The unlikely coalition between Tea Party libertarians and small organic farmers.
Laura Bledsoe didn't set out to join a political movement, she merely wanted to serve what she considered a sustainable meal. ...
... But it soon became apparent that her nervousness wasn't unfounded.
The health inspector arrived simultaneously with several of the event's guests. The Bledsoes led her to where the food was being prepared while the guests were guided on a chaperoned tour of the farm by interns.
"She literally came in and started looking for things she could find fault with," Laura recalls. "That just became apparent in her attitude and demeanor with how she handled things."
The health inspector raised several concerns, but chief among them was the meat the Bledsoes were preparing to serve. Because the event was advertised as a "zero mile footprint," the meat hadn't been sent through a USDA processing plant, as is required for any meat purchased at a grocery store or restaurant, so the inspector deemed it illegal to serve.
"She immediately demanded that we send our guests home and cease the event, and if we didn't she would call the police and have them personally escorted off the property."
Increasingly panicked, flustered, and "having a nervous breakdown," Laura attempted to reason with the inspector without success. In addition to being ordered to send their guests home, the farmers were also told they needed to pour bleach over all the meat to ensure it would never be served.
"It's one thing when you throw out a piece of food that you have no relationship to," Laura says. "But we raised these animals. When you raise animals and slaughter them and then prepare them, it's with great reverence that you eat this food. The total disregard for any of that was just appalling to me."
In the middle of this disruption, the Bledsoes recalled they had a number for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that protects the legal rights of family farms and artisan food producers. Though it was a Friday evening, the organization's lead counsel Gary Cox called them back within 15 minutes. He instructed them to ask if the inspector if she had a search warrant, if she didn't, Cox told them to tell her to leave the property.
The tactic worked. Though the health inspector threatened to come back with the police, she left, leaving the Bledsoes to explain what had happened to their guests. They had already poured bleach on the meat, but they were still able to serve their vegetable dishes without further disturbance, and of the 100 who signed up for the event, only a handful left because of time constraints, Laura says.
While the Bledsoes didn't immediately hear back from the health department, they decided to send out an E-mail recounting the experience to shareholders of their local food delivery service, known as a CSA. Soon, the story went viral, traveling the globe and leading to hundreds of E-mails from farmers and activists. Eventually, Laura was contacted by Nevada lawmakers, many of whom were sympathetic to her cause and wanted to reform state laws so that such a fiasco wouldn't happen again.
Without even meaning to, the Bledsoes found themselves swept up in a political movement that has only accrued momentum in recent years, one in which owners of small local farms and gardens are pitted against government agencies, both local and federal, over the rights of property owners and private citizens in terms of how and where they can prepare their food.
But what is perhaps even more peculiar about this movement is its bipartisan interest. Among its most vocal proponents you'll find an amalgamation of ardent Tea Party libertarians—concerned over property rights and the over-extended reach of government—and liberal environmentalists who believe the local, organic farm is the ecologically-friendly solution to the nation's health woes. ...
This is a wonderful case study of markets, public policy, and the challenge of crafting appropriate regulation. In many industries, regulation is as much about creating barriers against new competitors entering the industry as it is about safety or protecting consumers. It is a false perception that large corporations do not like regulation. In fact, enlisting government help in erecting barriers to new competitors is an intentional competitive strategy. I don't know if that is necessarily the case here but we can certainly see how adversely impacts small farmers, whether by design or not.