Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Tale of Two Massies

by Bernadette Barber

Two men with the same name, both cattlemen and both very outspoken on farm issues, couldn’t be more different,   Dr. Thomas “tractor-bucket” Massie, VA  and Congressman Thomas “Friend of the Farmer” Massie, KY.

Richmond, VA.

On January 20th, 2014 An obscure man in the back of the room stood up and identified himself as Thomas Massie to the members of the agricultural subcommittee.  He said he was a cattleman and veterinarian from Washington, VA , the 18th district.  He said he had  grave  concerns about the risks that  the Virginia Food Freedom Act (Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville)  would thrust upon an unsuspecting  and unprepared society that has such weakened  immune systems.

He admitted his own immune system,  by nature of his being reared on a farm and “eating a peck of dirt,” was far better than the average Virginian’s.  Continuing,  he said that since our society as a whole has been “drinking chlorinated water”  and living in a very protected climate controlled world, he just doesn’t think they have “the ability to stand those things”…pathogens.

With quiet steady implicative language, he instilled fear that the bill would allow for dangerous raw milk sales bringing pathogens from the cow to the high chair.  He even went so far as to say that if this law were to go in place “it would allow me…to slaughter an animal as I choose- this morning before breakfast- and stand by the side of the road, hang it on a loader bucket and ask if you’d like a piece”     The state credentialed veterinarian and industry high priest  is precisely the fear monger he said he wasn’t.  When one cannot get more graphic than a suggestive visual so insulting to real farmers who have integrity and independence,  it just may be the one thing people remember one by, “Tractor Bucket.”

Washington, DC

On  March 27th a bright promising  American introduced two bills to congress.  Thomas Massie identified himself as a grass-fed cattle producer.  He is a congressman from Garrison Kentucky, the 4th congressional district.  “I am familiar with some of the difficulties small farmers face when marketing fresh food directly to consumers.  Our bills would make it easier for families to buy wholesome milk directly from farmers by reversing the criminalization of dairy farmers who offer raw milk,” said Massie.  “The federal government should not punish farmers for providing customers the foods they want, and states should be free to set their own laws regulating food safety.”

The “Interstate Milk Freedom Act of 2014” (HR 4308) prevents  interference by the federal government with trade of unpasteurized, natural milk or milk products between states where distribution or sale of such products is already legal.

The “Milk Freedom Act of 2014” (HR 4307) provides relief to local farmers, small producers, and others who have been harassed, fined, and in some cases even prosecuted for the “crime” of distributing unpasteurized milk.  This bill would prohibit the federal government from interfering with the interstate traffic of raw milk products.

Massie stated, “Today, many people are paying more attention to the food they eat, what it contains, and how it is processed.  Raw milk, which has been with us for thousands of years, is making a comeback among these discerning consumers. Personal choices as basic as ‘what we feed our families’ should not be limited by the federal government.”

Congressman Thomas “Friend of the Farmer” Massie’s take on Food Freedom: “I support the Food Freedom Act and oppose the federal Food Safety and Modernization Act.  The Food Freedom Act declares that the food grown and produced in state, when sold in state are beyond the authority of Congress and its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce among states. Individuals and farmers should continue to have access to non-genetically modified seed and the right to consume non-pasteurized products at their discretion.  We don’t need the federal food police on our farms and in our kitchens.”

There couldn’t be two more polar opposites with the same name.  Too bad the congressman is not from Virginia, we sure need him here.

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HB 135 and the Food Freedom Task Force

by Bernadette Barber

The Food Freedom Task Force was formed after the Food Freedom Act, (HB 135, Del Rob Bell) was introduced in January of 2014.  The bill was tabled and Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman, Danny Marshall asked Deputy Secretary Travis Hill to look into the issues that prevent small farmers getting their products to their customers.  Bernadette Barber formed a team of leading small farmers and local officials in VA to gather three times in the month of April with members of the Virginia Department of Agriculture,  with the leading lobbyists for the largest organizations for dairy interests, agri-business, and Farm Bureau and with Mike Callicrate of Colorado and St. Francis Kansas and the VA Cattleman’s Association.

The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the barriers that prevent food sales within Virginia that are hampering small farmers and food producers and to create a bill to be introduced to the 2015 session of the Virginia Legislative Assembly that will expand food choices and economic opportunity for small farmers and food producers in Virginia.   The meetings were held April 9th in Charlottesville, April 15th in Crozet and April 30th in Star Tannery.

Members of the task force included  Randall Anderson of Wicked Oaks Farm and Vineyards, Bernadette Barber of Tall Trees Farm and the organization Virginia Food Freedom, Anthony Bavuso of Seaford Oyster Company, Micah Beachy, Dairyman Surry, VA,  Ruby Brabo, Dahlgren Supervisor of King George County, Brian Criley of Slow Grown in Virginia Farm, Caroline County,  Erik Curren, Staunton City Council and Architect of the Food Policy Task Force,  Matthew French of French Family Farm, Bland VA,  Betty Grigg of King George County, Dwayne McIntyre, Manager of Roffey Cattle Company, Lois Smith, farmer and president of Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, and Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm.

The Food Freedom Task Force met on April 9th in Charlottesville VA with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Travis Hill, Meat and Poultry Program Director Dr. Richard Hackenbracht, David McGreevy, Deputy Director Animal & Food Industry Services  and Pam Miles, Supervisor Food Safety & Security Program.

David McGreevy, Dr. Richard HAckenbracht, Dep. Sec'y Travis Hill,  Pam Miles

David McGreevy, Dr. Richard Hackenbract, Dept. Sec’y Travis Hill, Pam Miles

The topics discussed were definitions of Potentially Hazardous Foods, VDACS neutrality or active position on proposed legislation, VDACS position on raw milk, “value added”  (processed foods), and the federal implementation of regulations on Virginia’s meat processing and sales.  On the last subject Dr. Hackenbracht from the Office of Meat and Poultry (OMP) unequivocally stated that the USDA controls meat all the way down to the pot pie.  The task force took exception to that and will be looking for written verification in federal regulatory code because there are many Virginia food establishments that process meats through certification by VDACS Office of  Dairy and Foods (ODF).  Ms Miles suggested that if we want the opportunity to sell our pumpkins pies direct off the farm without government oversight, we should go to the national meetings to voice our opinion to change the rules on the definition of potentially hazardous food so that her office would be amenable to our small share of the market.

The meeting in Crozet on the 15th of April was focused on  grounds for compromise with the leading lobbyists of the largest corporate agricultural and food interests in the state.  Eric Paulson of the Virginia State Dairyman’s Association,  Brad Copenhaver of Virginia Agribusiness Council, and Lindsay Reames of Virginia Farm Bureau.

Lindsay Reames, Eric Paulson, Brad Copenhaver, Randall Anderson, Joel Salatin, Lois Smith

Lindsay Reames, Eric Paulson, Brad Copenhaver, Randall Anderson, Joel Salatin, Lois Smith

Eric Paulson said there would be zero compromise on any raw milk legislation introduced.  Even though he said as a child he used to drink milk straight from the tank, he believes it is dangerous now and all must be pasteurized.  Brad Copenhaver would accept no compromise to allow direct farm to consumer sales on any processed “potentially hazardous foods”  and Lindsay Reames said the only support Farm bureau would give is if its policy would change.  As of right now, Farm Bureau Federation does not support raw milk sales in VA or the sale of potentially hazardous foods.

Front Row: Bernadette Barber, Gina Anderson, Suzi Cores, Lois Smith, Rhonda Anderson,Back Row: Mike Callicrate, Gary Barber, Dr. Richard Moyer, Brian Criley, Matthew French, Dwayne McIntyre, Randall Anderson

The last statewide meeting of the Food Freedom Taskforce was held April 30th   at member Randall Anderson’s Wicked Oak Farms and Vineyard Tasting Room. Wet blustery weather welcomed the presence of Mike Callicrate of Ranch Foods Direct, Colorado.  Mike has taken on the federal government, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and also saved a great deal of small ranchers out west by designing the first mobile slaughter unit which brings the slaughter house to the ranch.  No representatives from either the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association or the Central Virginia Cattlemen’s Association  attended the meeting.  Mr.  Callicrate gave a power point presentation entitled  “The Politics and Economics of Food”  with the subtitle “Corporate or Family Farms, Global or Local”

His bottom line to all the cattlemen in the room was ~  Never sell your beef at stockyard prices.  ~

Virginia Farm Facts

Much of the cattle in the state are sold at livestock yards as feeder calves to be carried out west to be “finished” on grain in the feed yards for huge “packing”  companies.  Most Virginia farmers lose a huge profit margin selling wholesale at the stockyard rather than sell direct to friends and neighbors. USDA control of Virginia meat processing and sales since the early 1970s destroyed local infrastructure of  slaughter houses and butchering facilities available for small farms.  Although it is legal to slaughter and process chickens on the farm, it is illegal for a farmer to slaughter and process the beef he has raised on his own farm to sell direct to consumers.

Currently, there are 649 dairy farms in Virginia that receive millions in subsidies for feed, manure handling, and milk checks. More details of the feed and manure handling subsidies can be found at www.farm.ewg.org Most all of these are Confined Animal Feeding Operations with the numbers averaging from 200 cows to 4,100  and are mostly concentrated in the Blue Ridge area of the state.  It is illegal in VA to sell raw milk direct from the farm to a neighbor.  One must only  sell to a licensed processor.

At this time, the Chinese own Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producing and processing company in the world.  The largest permitted warehousing unit of swine has five separate operations carrying 50,000 pigs, it is located in the tidewater area of southside Virginia.  Even though for centuries, Virginia farmers raised and slaughtered pigs and sold the pork, bacons, hams and sausage direct to their neighbors- ( so good and safe that it made Virginia Ham a world wide name)-  it is illegal for farmers to do that today.