We’re Under Fire

Good afternoon,
In the midst of yet another winter storm, we have good news and bad news to share with you. Listen up, this letter concerns all of you and your/our future as lovers of food freedom.

In this open letter to all of you I will first share the bad news, explain the position we now find ourselves in, rant about the status quo food police, and then I’ll end with the good news. So stick with me to hear me out, and then feel free to share your thoughts and opinions with us.

The Bad News –
Yesterday we had interesting visitors here at the farm store. They were from the Chester County Health Department (CCHD), and came to inspect our store and products. As expected, before leaving they issued a “Stop Operations” order. As many of you know, since the inception of our farm, we have been producing pastured meats and dairy under the radar of local health departments and departments of agriculture. As a small farm and passionate producers of integrity food, we knew an attempt to comply with the erroneous rules and regulation would be a killer to our tiny farm and retail store, due to the extensive costs involved.

So…what does the “Stop Operations” order mean? As of now we’re not sure, but are making a number of phone calls to attorneys, to other farmers who have dealt with the food police, and to the Health Department.

What can you do? Not much as of right now, but please pray for wisdom and guidance on our behalf while we work through weighing our options.  
The Status Quo Food Police –
After a conversation with the inspector from CCHD this morning, I’m steaming out of my ears, to say the least. While we’re not charged with anything, we are in violation of the law on at least 4 counts. They are: unlicensed raw milk, unlicensed food facility—both as food processor and food retailer, uninspected meat (USDA), and unlicensed canned goods. I know this may sound scary to you—given you’ve been consuming these products—but let me explain each of these violations in context of the letter of the law as best I can.
Unlicensed Raw Milk –
Here in PA we have the option of state-issued raw milk permits. However, it only allows raw fluid milk and 60-day-aged raw cheese. That means no butter, no unpasteurized yogurt, no kefir, and no raw sour cream, cream cheese, or cottage cheese. I won’t go to a lot of detail here, but in addition to limiting several high-demand dairy products, state issued raw milk permits require unnecessary testing for small dairies like us (no variables regardless of herd size), add expense for the end user, and are another tool for government intervention in private transaction. Feel free to ask us for details on why we’re opposed to conforming to this requirement.  
Unlicensed food facility –
This is a case of simple government control. The Health Department is assigned to inspect any facility selling perishable food, and any such facility is required to have a license to sell said food. The license will be revoked or withheld if the inspector finds food at the facility not licensed by the state. This ranges from mom-and-pop stores to restaurants to gas stations to big box food retailers. All will comply with the same rules. Un-inspected food = no license. No license = inability to sell food. Simple, but rigid.
Un-inspected meat –
I covered this subject in a blog post last spring, and I’ll not repeat it all here. Click here to read my views on this David vs. Goliath law. More now than ever, timely access to USDA plants is the greatest limiting factor farms like us face. Try calling one to schedule your backyard beef or pig in a year from now. You will be disappointed.
Unlicensed canned goods –
As you know, we began offering a line of canned goods—both fermented and pickled products—in the last few years. Because they’re not produced in a government sanctioned kitchen they are not legal for you to eat. In fact, when I asked the health inspector about our un-inspected meat inventory—and whether or not we could give it away, he intimated that we couldn’t do so legally because it could sicken someone and invite litigation against us. Sir, I appreciate you using the law to protect me—while also using it to quell my ability to provide integrity food to those who desire it. Thank you very much.

You know, in a time when four corporations control 80+% of our national red meat supply, the thought that I can’t sell you a pound of un-inspected hamburger with incurring the wrath of government is mind-boggling at best. I know some of you may think the easiest thing to do is to comply and make our food “safe”. However, this is NOT an issue of food safety. We may be a small farm—even tiny in comparison to many farms today, but we know how to produce safe food. We have stainless steel. We have contemporary freezer and cooler storage. We have local butchers who know how to safely handle meat, cut it, vacuum seal it, and immediately freeze it for your safety. Plus, we have the advantage of working with nature instead of against it. Folks, this type of food has been around much longer than the now-sanctioned commercialized supermarket fare. Goodness, the idea of supermarkets is not yet eighty years old.

More than ever, what is called food safety turns out to be control of commerce. It’s big vs. small, craft vs. commercial, integrity vs. bigger-fatter-faster-cheaper. The proof is in pudding that integrity food cannot be produced on a large scale, and that the food police—both local and federal—will always side with corporate Big Food. But…be it what it may, I will leave off my rant before I say anything that will get me into (more) trouble. On to better subjects.

The Good News –
What to do? After making several phone calls this morning we are more optimistic than we were. We have options—more than we knew. I won’t say at this point what they entail, because we’re not exactly sure ourselves. But we’ll keep you in the loop in the next days/weeks. We are deeply grateful to all of you in this moment. Some of you totally made our day yesterday (after CCHD was here) with your presence and kind words. Thank you.

As of now, we will not be allowing customers in our farm store, but ask that you place an order here in advance. Interestingly, as of early this week our website now boasts full-color product pictures and descriptions. We will then fill your order, and will bring to your car when you arrive. Unfortunately, we will not be accepting new customers until we are through this situation. Please bear with us while we work our way through, and again, feel free to call or email us with feedback.

         Thanks for listening.
      Samuel & Esther Fisher