An Oct. 20 Page One article about small farms incorrectly identified Elaine Lidholm as a spokeswoman for the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. She is a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Bitter Harvest for Small Farms
Saturday, October 20, 2007
WINGINA, Va. -- To some, Richard Bean is a folk hero: the small farmer who dared to sell local, naturally raised pork chops, ribs, sausages and bacon. To the government, Bean looks like a felon.
Since 2001, Bean has sold his pork to restaurants and at farmers markets in the Charlottesville area, where he also offers chicken, vegetables and homemade bread. In many ways, his Double H Farm is exactly what the burgeoning eat-local movement wants: a diversified, family-run farm that sells to nearby customers.
But to make farming sustainable, Bean said, he has evaded government requirements that producers have animals slaughtered and processed in inspected facilities. His defiance led to his arrest Sept. 21 when state police officers, armed and dressed in flak jackets, arrived at the Double H with a search warrant and arrested Bean and his partner, Jean Rinaldi.
The officers handcuffed Bean, confiscated the couple's computer and charged them with felony intent to defraud, which carries the possibility of three years in jail for a conviction. The couple are accused of selling meat improperly labeled "certified organic." They also face seven misdemeanor charges. No hearing date has been set.
"We were trying to skirt the system. A small farm, making it work," Bean, 62, said over sandwiches of home-produced ham at his kitchen table. "We were able to earn a significant amount more per animal, and that's how we are able to compete with corporate agriculture."
Eat-local proponents, or locavores, say foods grown by nearby, small farms are fresher and better for the environment and local communities than government-certified organic foods, which can come from as far away as New Zealand. Bean is one of a number of small farmers whose stand against state and federal regulations has landed him in legal trouble.
This month, a county sheriff served Michigan cattle farmer Greg Niewendorp with a warrant before he would allow state agriculture officials to test his herd as part of a program to eradicate tuberculosis. In Pennsylvania, dairy farmer Mark Nolt refused to obtain a permit to sell unpasteurized milk, prompting officials to raid his farm and confiscate raw milk, cheese and yogurt as well as equipment and sales records.
And in Charlottesville, John Coles and Christine Solem of Satyrfield Farms have dodged state regulations for nearly three years by giving away their raw-milk goat cheese, which is illegal to sell in Virginia. They have been soliciting donations for, a sign in front of their market stand says, "legislative and court efforts to allow the sales of raw milk, cheese and other farm products."
Federal and state rules are designed to protect consumers from unsafe foods and provide a level playing field for producers. The Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association declined to comment on Bean and Rinaldi's case. But spokeswoman Elaine Lidholm said: "Our goal is to bring people into compliance, not to punish them. It is in the best interest of everyone if we can bring these farmers and animal owners into compliance because the law is designed to create a safe food supply."
For the past three years, no illnesses from meat or poultry in state-inspected plants have been reported. Outbreaks of food-borne illness, however, are difficult to track because most go unreported, she said.
The growing defiance from small farmers illustrates their increasing frustration with rules that they say penalize them and favor industrial producers, who were the source of headline-grabbing disease outbreaks such as the E.coli-infected spinach that killed three people last year and last month's recall of 21.7 million pounds of E.coli-infected ground beef.
"People are dying of recalled spinach," Bean said. "It's not happening here, because you know what happens when it's a small sale with interaction between farmer and customer? You're face to face. You have to be a really bad guy to screw your customer."