As you may have heard, the organic buying club Rawesome was raided again by multiple Federal agencies on Wednesday (8.3.11). Agents loaded at least $70,000 worth of food onto the back of a truck and took it away, presumably ending up as garbage, along with computers and cash.
Since the raid on Rawesome last year (7.22.11), a sting operation has been in effect, with undercover officers making purchases and documenting what they consider to be violations. The press release for the arrest can be found here.
Yesterday morning at the courthouse downtown, there was a rally in support of those arrested, James Stewart, Victoria Bloch and Sharon Palmer. Here is video, including my interview with Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures.
Whether you care about raw milk or buying clubs, or even the individuals in this case, (about whom it is fair to ask questions) this kind of assault on freedom at such a basic level, our food supply, should not be tolerated by anyone.
From the Weston A. Price news release:
Concerned citizens are asked to donate to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, an organization that works to protect and expand consumer access to whole, unprocessed foods of their choice, and to pave the way for unregulated, direct trade between farmer and consumer. Visit their website for more details on food freedom and raw milk issues: http://farmtoconsumer.org.
The good news is, as Cheeseslave tweeted Thursday afternoon, James’ bail was reduced from $123,000 to $30,000 and Victoria was released without bail. (thanks also to Cheeseslave Ann Marie for her video of the raid as it happened)
If all proceeds well, James could be released today (Friday) after his 1:30pm appearance before the court. We’ll update the post as possible. Sharon will have a hearing tomorrow as well where we will learn more about her situation.
James Stewart was released on Friday. The conditions of James and Victoria’s bail was summarized by Cheeseslave as follows:
They must not possess, own, sell, furnish, give away, distribute, supply, store or administer milk, dairy products or eggs unless properly licensed. They must not possess, own, sell, furnish, give away, distribute, supply, store or administer any food without labels as required by law. They must not aid, promote or encourage anyone to possess, own, sell, furnish, give away, distribute, supply, store these foods. They must not allow any property they own sell/administer/distribute/etc. these foods unless properly licensed. The property at 665 Rose (Rawesome) owned by James Stewart will be open to law enforcement day or night with or without a search warrant.
Sharon Palmer’s arraignment is likely to occur Monday.
In the interest of fairness, we must mention that not everyone views James Stewart or Sharon Palmer in the best light. Their individual cases could be considered murky and details are sure to emerge. There are some that have created entire websites devoted to sorting out the battle over these people.
Let me emphasize one point here: While I admire their work for greater food choice, I have never met any of the three people arrested in this case, and I do not know whether they are guilty of crimes or not.
In my opinion, these particular individuals, while I care for their wellbeing, are not the most important issue.
I believe they are genuine food activists fighting an incredibly important battle, and for that they have my enthusiastic support. (Also of note, WAPF Chapter Leader Victoria Bloch does not appear to be under the same type of accusations as James or Sharon are at this time.)
Free food choice is under assault nationwide. Cow shares and raw dairies are being raided at an increasing and alarming rate. We must band together to fight this assault on our freedoms, for we can accomplish much more together that separately.
Having said that, here is a quote from the only other licensed raw milk farmer in the state (besides Organic Pastures) regarding the case:
James Stewart was our distributor in Southern California early on when we first started selling in stores. In his interactions with us and our customers he repeatedly acted in inappropriate and troubling ways. He no longer distributes our milk and hasn’t for years. It is our opinion that James Stewart deserves to be in jail. It’s about time. I don’t know anything about Sharon Palmer or her operation, but James Stewart is not the appropriate poster child for this movement. It’s going to end up biting you in the ass. It is unfortunate that this movement has attracted a number of self absorbed, self promoters because it makes the fight more difficult. James Stewart deserves to be in jail, but all the same, people have a right to source their own food without government intervention. Fraud, even in private contracts, is illegal and should be prosecuted. Eating food isn’t. They are two separate things. Government regulation of food has not, cannot, and will not lead to a safe, healthy food supply. In fact, just the opposite.
Owner, Claravale Dairy
Comment from Mark McAffee of Organic Pastures Dairy:
It is sad that Ron Garthwaite has not been supportive of James Stewart.
I give 100% credit for James in 2001-2004 when he and his team started our markets in LA area. Yes…he was my distributor for 3.5 years and grew the OPDC raw milk markets to more than $1 million dollars per year….at the very beginning. Now OPDC is a nearly a $7m per year thriving state wide raw milk producer. We have 16 trucks, 55 employees and 400 organic cows on 500 acres of lush pastures.
James gets credit for the beginnings of what is now OPDC. I will always be greatful and thankful.
Ron Garthwaite tells the media that “James belongs in Jail”. I am saddened by the shortsighted and hateful thoughts that came from Ron. Raw milk is a peoples food. Ron supplies Claravale raw milk and it is loved by many. His comments sour his brand by dividing the good will and what can unify us in health.
I would ask Ron to humbly and publically apologize to James and us all.
I cannot personally speak to the character of any of the persons mentioned as I do not know them. Regardless of the specifics, the broader principle at stake, the right of citizens to have access to raw foods, is what is really important.
Consenting adults are being arrested for distributing (NOT even selling, though why should that matter?) fresh, raw foods that are proven in study after study to be nutritionally superior.
Tens of thousands of dollars worth of delicious, nutritious healthful food is being destroyed.
How did we get here and what do we do now?