by Pete Kennedy
Fall 2015: On July 14th, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) filed a lawsuit against dairy farmers Joe and Brenda Golimbieski, seeking an injunction prohibiting the Golimbieskis from processing and distributing raw dairy products (butter, cream, yogurt and kefir) and from selling food (eggs, honey, maple syrup) without a food establishment permit. The Golimbieskis own and operate Hill High Dairy LLC, a Grade A facility which produces milk for pasteurization, and they are also the proprietors of a herdshare operation, B.J.’s Cow Boarding, LLC. MDARD has adopted a written policy allowing the distribution of raw milk through a herdshare agreement but the department’s position is that the distribution of any other raw dairy product through a herdshare agreement violates Michigan’s Grade A Milk and Milk Manufacturing laws.
MDARD investigated the Golimbieskis for nearly two years before filing the suit and had sent cease and desist letters before going to court. Part of the investigation included a July 2014 raid on the food buyers club, My Family Co-Op, where the department seized thousands of dollars of raw dairy products and other foods; most of the seized foods were eventually destroyed. My Family Co-Op and its members had ownership interest through a herdshare agreement in cows boarded at the Golimbieskis’ farm.
Joe Golimbieski has stuck to his belief that MDARD has no jurisdiction over private sales of food such as eggs and honey direct to consumers and no jurisdiction over distribution of any raw dairy products to shareholders. MDARD’s written policy (Policy # 1.40) specifically states that the department “does not license or inspect the herdshare portion of a dairy farm.” It was during routine inspections of Hill High Dairy’s Grade A operations that MDARD inspectors claimed they saw raw dairy products other than milk being offered for sale, triggering the investigation.
The department’s policy recognizes that someone with an ownership interest in a dairy animal has the right to raw milk produced by that animal but refuses to acknowledge that the shareholders have the right to take their property (i.e., the raw milk) and have it processed into another dairy product—a position that doesn’t make sense. MDARD is denying the shareholders access to raw dairy products that have great track records for safety; butter, cream, yogurt and kefir have been implicated in few, if any, incidents of foodborne illness outbreaks.
Joe Golimbieski has courageously stood up to MDARD, but his case will not be an easy one to win. The department filed for the injunction in the 30th Circuit Court in Lansing, the capital city where MDARD has the home field advantage. His case represents another chance to convince a court that there is a difference between the public and private distribution of food. One of his shareholders, Mike Lobsinger, has successfully petitioned to intervene in the case and is now a defendant in the suit along with the Golimbieskis. Lobsinger is claiming that MDARD is illegally interfering with his right to contract with the Golimbieskis to have the milk produced by cows in which he has an ownership interest in processed into another raw dairy product. Judge James S. Jomo, the 30th Circuit Court judge who is hearing the case, has set a July 2016 trial date.