[Update, 2:36 p.m.: The official word from the DA's office is that Stewart, Palmer & Bloch were arrested on criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged illegal production and sale of unpasteurized goat milk, goat cheese, yogurt and kefir. The arrests are the result of a year-long sting. The 13-count complaint alleges that an undercover agent received goat milk, stored in a cooler in the back of Healthy Family Farms van, in the parking lot of a grocery store. While it's legal to manufacture and sell unpasteurized dairy products in California, licenses and permits are required. Rawesome may have violated regulations by selling raw dairy products to non-members.]
Milk, gallon after gallon of it, was poured down the drain today after an early morning raid on two of Southern California's most prominent raw milk providers. This morning at 7:15 a.m., officers raided Rawesome Foods, a “members only” raw foods club on Rose Avenue in Venice, arrested the store's owner, James Stewart, and began pulling product off the shelves. One volunteer estimated that 500 gallons of dairy were tossed.
The authorities were still tossing out items three hours later at 12:30 p.m. when another volunteer, Danielle Fetzer, showed up for her regular Wednesday shift. (Rawesome is staffed entirely by volunteers.)
“I came in to make coconut cream like I do every Wednesday,” Fetzer said. “[The cops] were pouring all the dairy down the drain, taking all the produce. It's been hours. They disconnected the surveillance cameras. This is the exact same thing as last time.”
Fetzer is referring to a raid last summer by local, state and federal authorities who shut down Rawesome for selling raw milk, a persistent source of conflict between organic food advocates and government agencies. “In the case of Rawesome, regulators allege that the group broke the law by failing to have the proper permits to sell food to the public,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
Natural News describes today's raid as “a multi-agency SWAT-style armed raid” conducted by “agents from the LA County Sheriff's Office, the FDA, the Department of Agriculture and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”
At the same time, a separate group of agents raided Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County and arrested owner Sharon Palmer. She is currently in jail on a $120,000 bond, reports Info Wars. Victoria Bloch, an L.A. county liaison for the Weston A. Price Foundation was also arrested.
Located in Santa Paula, Healthy Family Farms provides all the diary products for Rawesome, according to Fetzer. Like the store, it was targeted in last summer's raid.
This isn't the first run-in with the law for Palmer (a.k.a Sharon Palmer-Ross), who was featured in the documentary Farmageddon. In 2000, she and her partner, Edward Rostami of Polo Financial Services, were indicted on fraud, conspiracy, bank fraud and other charges in what authorities labeled a real estate swindle.
Rostami and Palmer fled the country to avoid charges but were captured near the U.S.-Mexico border in April of 2000. Rostami was sentenced to a year in federal prison, while Palmer received three years probation including four months of home detention, according to the LA Times.
Rawesome is a private membership club that sells raw and unpasteurized foods like nuts, honey, dairy products and other items to “pure foods” advocate. “You sign a waiver,” Fetzer says. “It's your choice.”
We'll follow this story as it develops.
[Additional reporting on this story contributed by Amy Scattergood and Felicia Friesema.]
Rawesome Foods: 665 Rose Ave., Venice. (310) 452-2244.