On the Khaki Market: What Do You Do When the Food System you Need is Illegal?

What do you get when you cross Green, as in Green Markets - those emergent farmer's and craftspeople's markets that have given life to local food - with Black or Grey Markets - ie, illegal sales? Khaki is the color you get, and you get what I call "Khaki Markets" - the growing trend towards producing food, toiletries and other regulated substances outside of regulation. It is a hugely growing trend, from unlicensed sale of everything from produce to herbs to illegal raw milk sales to gourmet restaurants operating out of old school buses and people's apartments. Indeed, there are whole "mobile local markets" that rotate and spread by internet and word of mouth in many cities designed to encourage unlicensed producers and to expand local food markets. Khaki Markets aren't just growing, they are trendy.

While I'm sure some of my readers are horrified that anyone would sell anything food related without a license and a triple sink, and some are equally horrified by the idea that anyone would attempt in any way to regulate food or drugs, let us assume that most of us operate somewhere in the middle ground here, recognizing there is a case on both sides. Food regulation, in the US the USDA and FDA did not arise for no reason. The spread of diseases through milk, including tuberculosis, the replacement of flour with plaster and beans with stones, the contamination of foods not kept at stable temperatures, patent medicines that did no good and plenty of harm - these are real parts of our history, and the regulation of food and toiletries arose for compelling reasons. Some of our ability to critique what has arisen derives precisely because we have been made safer.

On the other hand, it is also obviously the case that the methods of assuring safety used have come to dramatically favor the large, the corporate and the industrialized, and to shift us over to other, equally serious dangers. The hundred-cow industrial hamburger is not safer than the home-slaughtered cow, as we all know - but the single cow beef producer experiences an economic and regulatory burden that is disproportionately hard on them, compared to the hundred cow burger maker. The choice to focus on technological solutions (large scale pasteurization, bulk tanks, etc...) to the problem of milk safety, for example, makes dairying a marginal activity for all but the largest producers and doesn't produce milk any safer than regular inspection of raw dairies, as is used in Europe. While making cheese at home can be risky, and you might want to be able to track cheese back to its source, baking bread at home, unless you have a special source for ergot contamination of your wheat is pretty much harmless - there is no reason to regulate it. All food is not equally pathogen-friendly.

The regulations themselves, begun in some cases with the best of intentions, have become in many cases as much or more a tool for keeping people out of markets than for actual prevention of illness or unfair practice. We know from the large companies themselves that their supply chains in this industrial era are so spread, and so vulnerable to contamination, that Kelloggs executives at Congressional Hearings acknowledged that there was no real way to ensure food safety, reliant as they were on world-scale ingredients. They asked that congress regulate the supply chains to ensure greater food safety - but the other answer is to support and endorse producers who don't get flavor ingredients from China and India.

All of the battle between the needs of small producers and local eaters and industrial agriculture might be a minor thing, were it not for the fact that the emergent local food systems that are growing here may well be precisely what is needed in a society that neither has (resource depletion) nor can use (climate change) nor can afford to use (the economic consequences of the above, plus a bunch of other stuff ;-)) the kinds of resource intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture we have been. What happens if the thing you most need is also illegal?

Well, we have a pretty good idea what happens. We know, for example, that Novella Carpenter's small urban farm was shut down because she didn't have a $2500 conditional use permit (that she doesn't make that much in a year farming doesn't seem to be relevant) to grow chard and eggs in an area where there are regular drug shootings. Good the city is right on top of that chard-growing thing! Moreover, the city pushed it to the point of a threat to evict her from her home as well, even though most of her activities are for home use. Kind people eventually paid for her permit, but that's because she's famous for her book _Farm City_. What about the non-famous farmers?

We also know that the laws have are being strengthened in favor of those who prioritize industrial food - for example, the Food Safety and Modernization Act includes this:

Previously, the FDA's ability to detain food products applied only when the agency had credible evidence that a food product presented was contaminated or mislabeled in a way that presented a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.

Beginning July, the FDA will be able to detain food products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded for up to 30 days, if needed, to ensure they are kept out of the marketplace. The products will be kept out of the marketplace while the agency determines whether an enforcement action such as seizure or federal injunction against distribution of the product in commerce, is necessary.

That is, the FDA no longer needs "credible evidence" - it just needs an unfounded accusation or misunderstanding or any other "reason to believe" to impound agricultural products for 30 days. Since a farmer with a main crop can be impoverished by 30 days holding - many agricultural products are unsalable and unsafe after 30 days - this strengthening of power is a real threat to the livelihood of small farmers. It remains to see how this will be used, but that's not the point - the point is that the right of authorities to regulate in the absence of any evidence or indication of disease is a burden that will be hard for small producers to bear.

At the same time that hostility towards small-scale illicit agriculture is emerging at every regulatory level, opposition is also rising. Competent adults are frustrated that they can buy cigarettes, but not peppers from an unlicensed farm stand. Home cooks who could make a living from their kitchens are frustrated that they need a 10K remodel to bake muffins to sell next door. Farmers who can raise milk to pasteurization temperature in a double boiler need a 100K dairy in order to sell their milk - even though European evidence suggests that their milk may be safer than milk commingled in a bulk tank. More and more people ignore the laws they recognize as biased in favor of large industrial corporations and destructive to the kind of agriculture and food system they both want and need.

So what emerges are more private food coops, more cow-shares, more illegal milk and egg sales, more home-based restaurants and unlicensed establishments. And more raids, more crackdowns, more public prosecutions - but of course, none of these things can keep up with the desire for good food. And along with them arises the question - to what extent is this in anyone's interest?

We know for a fact that in a lower energy societies, small farmers feed everyone. In fact, 85% of the whole world's farms, producing more than half of the world's total food crops are small farms of less than 5 hectares. We have seen in the former Soviet Union and in Cuba among other places that large scale agricultural industrialization is not viable with fossil fuel disruptions. That is, the food system that is emerging on the wrong side of the law, the outlaw Khaki markets are precisely what we need to feed us.

At the same time, no one wants to go back to the days of transmitting disease regularly through food. Farmers and bakers argue that cheating your customers is bad business, and safety is important - but we also do need to be able to track outbreaks to their sources. The increasing hostility to khaki food markets serves no one - the implicit assumption is that if they just crack down, they will go away. But not only will they not - indeed, active resistance is growing precisely in response to these crackdowns, but they should not. The system that is emergent meets both the needs of present consumers who can't find higher quality food in the industrial system, the needs of producers who need to make a living, and also the needs of the future.

The shadow system that is building in response to growing demand for local food is not going to go away - one of the things about food trends is that they mostly don't disappear, but rather, get rolled into the future. So, for example the basil and fresh mozzarella of the 1980s are still there - accompanied by the asian veggies of the 1990s, and the kohlrabi and roots of the contemporary food era. Food trends build, they don't disappear.

More importantly, food independence is a cause that crosses political lines - the right to choose what you should eat, the right to be innocent of causing harm until proven guilty, the right for consenting adults to eat what they want to - these things appeal on both right and left, and for that reason are likely to endure and build. Most of us can see that the prohibition on urban chickens is bizarre in a context that permits your city neighbor to have a barking dog the size of a pony whose manures are far more dangerous than that of any chicken. Most of us can recognize that a society that permits smoking, the sale of mountain dew and significant levels of fecal bacteria in your burger may have a little loss of perspective when they try to tell you not to eat pastured eggs or home-baked bread. Those inconsistencies matter.

There are two choices here - the first is that we waste time and resources at the town, state and federal level, create legal conflicts, drive a few farmers out of business, shut down a few markets and drive them further underground, while raising the level of anger and hostility towards government. The second is that we begin to evolve an open system that gives support and primacy to the kind of agriculture we need now and in the future. One model for this would be my own suggested "urban right to farm laws" which could be enacted by municipalities to override bans on things like backyard chickens, front yard gardens, open clotheslines and small-scale residental businesses. Building on the model of right-to-farm laws enacted since the 1970s in rural areas, they prohibit nuisance lawsuits and save everyone the trouble of fighting out each chicken and garden related battle by itself.

There are other models that can and should be supported at the state and federal level - and those of us who engage in small scale production will need to also support the larger goal of a safe food system - we can't cheat. That is, we're going to have to self-test for bacteria levels, sell honestly, give fair weight and track our own sales so that we can legitimately argue that our system is just as safe as any other. If we don't self-regulate, others will do it for us.

Right now, we're set up for scorched earth battle between the consumers and producers of small-scale, natural homegrown food and regulators of food safety - both of whom often want the same good things - good food, good health. This battle serves no one - and in the end, it is a losing battle for those who support the present model and also want to see less food borne illness. The more you push it underground, the harder it is to address the real issues. The less free we are to be honest, the more lies there will be. The more we undercut those want to do the most ordinary things in the world - feed themselves, feed their neighbors - the worse the harm will be. Moreover, the anger and rebellion growing from people who simply want to eat as they choose is far larger than any agency budget or regulatory power.

If the two fight to the death, the small scale food economy and khaki markets will win, but at a higher price than anyone wants them to pay. Again, this is precisely the food system that towns and counties and states may have to rely on in more difficult times - the cost of farmers fined out of business and of potential participants scared off is too high. The better system would be to work in concert, to build a regulatory system that focuses not on means and technologies - not on whether you have a 20K pasteurizer - but on whether you can produce milk that is safe to drink; not on whether you have three sinks but on whether your jam is safe to eat. A shift from ends to means would serve us all - and shift khaki back to green.



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Good post. Urban right to farm laws would be awesome. Then maybe the suburbs would follow suit.

If you don't already know it, I thought you might appreciate hearing that the word "khaki" is the Persian word for "dirt." Seems appropriate.

My comment is in regard to this:
That is, we're going to have to self-test for bacteria levels

I'm on a Missouri Stream Team that is engaged in a three year project to test the stream in my watershed for E. coli at six points along the stream and its tributaries. Missouri Stream Team provides our team with kits and equipment to test our sites for dissolved oxygen, chloride, turbidity, temperature, conductivity, pH, and nitrate. However, no simple kit seems to exist to allow us to test E. coli ourselves. Instead, we have to collect samples, transport them in an ice chest, and get them to our local water utility within 6 hours of gathering the first sample. Our contacts there run the test, which involves using a scientific instrument that is far more expensive than I or any other layperson could afford. Then our contacts have to report back the results to us.

I don't know of any test for E. coli that can be done by ordinary people with inexpensive equipment. Self-testing is good for those things that can be tested easily. But we may have to accept some uncertainty in a khaki food market.

I was delighted this weekend when Garrison Keillor broadcast A Prairie Home Companion from Detroit and he mentioned several times the urban community garden network. There was even a skit that involved urban gardening.

Claire: A Google search for "e coli test kits" shows many available
(for Salmonella, too) at low prices. I don't suppose the Health Dept.
would accept the results, but customers might....

Sharon, as a new small market farmer, I am amazed at how difficult it is to do what we need to do. We have to pay fees for everything we do, and at the end, it looks like we may come out only a few dollars ahead (if we are even ahead). We love what we do and see the importance of feeding our family and our community, but are amazed at all of the hoops to jump through at every stage of production. ($100 for this, $250 for that, $150 for something else, and on and on)....

I like the idea of khaki markets. These are wonderful -- small farmers/ producers are very attentive to the needs of their consumers. I don't take shortcuts, as I know my customers. I want to give them the very best that I have and hope they want more. My reputation and future is dependent upon giving customers a delicious and safe product.

I spent 30+ years teaching college economics and my special course was always Environmental Economics. The first half the course was always an extended justification for regulation based on the notion of externalities. I don't see that there is any way to deny the theoretical desirability of regulation, given the idea of external costs and our country's experience over the past century and a half with the catastrophes of non-regulation.

But on the other hand, it seems to me harder and harder to justify regulation when it is more and more governed by the big-money interests who want to shut down their competitiors, when the legislators who write the laws really don't know any thing about the many dimensions of, for example, farming and simply want to apply a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. And then the regulators have their own agendas (see Joel Salatin about that).

So while regulation is desirable in theory, it needs to be very carefully tailored to actual situations by disinterested leaders whose primary interest is in promoting the public good. An idealized situation, to be sure. At this point, I don't really know whether extensive regulation is on a net basis helping or hurting our country. There is obviously some great benefit, but it comes at a great cost to small producers and to consumers (who find their food continues to be unsafe).

Claire and Provo - Sorry if I wasn't clear - by "self-test" I don't mean "do our own lab work" but "send out our lab work and be prepared to support the results." Farmers already do this - we test for Johnes disease and CAE in our goat herd so that we can prove we are free of both. I don't run the labs, but I collect the samples and deliver them to the vet. I have run my milk's bacterial levels before - same process. Joel Salatin has done the same for his chickens. The point being "here, see my test results, and there's no evidence anyone has ever been made sick" is insufficient in a regulatory model that confuses ends and means.


Sharon, I think you reversed in the last sentence - we want a shift TO ends FROM means, resulting in universal food safety achieved by the means that are appropriate to the subset of food producers.

By Christina (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

Wow. This is really timely, Sharon. "Right to Farm" laws are a superb idea. (where did you talk about them before??)

Currently, in my "neck of the woods," two friends of mine are fighting a municipal council that's trying to shut down their market garden on rural residential land . . . but no one complains about the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) land that is now under a huge golf course (because you can use strong pesticides and herbicides on ALR land . . .)

If anyone is interested, here's the story:

It seems to me that regulations have become something of a fundamental quandary of living in civilization. As society gets ever larger, as we become technologically capable of ever more things, as we study ever more things, and as insurance and government pile up ever more statistics, we become ever more aware of the need to pass a law to control something.

Every time something happens, we need to pass another law. Here in MA we had a little girl die in a back yard excavation that caved in while she was playing in it a number of years ago. Now in MA we have something called "Jackie's Law" that requires a permit from the board of health for any excavation in one's yard that is more than 36 inches deep. (Our town draws the line at 24", however.) Our town's fee is something like $150 and yet ultimately, we get nothing for it. I mean, it's not like a town employee is going to stand guard over the hole however many days until it's filled in. (But for $150, I think they *ought* to.) I mean, of course it's sad a child died in a freak accident that way, but how many other countless holes have been dug over the years without any child dying?

There's all kinds of examples of laws being enacted this way.

As much as I am an environmentalist, a localvore, and all that other good stuff, I have become increasingly anti-government as I have gotten older. I've seen life become an ever tighter straight jacket in terms of what one can do and how one can do it. From outright laws passed by Congress and the state legislature, to town bylaws, to condo laws, and to what insurance companies require in order to underwrite your activities and mine, it is becoming apparent that there is only one "correct" way of doing almost anything any more.

As an educator and farmer, I have watched over the years as our parent agency has shut down more and more opportunities for kids on our school farm. No, we can't have any animals. No, we cannot road register our tractor so as to get composted horse manure from our neighbor down the street that is all to happy to give it to us. No, the woods are too dangerous. No to this food, no to that activity. As much as we don't want our teenage residential clients to sit inside in front of the TV and video games and instead get out onto our school's 166 acres, staying in front of the electronic things is about all that's left that is legally sanctioned what with the half dozen or more accrediting agencies and town and state boards we have to answer to, never mind our insurance companies.

If the kids die of coronary artery disease at 35, well, I guess that's okay because they will have been out of our care by a good 17 years at that point and that's the only thing that ultimately matters.

Working as I do in rather liberal circles, I think my people, who's first reaction is to turn to government for ideas and support, have a particularly tough time drawing the line in the real world as to just how far regulation should go because at some real point, a line MUST be drawn.

For my part, I'm increasingly willing to allow more small and self-regulation as a way of keeping our society and civilization out of a dangerous, self-inflicted activity paralysis that will do us no good in the resource and energy constrained times that we are now facing.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

Stephen, I too find myself becoming more libertarian/progressive as I get older. Why can't the laws be simple (the ends, as Sharon says) and let the means be innovative and local and specific and useful and... Couldn't there just be a law that says it's a crime to sell contaminated milk? With increasing penalties for repeat offenders? Couldn't there be a law that says students may not graduate until they've completed X coursework or passed Y exam, and then the localities can get there how they please? It's like there are laws for elections and voter's rights - but you can go from one county to the next and see those voting implemented in lots of different ways. Henry Ford has a lot to answer for, and whoever else put us on this path of high-level standardization, cookie-cutter solutions :-)

By Christina (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

I'm afraid I've simply become an outlaw. I engage in many "khaki" activities, the main one being my trade network. I have made a compromise, which while still not strictly legal, probably falls into the category of "sub-legal." I don't sell anything - but I maintain a healthy web of trade partners. I mainly trade eggs for fresh garden produce - neither of which is a high-risk item. A few, very select friends are privy to my goat milk products - cheese, yogurt, etc; but milk products are high risk (both in absolute bacterial terms and in legal ramifications) and so only people I seriously trust can get my homemade chevre and smokin' goat chilpotle cheddar.

Mainly, I guess I'm a libertarian/anarchist of an antique stripe - if I want to risk my health, that's my business! Now, in actual fact, I DON'T risk my health, because I am an educated person and I know the risks involved in ingesting various homemade products - from listeria in fresh raw milk cheese to botulism in home canned goods - and I make informed choices. I wouldn't buy raw milk from anywhere until I had seen the milking station and the animals with my own eyes, and anyone I offer my milk to is someone who has seen my animals and my equipment for themselves.

Everyone has a responsibility to educate themselves about the risks they take in daily life - whether we are talking about food, or which neighborhood to live in, or what medications to take. I am satisfied with the level of risk I take and the level of risk to which I expose my family. I am NOT happy about laws that take these choices away from me - less because of what I might lose access to, and more because of the underlying assumption that I am not a responsible agent.

I AM a responsible agent, a full person, with the free will and the brains God gave me, and I have an absolute right to use both as I see fit.

Rah Rah forgive the rant.


Good article. But surely 100 Kelvins is a bit cold for pasteurization?

By Andrea G. (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

I hear you Christina. The thing is, I'm not sure it really is possible to write simple laws that get to the heart of what it is that we really want to outlaw without inadvertently outlawing the other activities we wish to maintain as well.

Taking another example from my school-farm work.... MA has comprehensive school pesticides act that greatly controls the use of "dangerous pesticides" on MA school properties (thatâs the lawâs wording.) Now, how could any of us be against a law like that you ask? Well, I didn't think I was against it, but....

The law had its genesis in a couple of publicized poisonings in a couple of well-to-do Boston suburbs a little over a decade ago. Somebody on the staff of a school went nuts with aerosol bug sprays....Raid, etc., in order to control something, wasps, bees, ants....they sprayed with reckless abandon either with kids present or used so much that kids coming in to class the next day got sick. Now that's just a stupid thing to do. I myself haven't used any of those products in over 20 years. A newspaper or fly swatter for a lone wasp in a house or boiling water tossed at a hornets' nest on a porch is more than enough without resorting to was is basically canned nerve gas (though I've been known to even let hornets' nests STAY around my house too.) This law forbids the use of aerosol pesticides in schools. Good. This coincided with an athletic team getting sick from lawn pesticides being applied to a school field. Okay, that's bad too.

But the law went much, much further. In order to use any pesticide on MA school grounds, indoors or out, there is much to keep in mind. Every applicator must have a MA Pesticide Applicator's License and that involves a multi-hour course along with a multi-hundred dollar licensing fee. Forget Raid, almost EVERY material applied to school grounds for pests, whether they are animal or vegetable, is subject to the law. Excepting a short list of homemade pest brews, nearly every product is forbidden unless one is licensed and notice is served to the families of the kids (more below.) Especially if it has an EPA registration number, one must have a pesticide license to apply it and one must serve the parent or legal guardian of every school child with a package of information, including the material data safety sheet, the school's integrated management plan, a description of the targeted pest, the times and dates of application, etc. at least 5 business days ahead of time, I think by certified mail, though regular mail might be allowed. The package is about 10 pages long minimum. In an emergency, the pesticide applicator can go to the city or town hall and buy an emergency exemption from the law. Yes, that would be another fee due.

Okay still, what's wrong with that? Letâs just not use pesticides in school you say? Well, itâs more complex than you might think. We keep a school garden. We garden organically. Problems? You bet. Nearly every commercial organic pest product has an EPA reg. number, meaning, in order to follow the law, I must be licensed and mail out a 10 page package, by certified mail, 5 business days ahead, to every guardian (our kids are in a mix of state DCF, state DMH, parental, and joint custody â a whole lot of our kids would need 2 mailings each) and that mailing would confuse and scare everybody. Even if I simply want to put a well known organic spray such as BT on our broccoli for cabbage worms, out must go the mailing first. (I donât think the board of health will sell me an emergency exemption for cabbage worms on broccoli.) I use another well-known product called Surround. It's simply a white kaolin clay mixture, finely ground up. It's put in a sprayer with water and sprayed on some vegetables and esp. fruit trees where it dries and leaves a whitish, gritty surface on the immature fruit that insect pests don't like landing on. But...it has an EPA reg. number. I could dig up and mix my own clay mixture if we had such a deposit on our school grounds I suppose, but really, come on!

Now the law allows for some leeway on the notification requirement *if* we were a licensed state agricultural-vocational school, but we're not. (By the way, the law does NOT allow private vocational schools to have such an agricultural exemption. Only govt. schools qualify.) Instead, our MA Dept. of education licenses my school as a MA Chap 766 special ed. school, so we donât have an out there. Iâve been told there simply is no way to have even an organic garden in a school unless one never uses any commercial pest product, even organic, sustainable ones. I have been hoping that the State would allow the use of a product if it were OMRI listed (which means it follows the national organic rules), but no, the law is too backwards and behind for that yet.

Then too, the law applies *anywhere* on our schoolâs 166 acres, even a half mile into our woods, yet our neighbor, who gardens across the street from our schoolâs front door, not 100 feet away, can apply anything a homeowner can get his hands on to his garden and poison our kids.

I am sure that our state legislature didnât intend to mess up school gardens in this way, but such is the nature of large, encompassing legislation. They needed to draw a line as to what pesticides were covered and which were not, and they turned to the EPA, but, the EPA has a say in almost every commercial preparation sold, as I say, so Iâm stuck.

What weâve done is quietly break the law. Morally, I am comfortable spraying a commercial clay/water mixture on our apple trees 1000 feet from our school building. If people ask if I âgarden organicallyâ, I say yes, which is true. They usually go on to assume that I am doing good things, which I think I am. It doesnât occur to them, that I might still be breaking school pesticide laws. So be it.

I just donât think that there is a way to have written this law perfectly to my satisfaction and I think this is the nature of many, well-intended regulations and laws. The best we can do is educating people and trust them to make good choices as laws are too rigid a mechanism to control every behavior âcorrectly.â

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

In that long post of mine, where I talk about the pesticide mailing, I meant to say that the mailing must include a copy of the school's "integrated PEST management plan."

Sorry about that. Sorry about the length of that post too, but perhaps some are interested in the details.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 09 May 2011 #permalink

I think a lot of this stems from the fear culture we are living in, which is perpetuated by a non-stop if-it-bleeds news media, which responds to viewer demand for these stories into a vicious circle. We are constantly bombarded by news of threats, real and largely imagined.

Parents are terrified to let their children play outside because it's not "safe." Bicycling isn't safe. Animals are not safe. The notion that an insect might get inside isn't safe. Heaven forbid you might sneeze when there is pollen outside. Peanuts are banned everywhere in case a kid has peanut allergy, but those of us with less fashionable allergies somehow manage to survive anyway. In short, most people are terrified of the world, especially if they are parents.

Meanwhile, we feed our kids garbage, import food from overseas coated with pesticides banned here whereupon we procede to denature it and remove any redeeming value or taste other than sugar or salt, let them get fat and atrophy their brains on TV. But we consider that "safe?"

It horrifies non-gardeners that I'd stand in my garden and eat stuff after barely dusting off the dirt. I think it's the safest food I eat.

So knee-jerk regulation is bound to come in response to this fear. Some regulation is good, and even necessary in a world where the God of Money rules all. But how we get people to calm down and regulate rationally is something I just don't know how to do.

As a small farmer and rancher, what frustrates me the most is that these draconian regulations that keep me from marketing my products are not enforced for the big agri-corporations. They are often either exempted from the regulations or allowed to inspect themselves with no follow-up from government regulators.

By Honyocker (not verified) on 10 May 2011 #permalink

libertarian and progressive do not live in close enough universes to be juxtaposed by a slash ! they are diametrically opposed on many levels.

I am a far left progressive and anti-capitalist (to my core tho I do have to earn money to do fun things like not raise my kids in a tent).

We raise veggies, chickens and dairy goats all for our own consumption. we sell only our excess kids (baby goats) tho this year we are training up 3 goats to be pack goats.

I give away eggs and milk and cheese to trusted friends/family - always admonishing them to keep it quiet.

People sell eggs roadside on the honor system here (its New England after all) but there is one thing I dislike more than worrying about the source of my food - thats strangers showing up on our land.

I much prefer encouraging other people in their homesteading and re-skilling and resilience building than setting up a market garden or expensive dairy (with constant threat of unannounced regulatory visits by FDA, USDA, and State Dep of Heath).. my homestead is my backyard sanctum, its a personal expression of who i am and my concept of an ideal world (as much as is possible here in this changing temperate climate).

I know that not everyone can do this but if many more of us could grasp the value of horticultural pursuits, even on a stoop, and then get experience handling dirt and nurturing plants and feeling empowered by their creations - then food is wrested from the grip of the AgCorp and becomes the people's again.

The prevailing powers now favor the big and the monied. But long term, as government inevitably diminishes due to reduced revenues, and as local efforts increase, enforcement efforts are going to be increasingly spread thin. I know this is no comfort now to those who are being harassed, but it gives some hope for the future. There are going to be so many people growing food and sharing, bartering, and selling amongst each other that it will become impossible for "governments" to keep control of it all.

I agree with that stephen.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 10 May 2011 #permalink

@nika-18: I have to disagree. I too am a leftist progressive, struggling to live anti-corporatist/-capitalist in modern American culture. But I don't know that a progressive cannot also be a libertarian. That's with a lowercase l and a lowercase p. Progress is not against liberty, and liberty is not against progress - therefore there is a space where the two can meld; perhaps I am that space, although Vermont is also solid in successfully harmonizing the two philosophies. I see them coming together primarily in local government, as opposed to state or national government. (Vermont's pretty small as a state, I consider it much more local than where I live, California.) I'm talking a locavore movement for government.

I have lived my adult life in the cusp zone of supposedly oppositional movements: home birth, home education, home industry are all dually populated by those of the radical left AND the radical right. We argue that our political philosophies are diametric, yet we make the same individual choices. That has led me to ask myself and others, "How different are we?" My conclusion after twenty years of discussion is that we are not very different at all, when we talk and act locally, and that locally we can easily be both progressive and libertarian.

By Christina (not verified) on 10 May 2011 #permalink

Christina: I also have to continue to disagree, respectfully :-) The majority of (American) Libertarians live by the notion of the primacy of the free market and capitalism - not sure how a libertarian could also be anti-capitalist. It also strikes me that libertarians hold as a core value the notion of rugged individualism and exceptionalism - mythologies that are marginally advantageous/functional in a frontier situation (wild west or zombie apocalypse) but not something that builds enduring resilient communities - a core progressive value. We too have had midwives and homeschooled. I found our local homeschooling community effectively excluded non-christians by centering their homeschooling community within their churches - totally fine with me. My choice to homeschool is diametrically opposed to that of a christian fundamentalist (i believe, as a scientist, that science ed in schools is not rigorous enough while the fundamentalist can not tolerate factual data that may counter their dogma) - the outward appearance of similarity does not indicate harmony in world view.

How come I can buy a gun from a private dealer in the parking lot of a gun show WITHOUT a permit but I can't buy raw milk from a hobby farmer? I am far more likely to die from a gun shot wound than by drinking contaminated milk. The gun shot will kill me, the contaminated milk would just give me a tummy ache. Which is truly more dangerous?

By Connie Murray (not verified) on 11 May 2011 #permalink

You can not legally purchase a gun from a dealer without a criminal background check, no matter where the sale takes place. Depending upon the state and type of gun, no permit is needed. If you purchase a gun from an individual who does not sell enough guns in a year to be a dealer, that individual is prohibited by law from running a background check on you, no matter where the sale takes place. The gun show or gun show parking lot has no effect upon the regulations.

Also, I wonder if your comparison is true or not. Raw milk can kill you and not just give you a tummy ache. If you look at the top 10 causes of death in 1900 compared to now, guns appear in neither list. Yet, diseases that could be communicated through raw milk appear in the list in 1900 but not now since pasteurization has been used.

Nika: I agree with you about capital-L American Libertarian Party libertarians. But Noam Chomsky is a libertarian; Emerson and Thoreau are considered libertarians. Liberty as a political philosophy has nothing whatsoever to do with capitalism; just because the American Libertarian Party also espouses capitalism doesn't make it a linked philosophy. I encourage googling of those political philosophers, also the terms "left libertarian" and "libertarian socialism"; it's not all Ayn Rand. There are significant strands of libertarianism that propose the total abolition of private property, for example, as contrary to the principles of liberty. IF one is a capitalist and also a libertarian, by default one must be free-market. (I'm tackling Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations this summer; I've read in several places recently that it isn't quite so "free market" as it's been put out there to be.)

I don't mean that harmony of choices implies harmony of worldview - the worldview is still diametric. What I have discovered it means, if people make the effort to connect, is that it can mean harmony of community at the local level. Will a fundamentalist Christian homeschooler ever take the class you offer on evolution, no. Will you go to their young-earth biology class, no. But they'll join your chorus and you can join their PE program - provided people start reaching hands across the divide. That's what I've found, anyway; common ground is common ground, wherever it is. It's why progressives and libertarians in Vermont manage to make the state seem idyllic, what with Bill McKibben and Bernie Sanders and all that...

By Christina (not verified) on 11 May 2011 #permalink

Try to operate a small independent fishing operation in some waters. The Coast Guard will board you and shut you down to make room for the big corporate trawlers to scoop everything up in their huge nets.

Libertarian socialism is an oxymoron, like sovereign citizen. Unless you'd like to change the definitions of the words. Libertarianism (formerly liberalism) begins with the non-aggression principle, ie it is immoral to initiate force against peaceful people. Or in other words, never use violence to solve non-violent problems. Inherent in that principle is the idea of private property. Socialism requires that the means of production cannot be private property. It implies that a government confiscates resources by force in order to render the means of production "public property." You might say "what about a private co-op or a commune?". As long as everything is done on a voluntary basis, these are examples of private property and, believe it or not, capitalism and the free market.

Anyone that's breaking the law and growing a food garden in their backyards, etc. are engaging in pro-liberty, pro-private-property, pro-capitalist, libertarian civil disobedience. If you want to think of yourself as a socialist while doing so, fine, but that's not the word that describes your actions.

There is the english system of surplus sales from allotments. "limited commercial activity can take place as long as it is ancillary to the main purpose".

The washing line thing still cracks me up.

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 12 May 2011 #permalink

I'm afraid I've simply become an outlaw. I engage in many "khaki" activities, the main one being my trade network. I have made a compromise, which while still not strictly legal, probably falls into the category of "sub-legal." I don't sell anything - but I maintain a healthy web of trade partners. I mainly trade eggs for fresh garden produce - neither of which is a high-risk item. A few, very select friends are privy to my goat milk products - cheese, yogurt, etc; but milk products are high risk (both in absolute bacterial terms and in legal ramifications) and so only people I seriously trust can get my homemade chevre and smokin' goat chilpotle cheddar.

Mainly, I guess I'm a libertarian/anarchist of an antique stripe - if I want to risk my health, that's my business! Now, in actual fact, I DON'T risk my health, because I am an educated person and I know the risks involved in ingesting various homemade products - from listeria in fresh raw milk cheese to botulism in home canned goods - and I make informed choices. I wouldn't buy raw milk from anywhere until I had seen the milking station and the animals with my own eyes, and anyone I offer my milk to is someone who has seen my animals and my equipment for themselves.

StephenB @15&16- Your post was not too long. It was a very worthwhile read and all the posts on this thread (that I've read so far) are quite good. Very thought provoking article, thanks Sharon!

By KnightBiologist (not verified) on 12 May 2011 #permalink

Thank you KnighBiologist.

Just for the record, after this blog post, I checked my memory on the MA school pesticides law I discussed and I have a few corrections:

It's *two* business days, not five, that are needed to notify staff and kids of an upcoming pesticide application. If there are no scheduled school activities for five days, then one doesn't have to send home a notification. Also, there is no registered mail requirement, but the state urges school to mail the notification home rather than simply giving it to students to take home (also technically allowed.)

I already can use an OMRI-approved product. It's just that that product still needs the scary notification sent home.

I know probably nobody cares this far down the comment log, so many days after Sharon's original post, but I don't want to let my erroneous information go uncorrected.

Thanks all!

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 12 May 2011 #permalink

I disagree that the regulators "want the same good thing-good food,good health". SOME of them may, but I see the bureaucrats behind them, as wanting a sick population! You don't make $ on well people!

I make cheese at home, as did my Northern Eurpoean ancestors for untold ages. It's not dangerous, and neither is real milk, hand-milked into a bucket and merely strained. Real milk has enzymes and probiotic helpful bacteria, that take care of any pathogens.

It's simply a numbers game; all milk has some pathogens and some good bacteria. But a cow on clean pasture is going to be healthier and have fewer pathogens than a confined cow eating garbage like chewing gum (yes, some "farmers" do that.)

All pasteurization does is decrease the numbers of pathogens to "acceptable" levels; it doesn't kill Johnnes (human Johnnes is Crohn's) and it doesn't effectively kill Listeria, so there's a dead white liquid with still-living pathogens, no enzymes, and few if any probiotics, that rots inside of 2 days in the fridge. We can keep real milk for over a week!

Real milk has enzymes and probiotic helpful bacteria, that take care of any pathogens.

this is demonstrably untrue, or pasteurization would never have been worth it either financially or public health-wise. in actual fact, pasteurization of milk saved countless lives when it was introduced and continues to do so today. your "real" milk is a crapshoot that may land you sick or dead --- or may do that to someone else.

which is not to say you shouldn't be allowed to gamble with your health if you so choose; drink whatever milk you want to, for all i care. just don't pretend you aren't gambling when you are, and PLEASE don't start gambling with other people's lives and welfare.

("dead white liquid"? come on, that doesn't even MEAN anything.)

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 17 May 2011 #permalink