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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Admissions like these are what make such issues fodder for public outrage, as many can sympathize with the David versus Goliath archetype that's formed when you see a gardener seemingly bullied by a larger institution.

"Generally what we're looking for in a case is it has to have simple facts," says Rowes. "The fact has to be outrageous. There has to be an evil villain, and there has to be a sympathetic plaintiff."

But perhaps because many who find themselves battling state and local governments aren't seasoned political activists, they haven't always done a spectacular job organizing grassroots opposition, at least not across party lines.

"The one thing that I have not found is a lot of bipartisan cooperation, even though it's a bipartisan issue," Rowes says. So while the Tea Party libertarians and liberal environmentalists may be on the same side, each isn't necessarily aware the other exists.

In some cases, attempts to organize these farmers can be met with resistance. Such has been the case for Mark Baker, a 52-year-old Michigan farmer who has been engaged in a year-long battle with his state's Department of Natural Resources, which recently issued a declaratory ruling placing wild Russian boars on its invasive species list.

For years, Baker has been raising and slaughtering a hybrid breed of Mangalitsa pig -a European breed with a hairy fleece that has been gradually replaced by domestic breeds. Under Michigan law, an animal only has to meet one of nine characteristics to be labeled invasive (including an incredibly vague catch-all: "Other characteristics not currently known to the MDNR that are identified by the scientific community"). As a result authorities informed him last year that the pigs raised on his farm were illegal and must be put down.

What followed was a vituperative legal war in which Baker not only sued the state (the case is still ongoing), but has also appeared before a Michigan state senate committee to argue his cause. But the more immersed the recalcitrant farmer has become in the political process, the more he has distanced himself from both parties.

"They put on the show for the people, but they never really do what the people want—either side," he says.

And so when his story began to spread and various political groups approached him, Baker rebuffed their advances.

"We had the Tea Party wanting to come alongside of us and make us their little darling. I didn't like the spirit of the people I was talking to on the phone. They were going to use our situation and our hardship to prop up whatever their agenda is," says Baker. Similar inquiries from liberal groups were also rejected.

Not all relationships between these small, local farmers and government agencies are entirely antagonistic, however.

Amy Stewart, one of the writers for Garden Rant, a group blog of "highly opinionated gardeners," says while many horticulturists get frustrated with the red tape that has accumulated over the past decade, they also maintain a symbiotic rapport with government scientists and researchers.

"You can call your representative at the USDA when you're having this problem with apple codling moths and say, 'We've tried to get rid of them and it's not working anymore. Are you guys doing any research?' And they'll come and set up a research station on your farm and figure it out," she says.

And in some instances, both sides can reach a happy agreement.

For the past year, the Bledsoes have worked directly with Nevada lawmakers while the legislature has been out of session to carve out exemptions for farmers like them. Under proposed legislation, the Nevada Department of Agriculture would inspect their facilities and designate them "self inspectors," which would permit them to sell meat on their own farm without sending it 400 miles to a USDA processing plant. The bill will be introduced to the legislature during the 2013 session that begins in February, and Laura says she's optimistic it'll pass.

Hamilton, the agribusiness professor, says there have been several recent cases in which the government has carved out some regulatory room for smaller niche producers.