By Keith Johnson -
From fines issued to little girls for unlicensed lemonade stands to armed raids on Amish dairies, the ongoing police state assault on independent food merchants has now gone from the outrageous to the surreal. Monte and Laura Bledsoe learned this the hard way when an official from their local health department crashed a recent dinner party they were hosting and forced them to destroy hundreds of dollars worth of organic foods they were planning to serve to their guests, all because they hadn’t first received an official stamp of approval from the ugly face of government bureaucracy.
On Oct. 21, the Bledsoes held their first annual “farm-to-fork” dinner, at their Quail Hollow Farm, a modest, seven-acre agricultural co-op in the scenic Moapa Valley to celebrate the bounty of crops they had just harvested.
Mrs. Bledsoe recently spoke to this AFP writer about the event and what transpired early into the festivities.
“It was a beautiful evening with clear weather. The crops were just bursting,” said Bledsoe. “It was a good time of year to have a celebratory dinner.”
According to Bledsoe, the dinner was open to the public and was announced in local newspapers. “This was apparently our big mistake,” she said. “We were getting ready to serve the first course of hors d’oeuvres when an inspector named Mary Oaks showed up.”
Ms. Oaks asked the Bledsoes for receipts of commercial food purchases and for the packaging the meat came in. “Of course we didn’t have that,” said Mrs. Bledsoe. “All of the food came from our farm or from local ranchers—rabbit, chicken, pork and lamb. That was the problem. It was not USDA certified.”
Because of that, Ms. Oaks demanded that the meat immediately be disposed of. She insisted that produce had to be thrown away, too, because it had been cut prior to inspection and was not at the appropriate serving temperature.
As Mrs. Bledsoe explained: “We were getting ready to put the food out, so the produce was soon to be brought to temperature. But because it wasn’t at that place when Ms. Oaks inspected them, she deemed all of the food unfit to eat.”
Mrs. Bledsoe then informed the inspector: “We have a big family gathering tomorrow. Can I at least save it for that?” Ms. Oaks said that would not be acceptable. Mrs. Bledsoe then told Ms. Oaks that their farm was fully sustainable and that everything they didn’t use would be fed to their animals or added to the compost pile.
“At least let me feed it to my pigs,” she implored. Ms. Oaks made a phone call to her supervisor, but again the answer was, “No.”
Ms. Oaks threatened that if the Bledsoes did not dispose of the food immediately, she would be forced to call the police and have all guests escorted off the property. Under duress, Mrs. Bledsoe knuckled under to the inspector’s threats and used her own store-bought bleach to pour over the food.
“At least 120 pounds of perfectly good food was made toxic,” said Mrs. Bledsoe. “What a waste.”
It was at this point that Mrs. Bledsoe’s husband remembered that they had a phone number for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Pursuant to a brief consultation, the Bledsoes were reminded of their Fourth Amendment rights and were then instructed on how to handle the situation.
“We asked the inspector if she had a search or arrest warrant,” said Mrs. Bledsoe. When Ms. Oaks was unable to provide an adequate municipal, state or federal statute that would establish reasonable cause that a crime had been committed, she was summarily told to leave the premises by the very authorities she summoned to disrupt the event.
“We won,” said Mrs. Bledsoe.
When asked if the latest controversy would jeopardize future farm-to-fork dinners, Mrs. Bledsoe adamantly replied: “Absolutely not. We realize now that we have some serious issues concerning our rights and food freedom.”
The Bledsoes have now been inspired to join a coalition with a local state representative to challenge state laws concerning organic farming.