I belong to an organization called Locally Grown, where we place orders on the internet with farmers around the state and SC, the farmers deliver the ordered goods to a central location and we pick up our orders at a specified time. I get all my meat, my produce and milk and eggs (when my animals aren't producing) there. It is the only source of raw milk in GA since it is illegal to sell raw milk in GA. The milk comes from SC and is picked up by a volunteer and brought to our pick up location. We buy the milk directly from the farmer in SC.
Anyway, yesterday at the the pickup time, representatives from the state of GA seized all the milk! They said it was illegal for us to have it in GA (which it is not). They entered the truck that contained the milk without a warrant and taped all the coolers shut.
I dried up my goat last week so my milk was part of the confiscated load. Now I will have to buy milk at the grocery store or try to find someone with a goat in milk that will give me some milk. I'm glad I have milk goats and can produce my own raw milk, at least most of the time.
Part of me finds this funny coming from the state behind the whole Peanut Corporation of America fiasco. Sure, FDA inspected and approved facilities are perfectly safe, but not those local farmers. Right.
Needless to say I'm angry and think this is ridiculous! Whose business is it if I want to drink raw milk? This is why I'm a Libertarian.
Here is the email that was sent from the organizer of Locally Grown:
Hello! It’s late and I’m exhausted, but I wanted you all to know what happened today at our Athens Locally Grown pickup.
When we arrived, we were greeted by three badged inspectors from the Georgia Department of Agriculture who were there waiting for us. “We read about you on the internet,” they told me.
I explained to them what Athens Locally Grown is, how we work, discussed that I’ve been diligent to make sure all of the growers who sell through the market have the appropriate licenses when needed, and so forth. The inspectors were very friendly during this time and everything that followed — I do not fault them in any way.
They talked to the growers as they arrived. They were particularly interested in the meat, and indeed found all of that to be legal.
When my wife arrived with the raw milk ordered by ALG members directly from the Cows R Us dairy in South Carolina (A USDA Grade A dairy fully licensed to sell raw milk), the inspectors entered our truck and began opening our coolers.
To be clear, I did not give them permission to enter or search my truck, and they did not have a warrant to do so. When they discovered the coolers to be full of clearly labelled raw milk, they immediately began calling their supervisors. They chain of calls made their way up to Peggy Gates, the director of the Dairy Division of the Consumer Protection Division of the State Department of Agriculture. She immediately gave orders to seize the entire load of milk.
I did try to explain to her all of the very strict rules that we follow to keep things legal. She was very gruff with me and was not at ll interested in hearing what we do. “I know exactly what you’re doing” she told me. She told me what we were doing is a Federal offense (it is not, and of course she has no jurisdiction over FEderal statute). In the end she declared all 100 gallons an “imminent health hazard” and ordered it seized.
Oddly enough, the inspectors could not seize it themselves, as they only had several small sedans. So, it was impounded in place on my truck, and I was ordered not to disturb the milk in any way, or else I “would be guilty of a felony”.
The inspectors and director Peggy Gates herself personally will be coming to my house Monday morning to witness my “destruction” of the milk. I am hoping they will not be also coming to arrest me, but they do have that power.
Let me reiterate that I believe we have not violated any laws whatsoever. What we are doing is also being done by thousands of groups and individuals throughout the country, and I have been extremely careful that we are doing what has legal precendent. Namely:
•You order via the website directly from the dairy
•The dairy receives the orders without any intervention from me. They have a name for every carton of milk
•We pick up, on your behalf, exactly the cartons that have been pre-ordered. We have a name for every carton of milk
•You meet us at the pickup location and get your milk.
•We do not store it beyond the pre-established pickup time.
Given those steps that are followed to the letter (and those of you who ask me every single week “can’t you just bring an extra gallon or two with you?” can attest that they are), I do not believe that the Georgia Department of Agriculture has any authority over those cartons of milk. We are not violating federal law. We are not violating state law.
So where do we stand? Right now, raw milk can no longer be offered through Athens Locally Grown. I have 110 gallons of milk sitting on my truck until Monday morning, when a team of officials will be coming to my house to witness its destruction (and hopefully nothing more). Until Peggy Gates changes her mind (which seems unlikely), that is that. It may well take a court order to change things. I know our membership includes a fair number of lawyers, and if any of you wish to help in this, please let me know. I really don’t know where to even begin.
I’ve taken a big financial hit today too, so please forgive our putting out a tip jar next week. I paid the dairy $440 for the milk on the customers’ behalf (and yes, I’m a customer too. I’ve got two gallons of my own sitting on the truck) and since the market operates on a break even basis (during the best of times), I don’t have that sitting in the bank.
I’ll keep you all informed. I’m surprised it took so long for them to harass us, and I’m also surprised by how unsympathetic they turned out to be. And by “they”, I really mean director Peggy Gates, who issued the order. Her website address is http://agr.georgia.gov/00/channel_title/0,2094,38902732_125874866,00.html and her office’s phone number is (404) 656-3625. Please don’t harass her, but it may help if they do hear your stories., why you order raw milk, and why you are a member of Athens Locally Grown.
I know many of you were relying on your milk delivery today, especially since our truck’s engine problems kept us from bringing a full load last week. I’m sorry. Hopefully something will happen soon to make them loosen their grip and allow us to once again bring your milk that you ordered directly from the dairy to you.
Please feel free to forward this email to anyone you see fit.