Blue Hill’s Farmer Brown Asks LePage To Drop State’s Lawsuit Against Him
We first told you about Dan Brown, owner of the Gravelwood Farm in Blue Hill, at a rally in his hometown. Hundreds of people, many of them farmers, came to show support for the man known as “Farmer Brown.”The Department of Agriculture is suing Brown for selling raw milk and other products from his farm without a license from the state, even though Blue Hill town officials passed a Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinance allowing the practice. A total of six towns in Maine have passed a similar ordinance. Tuesday outside the Department of Agriculture in Augusta Brown and his supporters, including Food For Maine’s Future Director Bob St. Peter, were asking the state to do two things. First, dig deeper into the source of last year’s recalled beef from Hannaford stores in Maine. Reports indicated that beef contained an antibiotic resistant strain of salmonella. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the CDC, no one has been able to tell us where this beef originated,” St. Peter said Tuesday. “When I asked Hannaford about it thy said they would not release a list of, quote, suspects.”St. Peter says many people want to lay the blame at the feet of Hannaford, who he says did play a part in this. But he argues there’s bigger fish to fry. “We know from investigations in to the beef industry and the meat industry in this country the problems are originating in these high volume, high speed processing facilities,” he said. “The slaughter houses largely. This is where migrant workers are doing abominable work, for poverty wages, and they’re doing it so fast they simply can’t keep it free of contamination.”It’s a problem the people gathered in Augusta on Tuesday argue doesn’t happen with local farmers like Dan Brown. “76 million people a year get sick from food born illness. 5000 people die in this country from food born illness,” St. Peter said. “These are systemic problems. What we’re doing, and when people come to my farm or they come to Dan Brown’s farm they’re looking for a way out. They’re looking for an alternative to that system.”Or, according to Brown, at the very least his customers want some accountability. “There’s total accountability when you buy from a small farm,” Brown argues. “I mean if I sell bad meat to my neighbor up the road, he’s right on my door step that night.”The group marched two miles, from the Department of Agriculture to the State House, to ask Governor LePage to drop the lawsuit against Dan Brown, presenting him with a petition signed by more than 5100 people. “The State of Maine’s lawsuit against Dan Brown and Gravelwood Farm is an unprecedented, unwelcome direction in Maine agriculture and we, the undersigned, request that you use the powers of your office to drop the lawsuit,” the letter to LePage reads.Maine Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb said back in November state inspectors performed tests on Brown’s milk and they claimed the level of bacteria was too high in that sample. “It exceeds the tolerance by 10 times. It has the potential to be a dangerous product,” Whitcomb said in November. Brown has always denied that claim, saying the sample was mishandled by the inspector who took it. Brown and his attorney’s filed a request under the Freedom Of Access Act to see all the correspondence about his case. Brown alleges some of those emails within state government prove he’s being targeted in an attempt to discourage other municipalities from passing similar food ordinances like the one Blue Hill and five other communities leaders have agreed on. “Six weeks before they took my milk they say right in there it looks like we found our test case,” Brown said, referring to an email within the Department of Agriculture. “They saw me at a farmers market at the church in Blue Hill and the next day there’s an email that says looks like we found our test subject.”Whitcomb denies Brown is being targeted, saying it’s a public health issue. He adds those local ordinances are worthless since state law supercedes them. “It’s too bad that the towns have taken this action,” Whitcomb said Tuesday, “because even though it’s a popularity contest, we all support the farm community, it isn’t doing anything to change the law. The laws still apply to Dan and everybody else.” Outside the State House another local farmer, Eric Rector who owns the Monroe Cheese Studio, said he disagrees with Brown. “It just belies reality to say that it’s too hard to get licensed,” Rector said. He thinks Maine has some of the most liberal laws in the country when it comes to selling raw dairy, arguing that getting licensed will actually save farmers money in the long run. “For the dairy license they will test your water for you,” Rector said. “For my dairy license I pay $25. So already I’m ahead $5 and in addition with my dairy license they come and test my products ten times a year. Each of those tests are more than $30.” Rector ruffled a few feathers Tuesday when he said the state is right to go after Dan Brown. “I think the state needs to do what it needs to do to uphold its food regulations,” he said. Brown says the case against him is in the discovery phase right now. He expects a court date to be set sometime in November. A source inside the Department of Agriculture said the Attorney General is confident in his chances in the case against Brown.