By Bernadette Barber
The first Food Freedom Fest in Staunton was held Sept 5 and 6th, 2014. Farm to Consumer Legal Defense was the sponsor and it was a fundraiser for all the work they do across the nation. It was held in the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and followed up with the Farm Tour at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. I met so many of my Food Freedom Heroes. Some were speakers and others were attendees, if they all had a chance to speak, we’d have been there for more than a week.
The first one I want to mention is a lady from Maine, Heather Retburg. I met her by phone about four years ago, after I had heard about the Maine town food sovereignty resolutions. She was part of the group that researched, promoted and passed town resolutions defending local food commerce from the State and Federal governments. Maine fired the first shot of food sovereignty in the nation with Sedgewick town council. I knew Virginia needed something like it and crafting the proper language for it was key. Those Maine farmers are a phenomenal bunch.
Another hero I met was David Gumpert, author of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Food Rights showcasing the stories of farmers who are dealing with the onslaught of government interference. He also wrote Raw Milk Revolution going over undercover agents, sting operations, and surprise raids on America’s small family farms. I am looking forward to reading both of those books before winter is over. David spoke about the oligarchy’s choke hold on local foods.
Frank Nicely is a State Senator from Tennessee. He introduced and passed a bill allowing for cow share operations so dairy farmers could stay viable. There are now more small farm dairies than industrial dairy farms in Tennessee. That leads me to more people I met. Jason and Marcie McBee. A wonderful dairy farming couple from Tennessee. Their story is a tragic chapter of the abuse our USDA doles out to farmers. I certainly hope the book comes out soon so more people learn how the dairy industry works. On a happy note, the McBees still operate a dairy, but it is a grass fed, rotational grazing boarding operation.
Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky provided the Keynote address. It was awesomely informative and entertaining. He introduced federal raw milk legislation that will solve serious problems our dairy farmers on border states have. When his wife heard of the onslaught from industry representatives against Massie for his introduction of the legislation, she remarked that she didn’t realize the lactose industry was so intolerant.
I have spoken with Pete Kennedy at least two or more times a week for over three years. I finally got to meet him in person. He has been integral in the crafting of the Virginia Food Freedom Act. Pete is the president of Farm To Consumer Legal Defense. He has a tough job challenging so many issues across the country, but he runs a formidable ship and stays the course. Bureaucrats are wary of tangling with Farm to Consumer. Gary Cox is not only a ball of fun, but a founding member of Farm to Consumer Legal Defense and its General Counsel ( that means lead attorney to us folks out here in the furrows) In his talk he explained that when FTC first was out there much of the defense was for raw milk producers. FTC has put up such a wall of defense, the powers that be know we will not stop and it is not worth their effort to keep coming after us.
Gene Wall is the heart and soul behind Farm To Consumer. Many times Gene is the first person farmers are in contact with when they have a farm or food crisis. Gene provides a calming presence that guides them to teams of lawyers who can bring them relief from government swarms.
My old friends Mark and Suzi Lilly brought the Farm Bus to Staunton. The Farm Bus goes into the food deserts of Richmond and brings fresh local produce to those who have few opportunities to get to a farmers market or store that might have fresh foods. It is a phenomenal array of beautiful people bringing health and happiness into the city while giving local growers an opportunity to sell their goods in the city and make a living at the noblest vocation on earth.
Other well known names in the Fights for Food Freedom who attended were, Lois Smith and Christine Solem, from VICFA , Baylen Linnekin from Keep Food Legal, Martha Boneta from Liberty Farm, Anthony Bavuso of the York County Oyster wars against Seaford Oyster Company and Liz Rietzig of Nourishing Liberty and Sarah Pope from the Healthy Home Economist.
After the conference on Friday, Sept. 5, guests were invited to attend the local food street fair in downtown Staunton that evening. The street fair included live music, vendors, and tasty locally-sourced food.
Salatin was also honored during the street fair to recognize his efforts towards the food and farm freedom movement.
The tour of Salatin’s Polyface Farm was held the following day, on Saturday, Sept. 6. The farm tour included a hot buffet breakfast and lunch. Tour guests got a taste of Salatin’s pasture-raised meats.
Plans for the next Food Freedom Fest in Staunton are being made now. This is an event you do not want to miss.