The Cost of Corporate Protection in Minnesota


Minnesota is a major power center for Big Food in the U.S.–corporate giants Cargill, General Mills, Hormel and Land O’ Lakes all have their headquarters in the state. If agribusiness had its way, there would be zero competition for the industrial food system from local food; as it is, Big Food’s allies in the state government bureaucracy enforce regulations that are more about preserving the industrial food system’s market share than protecting the public health. A great example of this would be the investigation of dairy farmer David Berglund by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

MDA began investigating Berglund five years ago and, as far as is known, is still continuing its investigation of the farmer. To date, it is estimated that MDA has spent a staggering 1.5 million dollars ($1,500,000) investigating Berglund, someone who has never had anyone file a complaint against him over the food he produces.

Berglund produces raw milk, raw butter, raw yogurt and other nutrient-dense foods at his farm in Grand Marais, up near the Canadian border, and only sells those products at his on-farm store. Dairy farming is more of a calling than a business for Berglund, he keeps the price for raw milk at five dollars ($5) per gallon to ensure that those with limited finances can still get the product.

Berglund and MDA became embroiled in a dispute over whether the department had jurisdiction to inspect his farm. There is a provision in the Minnesota Constitution that states, “Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor.” MDA’s contention was that this provision only exempted Berglund from licensing requirements, not from other mandates (e.g., inspection) in the state food and dairy code. From 2015-2017 Berglund and MDA were in a court battle over the department’s power to inspect Lake View Natural Dairy with the courts ultimately siding with MDA.

Since that time, MDA has inspected the Berglund farm and, as far as is known, has found no violations in the farm operations. No matter–MDA will spend whatever it takes to make an example of Berglund, trying to create a chilling effect to discourage other farmers from standing up to the department over their constitutional right to sell and peddle the products of the farm.

Aside from Berglund’s claim that MDA has no jurisdiction to inspect his farm, the other issue of contention between the farmer and MDA is what products of the farm Berglund can legally sell. MDA’s position is that since Minnesota statute only allows the sale of raw milk and cream then sales of foods like raw butter and raw yogurt are illegal. The statutory ban on raw butter is an example of a law that is not about protecting the public health but rather about economic protectionism–specifically, the profits of the dairy processing industry.

The foodborne illness database of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) goes back twenty years; during that time, there has not been a single outbreak attributed to the consumption of commercially produced raw butter.

What is needed in Minnesota is for the state Supreme Court to revisit its 2005 ruling in Hartmann v. Minnesota. In that case the court ruled that the constitutional provision on selling and peddling the products of the farm only exempts farmers from licensing, not from other regulatory requirements such as inspection and that farmers could only sell foods whose sale was allowed by statute. The Hartmann ruling ignored the historical context of the constitutional amendment which passed in 1906. At the time the amendment passed, the state did not inspect or otherwise regulate farms; the licensing requirements the amendment prohibited were intended to raise revenue, not to regulate farms. In 1906 all raw dairy products were legal products of the farm; what the Hartmann court did in holding a food like raw butter was illegal to sell was to say that a statute controlled over the constitution–an interpretation of the law that had it backwards.

One farmer looking to have the Minnesota Supreme Court take a second look at the Hartmann decision is Mike Hartmann himself. If MDA has spent $1.5 million investigating Berglund, it has spent at least several times that on the Hartmann case. Since 2000 MDA has at various times raided Hartmann’s farm, his vehicle, his dropsites, harassed his customers, seized food and equipment, brought a court action to destroy Hartmann’s food and had criminal charges brought against him. On two different occasions a court has ruled that MDA seized property and equipment from Hartmann through an illegal search and seizure.

Hartmann is currently suing MDA and individual MDA officials for, among other remedies, return of seized equipment, damages for seized food, damages for violations of Hartmann’s state and federal constitutional rights, and a court order enjoining “the state from interfering with the private transaction between Hartmann and his consumers for the sale and exchange of products of the farm.” The amount of money the state of Minnesota has spent on the Hartmann case will continue to increase.

The corollary of the state constitutional right to sell and peddle the products of the farm is the right of consumers to obtain those products. MDA and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently spent taxpayer money interfering with that right when they raided the private food buyers club, the Uptown Locavore, on May 3 embargoing thousands of dollars of nutritious food produced by local farmers; MDH still has not made a decision on how it will dispose of the embargoed food. State law requires that a government agency either petition a court to destroy the embargoed food or release the food; unfortunately, the law does not impose a time limit on an agency to make this decision. The lack of a statutory deadline enables the bureaucracy to, in effect, condemn food without a court order, waiting until a food’s “shelf life” has expired before making its decision. Raw milk embargoed by MDH at the Locavore went bad a long time ago.

Raid in Minnesota – Food Police Protecting People from Themselves, Again

MDA’s enforcement actions against the distribution of locally produced nutrient-dense food when there have been no complaints amounts to a form of corporate welfare for agribusiness. Unless there is a legitimate accusation about the distribution of adulterated food, MDA would do better to save the taxpayers money and honor food freedom of choice.

Raid in Minnesota – Food Police Protecting People from Themselves, Again

In the continuation of an eight-year government assault on freedom of food choice, officials from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), the Minneapolis Department of Health (MDH) and city police have shut down the physical location for the private buyers club, Uptown Locavore, embargoing thousands of dollars of nutrient-dense food in the process including raw dairy products and grassfed meats. The Locavore connects farmers and club members, enabling consumers to obtain foods they would not be able to purchase at a retail store.

On May 3rd MDA and MDH officials along with a police officer executed an administrative search warrant to inspect the property that served as a distribution point for the buyers club; the official’s visit turned into more than just an inspection. The officials embargoed every food product they came across, including the personal food items of Will Winter, longtime leader in the Twin Cities local food community and owner/manager of the locavore. The embargo notices MDH left at the location stated that the buyers club could not conduct business until “conditions set forth are met and the embargo is lifted.”

City officials also posted an “Unlicensed Business” notice on the property stating that the Uptown Locavore is unlicensed and that “further operation of this business is a criminal act and subject to criminal complaint and/or arrest.” The ‘catch-22’ for the Uptown Locavore was that, if it did get licensed, it would not be able to provide many of the nutritious foods it currently makes available to club members.

Winter responded to the enforcement action by going to the media to get out his side of the story. He pointed out that the search warrant was given by a judge to merely determine whether the buyers club was operating an unlicensed business; nothing was mentioned in the warrant application about confiscating food or shutting down the Locavore. Winter explained to the media that his private club should not have to obtain a business license because it does not sell or distribute any food to the general public; his location is not open to the public but only to club members.

Winter remarked that all transactions were between consenting adults and were done between a farmer/artisan producer and informed consumers. He emphasized that there had been zero complaints about the Locavore. He commented that the government “instead of using their resources to pursue real criminals and real crime….waste their day trying to destroy people they don’t understand and then seem to hate….this unjustified persecution of people doing the right things makes me very unhappy to be American.”


The May 3 raid wasn’t the first time the food police had shut down a private food distribution facility established by Winter. In 2010 state and city officials raided and permanently shut down the Traditional Foods Warehouse in Minneapolis, a devastating loss for the local food community. The Traditional Foods Warehouse had rapidly become an institution in the Twin Cities; at one time it boasted 1,800 members. There has never really been anything like it anywhere in the U.S. before or since its demise.

2010 also was the year MDA stepped up its enforcement campaign against famers distributing to informed consumers nutrient-dense foods that the department claimed were “illegal”, targeting dairy farmer Mike Hartmann and poultry farmer Alvin Schlangen. MDA raided both farmers in 2010 and subsequently had both criminally prosecuted.

MDA went after Hartmann because it suspected dairy products the farmer produced were responsible for eight cases of foodborne illness in the Twin Cities area. The state’s initial testing indicated there was a match between the pathogenic bacteria responsible for the illnesses and bacteria found on the Hartmann farm but the Minnesota Department of Health did many subsequent tests to strengthen its assertion that Hartmann farm dairy products were the cause of the illness; there was no match in any of these tests.

Hartmann pled guilty to two charges of violating the Minnesota food and dairy code but only to stop MDA from criminally prosecuting his wife as well as a 68-year-old woman on disability who was helping his farm. The lowest point in MDA’s enforcement tactics came when two MDA officials, three plainclothes policemen and two Bloomfield city officials executed a search warrant at the private residence of Rae Lynn Sandvig whose driveway served as a dropsite for Hartmann. The policemen met Sandvig at her bedroom door shortly after 8 a.m. telling her to go downstairs to her kitchen. Policemen went into the bedroom of Sandvig’s children ordering them to do the same. When Sandvig arrived in her kitchen she found the two MDA officials and the two city employees peering into the family’s refrigerator; the family kept no foods from Hartmann’s farm in their refrigerator or freezer other than those for personal consumption. MDA considered prosecuting Sandvig but subsequently dropped her case.

MDA had prosecuted Schlangen twice for criminal violations of the state food and dairy code; in the prosecution putting his livelihood at stake, a jury acquitted him of all charges. Hartmann and Schlangen remain in business continuing to provide nutritious food to informed consumers.

Hartmann is suing MDA over an illegal search and seizure the department conducted on his delivery truck during a 2013 stop on a Minneapolis highway; the department confiscated dairy products and equipment during the raid.

For the past five years MDA has been investigating Dave Berglund, a dairy farmer in northern Minnesota who sells raw milk and other dairy products to his loyal customers on his farm in Grand Marais. Berglund concluded a long court battle against MDA last year, with the courts ruling that the department had jurisdiction to inspect his farm. Berglund is contending he has a right under the state and federal constitutions to sell a product like raw butter direct to consumers while the department is claiming those sales are illegal. MDA’s investigation of Berglund appears to be continuing.

The Minnesota state constitution has a provision allowing farmers to “sell and peddle the products of the farm” without licensing. The constitutional provision should include the distribution of farm products through a private buyers club like the Uptown Locavore that facilitates farmer-to-consumer commerce. Regardless of how MDA interprets the law, what it and other government agencies cannot escape is the fact that eight years of heavy handed enforcement hasn’t deterred consumers from seeking healthy food that the state declares is illegal. People continue to demand food from farmers like Hartmann, Schlangen and Berglund; they continue to join buyers clubs like Winter’s Uptown Locavore to have access to quality food they cannot find in retail stores.

Increasingly greater numbers of consumers want to opt out of the industrial food-vaccine-pharmaceutical drug paradigm. If these enforcement actions against real food are all about protecting the public health, here’s a challenge to the state and local government agencies in Minnesota who are harassing Winter: do a survey of Uptown Locavore members and then do a survey of other random people to determine what each group demands in terms of medical services (e.g., doctor visits, prescription drug use, etc.). Government officials would find that the buyers club members demand much less in the way of medical services, saving the taxpayers and insurance companies money. The state of Minnesota could be sending the savings on expanding farm-to-school programs but instead spends millions persecuting those who are making people healthier.


The government should be honoring Winter instead of dumping food confiscated at the Uptown Locavore into a landfill. It should recognize farmers like Berglund, Hartmann and Schlangen as frontline healers instead of trying to shut them down. This is about control and preserving industrial Ag’s market share by denying freedom of choice. MDA can recognize this freedom by exercising its enforcement discretion not to take action against people like Winter who are actually helping to make others well. One day there will be a court ruling affirming that there is a legal distinction between the public and private distribution of food. Until that time MDA and the other agencies can best protect and promote the public health by allowing people to obtain the food of their choice from the source of their choice regardless of whether that source is regulated by the government.

A good way to begin the departure from the failed policies of the past would be for the Minneapolis Health Department to lift the embargo on the food at the Uptown Locavore and allow the buyers club to resume operations. Unfortunately, Daniel Huff, an official for the department has indicated the city will seek a condemnation order to destroy the dairy products embargoed at the Locavore. Short of a legitimate accusation against the club of the food being responsible for foodborne illness, Winter and its members should have the right to be left alone.

Minnesota Judge Declines to Punish Dairy Farmer

Sometimes the biggest indicator that cultural change is on the way is when law enforcers start to look the other way. Coming on the heels of high-profile articles that praise full-fat, natural dairy products (including Mark Bittman’s proclamation that “Butter is Back” in The New York Times) and the proposal of 2 federal laws to end federal crackdown on the distribution of raw milk, a Minnesota judge has declined to punish a farmer for selling raw milk and violating his parole.

In 2012, dairy farmer Michael Hartmann pled guilty to selling unpasteurized milk and was given probation, which he violated by continuing to sell. In June 2014, the judge in Hartmann’s hearing stated that “the defendant had made a ‘good faith effort’ and ‘no further action’ would be necessary.”

Hartmann’s case is still ongoing with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture but he and his family see this as a court victory.

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation. Donate to help fund research into the benefits of nutrient dense foods.  westonaprice.org/lab

Minnesota Judge Criticizes MDA’s 10-Year Harassment of Farmer Michael Hartmann

Farmer Michael Hartmann has been battling the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for close to a decade. On October 7, 2013, Hartmann received a little support from an unexpected source when a Minnesota judge ruled that the December 2012 search-and-seizure of Hartmann’s raw milk and cheese truck was illegal.

Judge Erica MacDonald ruled that the state trooper who stopped Hartmann’s dairy truck because he couldn’t see the rear license plate was obligated to send Hartmann on his way once he realized the plate was just dirty and that, additionally, Hartmann had a front license plate, since there was no violation of motor vehicle or traffic laws. Instead, the trooper called the MDA, which instructed him to search the truck and confiscate his product.

She condemns the illegal search-and-seizure in a 30-page opinion and notes that the instance is just one in what has been a decade of harassment by the department and investigator James Roettger, who “…has been investigating Defendant’s possible violations of food laws for approximately ten years.”

Beyond the search-and-seizure, Judge MacDonald endorsed the 2005 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling of a previous case involving Hartmann that upheld his constitutional right to sell products of his farm, including meat, cheese and butter.

In her ruling, the judge makes it clear that she felt obligated to uphold Hartmann’s constitutional rights despite her personal dislike of the defendant and his blatant disregard for the terms of his probation. As journalist David Gumpert notes, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Judges are supposed to back the constitutional rights of all Americans, despite the judges’ own personal prejudices.”

Read more about Judge MacDonald’s opinion on Gumpert’s blog here:

http://thecompletepatient.com/article/2013/october/31/overreach-mn-judge-puts-crimp-mda%E2%80%99s-10-year-pursuit-raw-dairy-farmer

The Campaign for Real Milk is a project of the nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation. Donate to help fund research into the benefits of nutrient dense foods.  http://www.westonaprice.org/lab