Tea Party Libertarians and Small Organic Farmers Make Strange Political Bedfellows

As tension grows between small farms and government regulators, progressive environmentalists find themselves in agreement with anti-government libertarians.

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Laura Bledsoe didn't set out to join a political movement, she merely wanted to serve what she considered a sustainable meal.

In October 2011 she and her husband Monte decided they wanted to host what they called a "farm to fork" event in their home. They own a small farm 50 miles outside of Las Vegas.

"We advertised it as a zero mile footprint," she recalls. "It's been shown that the bulk of our food travels 1,500 miles to get to our plate and we were advertising the fact that this was, for the most part, food prepared directly on our farm."

The Bledsoes placed advertisements in local newspapers and sent the announcement out to their E-mail list, and within the first day they sold all 100 of their tickets, some at $100 a plate.

Trouble began two days before the event was to take place. They received a call from the Southern Nevada Health District Office, who wanted to know if the farmers had secured a health permit for the event. "We didn't know we needed to," Laura says.

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They did, she was told.

The Bledsoes didn't panic. Monte immediately dropped what he was doing and traveled 40 miles to Mesquite to apply for a permit. It was here he learned the process required an inspection to take place the day of the event.

"It made us a little nervous, but we talked to our chef who's used to working with the health district, and he didn't think there would be any problem. He was very familiar with what [the health inspector] was looking for and didn't give it another thought," says Laura

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.