Fighting for Local Food After Health Department Dumps Bleach on Farm Dinner

Health & Wellness on 11.14.11
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Photo: Quail Hollow Farms

Parents increasingly seek out healthier food options for their families. With growing demand, options like community supported agriculture, raw milk, organic farms, and more are popping up across the country. There are many reasons: whole foods are healthier, local foods often cause less environmental harm, and small farms are better for the environment, animal welfare, and human nutrition.

But small farms face an uphill battle: laws written for mega-corporations simply cannot be tailored to fit a back-to-the-land approach. Readers of Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" know the dilemma well. Recently another case of flagrant overreaching by enforcement officials has returned the food freedom fight to the spotlight.

This time Quail Hollow Farms, a farm based on the community supported agricultural model, is at the center of the uproar. Most of Quail Hollow's produce belongs to the farm "members," who share in the risk of investing in crops and benefit by harvesting local food which many consider to be "beyond organic" as even the "organic" standards are muddied by the entry of industrial operations to the organic market.

This year, Quail Hollow Farms decided to host their 1st Annual Farm to Fork Dinner event. Even at $75 per head ($125 per couple) the dinner sold out to people who want to reconnect to the land, to know the origin of their food, and to honor the age old tradition of gathering to celebrate at harvest time.

Imagine Quail Hollow Farms' founder Laura Bledsoe, worrying about this first great event, praying the pigs don't escape, hoping guests will be delighted with the meal. Then imagine her chagrin as the Health Department showed up just before guests were to be seated and pronounced the entire feast unfit for human consumption. Bledsoe could only watch, aghast, as the health authority representative dowsed all of the carefully prepared food with bleach to ensure its destruction.

Imagine the reaction of someone committed to the cycle of life on the land, to returning what many call "waste" into the cycle of value that is life. Laura Bledsoe's own words say it best:

So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?! 

Bledsoe shared the experience on the web of Although the report is one-sided, it appears that the Nevada health authorities are on a vendetta against community agriculture. Friends of Bledsoe caught much of the action in photos and video, and although the reasons cited for requiring the destruction of the food are based in valid law, they are evidence that the law cannot address events like a Farm to Fork dinner. Many are asking why the discretion of the health authorities was not applied to de-prioritize inspections of this dinner -- since that is generally the only way black-and-white laws can accomodate unusual circumstances.

Don't get me wrong. I am in favor of strong laws to enforce food safety. Especially where industrial processes have separated food production from naturally healthy methods. But the freedom to choose non-industrial foods is under threat. We can only hope Laura Bledsoe's dinner will motivate concerned citizens to further support the freedom to choose food from those we trust without the heavy arm of the law dictating our choice for us.  

The story has a happy ending, at least for the guests present that night. Bledsoe produced a certificate allowing her farm to produce vegetables for sale to local markets and some of the community's finest restaurants. The Health department could not stop her chef's from backing a trailer full of produce destined for Monday's market up to the certified kitchen trailer which had been rented for the event. Guests bonded under the duress, and finally enjoyed a truly fresh meal spiced with stories of outrage about what had just happened. Surely a dinner none will forget.


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