo, NY. At this hearing, the Court Judge will consider issuing a preliminary injunction against the Department of Agriculture and Markets to keep the agency from further harassing the Smiths until the dispute between the newly formed cow share program and the Department is resolved.
January 17, 11 AM
Department of Agriculture and Markets
10B Airline Drive
(Right next to the airport)
January 22, 1:30 PM
Seneca County Court
48 West Williams Street
For more information contact: Steve and Barbara Smith, 2054 Smith Rd., Lodi, NY (607-582-6954) email:firstname.lastname@example.org