Crying Over Spilt Milk: Rawesome Volunteer Speaks Out on Yesterday's Raid + Protest Rally
More details are emerging about yesterday morning's raid on Rawesome Foods, a members-only raw food collective whose owner was arrested and jailed for the heinous crime of peddling raw milk. Most absurd and appalling is the fact that the raid was the result of a year-long undercover operation conducted by numerous enforcement agencies.
That's right. While the state of California was teetering on bankruptcy, several government agencies spent a year infiltrating a raw foods collective to arrest people for selling unpasteurized dairy products to willing buyers. Enjoy your tax dollars at work.
The armed raid began early yesterday morning around 6 or 7 a.m. (accounts differ), when a multi-agency task force of operatives from the LA Sheriff's Department, the FDA, the CDC and the Department of Agriculture arrived at Rawesome. They locked out the volunteers who run the place, arrested owner James Stewart and began pouring hundreds of gallons of milk down the drain.
"The office is in complete disarray. The computers are gone. This time it was a great deal more aggressive than last time," says Joanne Whittle, who has volunteered at Rawesome for five years. She's referring to a similar raid on Rawesome in June of 2010. "Last time they just took samples. This time they actually tipped all of the dairy products down the sink. Thousands of dollars worth of product."
At the same time, a separate group of agents raided Healthy Family Farms in Santa Paula, where they arrested Sharon Palmer, the owner, and Victoria Bloch, a liaison for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
All three spent the night in jail, with Stewart held on $125,000 bail. Palmer and Bloch were each held on $60,000 bail.
Raw foods advocates are planning a protest rally today at 8:30 a.m. outside the courthouse where Stewart and Bloch are being arraigned (210 N. Temple Street). The arraignment for Palmer, who has a checkered legal past that includes a real estate swindle, has not yet been set.
"We're hoping that James will be released on bail. Even the bail bondsman said [the high bail amount] was intimidation. His bail is set similar to criminals who sell drugs or [commit acts] of that nature. To put James in that category is ridiculous," Whittle says.
The 13-count indictment charges that Healthy Family Farms has operated without any type of license or permit for milk production since 2007 and that Rawesome, which has been in operation for more than six years, has never had any type of business permit or license. Raw milk production is legal under California law but requires certain permits.
Whittle also clarified one interesting fact. In our earlier story, we reported that Palmer's Healthy Family Farms supplied raw milk and other the dairy products to Rawesome. Whittle says Rawesome stopped selling any dairy products from Healthy Family Farms or Sharon Palmer after the June 2010 raid. "We sell her eggs and chickens, but not dairy," Whittle says. "They took those products form us last year. I don't know if she kept selling from her own goats."
Rawesome does sell raw milk dairy products, but Whittle won't disclose who provides it: "They are licensed organic raw milk products. These are above board totally in the open business people."
For raw foods proponents like Whittle, this is another battle in an escalating war launched by government agencies hell-bent on quashing raw milk producers.
"Even if they don't bring a case against us, they have still managed to have a really good go at putting us out of business. They do not want us to exist. The pretext doesn't matter. They destroyed everything they can destroy," she says. "There are many many agencies who want to see this succeed."
But who is the "they" to whom Whittle and her allies refer? Even she's not sure. Is it the corporate-controlled dairy industry? Big Agriculture? Their minions in the political establishment? A cabal of all the above?
"We don't know," Whittle says. "We never know. We are so tiny and yet we have to be squashed. It doesn't seem to matter how small the operation is. Ultimately, they do not want people to have the right to choose what they put in their bodies. Who is behind all this? That is the million dollar question."
[Additional reporting by Felicia Friesema.]
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.