The FTCLDF: Fighting For Food Freedom
If you’ve been following what’s been going on in the local food world, you know that small family farms are under attack by bureaucrats at the federal and state level. Farmers already have their hands full with the hard work of producing the wholesome, nutrient rich, grass-based food that a growing number of consumers are demanding, so who do they call when the bureaucrats come knocking?
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, that’s who. Whether it’s Michigan, Ohio, California, or New York, the FTCLDF is ready to defend your right to produce, purchase and consume the food of your choice. But who are the people behind this organization, the foot soldiers holding the line against government encroachment?
I had the pleasure of meeting one of them at the recent BaconPalooza fundraising event, put on by the FTCLDF and hosted at Polyface Farm in Virginia. Her name is Ajna Sharma-Wilson, lawyer, and food advocate. She was gracious enough to take some time out and answer a few questions for our readers.
HFF: In what area of law do you practice?
ASW: The short answer is that I practice both civil and criminal law.
I am a solo-practitioner out of California and travel around the country consulting with different firms on a variety of cases. I have worked with many types of legal firms and non-legal clients as an independent contractor from issues on the governmental to private sector level. I am in court most of my day on anything from an unlawful detainer (eviction) to a child custody case.
My passion is food rights law, which I never thought existed until a few years ago.
HFF: Were you always interested in pasture-based food?
ASW: Instinctually, as a human being, I have always known that pasture-based foods were important. I grew up in the State of California and we have a significant amount agricultural lands, including animals being raised for food. However, most of that is conventionally raised animals, which is a morally sad practice.
I truly discovered how important it was to pasture animals that we consume when I began to study nutrition on my own and saw the nutritional value difference.
I also began to realize that quite simply: we are what we eat. I want to be healthy, that means I need to eat in the healthiest way possible.
HFF: How did you get involved in the fight for food freedom with the FTCLDF?
ASW: I got involved with the food movement in general when Rawesome Foods was raided and forced to shut down in August, 2010, that case alone has changed my life.
I then became involved with the work that FTCLDF is doing on the national level. I have been involved with some of the events and have also been able to work with the attorneys throughout the country who are working on food issues.
Recently I was in Michigan working with Mark Baker, who runs a pig farm and is facing over-regulation by his State. As well as, the FTCLDF BaconPalooza fundraiser in Virginia.
HFF: Give me a brief overview of why the FTCLDF is needed?
ASW: FTCLDF is needed to protect the farmers against governmental harassment. The current regulatory system is stacked in favor of agribusiness and industrial food producers; the cost of compliance with the laws governing food production and distribution is high for small farmers who are also an easier target for government agencies. FTCLDF levels the playing field, making it more difficult for agencies to deplete farmers of their resources by dragging them through administrative and judicial proceedings. Farmers can put their resources toward farming instead of lawyers.
HFF: What sort of help can a farmer/member expect from the FTCLDF?
ASW: For their membership, farmers get (1) unlimited consultation with FTCLDF attorneys on matters within the Fund’s mission statement, (2) free consultation on management practices with a farm consultant, (3) consultation on setting up a buyers club or co-op, (4) 24-hour hotline that farmers can call if they receive a surprise visit from a government inspector, (5) possibility of representation on matters within the Fund’s mission statement [many of the farmers who have been represented have not had to pay anything beyond their annual membership fee]
HFF: What type of farmers does the FTCLDF help?
ASW: Farmers that market at least some of their production direct to consumers.
HFF: Tell me about one of your victories?
ASW: Recently, we defended Vernon Hershberger, an Amish farmer, who has a farm in Wisconsin. In that case, we were able to prevail on three of the four criminal counts that he was facing. In fact, we are currently seeking appeal of the fourth count. The charges were based around the sharing of raw milk produced by the Hershberger farm direct to consumers.
ASW: A farmer needs to know is what their rights are in case of a governmental inspection or raid.
A farmer needs to know that community support is a vital component to this issue, it needs to be sown and nurtured.
A farmer needs to know that FTCLDF is a resource for them.
HFF: How can people who are not farmers help farmers and support the FTCLDF?
ASW: They can join as a consumer member [$50/yr], (2) buy their farmer(s) a gift membership [$125/yr], (3) donate to the Fund, (4) subscribe to the Fund’s mailing list and spread the word.
HFF: One of the things I tell people is that they can farm at any level — from a few backyard chickens, to a full-scale operation. Given that, do you foresee any farming in your future?
ASW: Well, my former front lawn is now a tomato jungle for a start. I’ll keep you updated on my progress…….it will be an adventure, to be sure…….
... attempt to deal with rules that prohibited her from selling raw milk directly to consumers. Fifteen people own shares of two cows that she ...
Admin - 12/28/2012 - 07:09 - 0 comments