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.

High Stakes for Raw Milk in Wisconsin

This article is a collaboration between the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF).

Wisconsin organic dairy farmer Chaz Self is a face of the crisis confronting milk producers across the country. Self’s cooperative recently dropped him as a member, leaving him scrambling to find another buyer for the milk his farm, Grassway Organics, produces. Self could be making up for some of the lost sales by selling raw milk; Wisconsin law allows the sale of raw milk on an “incidental basis.” The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) could be helping farmers like Self by using its enforcement discretion to let him sell raw milk. DATCP, however, recently served the farmer with a summary special order threatening the loss of his Grade A Milk Permit if he sold any raw milk for human consumption.

The farmer is currently dumping hundreds of gallons of high quality raw milk. Self’s case provides a great look at the unprecedented emergency dairy farmers are facing and how selling raw milk is a potential way to help keep thousands of them in business.

Self maintains a herd of around 100 cows on a 400-acre farm where he lives with his wife Megan and their three young children. His Jersey herd is 100% A2. The Selfs sell poultry, eggs, pork and beef to their customers on the farm and at farmers markets.


Last year Self appeared in the Netflix documentary, Rotten, a series of episodes uncovering fraud and corruption in the industrial food system. Self appeared in the episode “Milk Money” which discussed the production and sale of raw milk. Self never stated that he sold raw milk but the narrator of the episode implied that he did. Shortly after the episode aired, DATCP started investigating Self; the investigation wound up with the department issuing an order allowing him to keep his Grade A permit on the condition that he stop selling raw milk. This was an unjustified move, given that DATCP based its decision solely on what the narrator said he was doing; there was no other evidence mentioned in the order about Self selling raw milk.

To compound matters, on April 1 Self’s cooperative, Westby Creamery, terminated his membership; on April 18 DATCP sent Self a “notice of deadline to change assigned dairy plant”, stating the farmer has until April 30 to find a processor to pick up his milk. If he fails to do so, DATCP will revoke his Grade A permit; with the current state of the dairy industry, that is not an easy task.

The American dairy sector has been in a decades-long decline that is currently accelerating. In 1992 there were 131,535 licensed dairies in the U.S., at the end of 2017 there were 40,219.1 The number of dairies closing shop has increased substantially since the beginning of the year. In 1992 the average herd size for farms was 74 cows; by 2017 it had risen to 2342, showing the consolidation in the dairy industry and the exit of small farms from the commodity milk system.

Wisconsin went from about 29,000 dairy farms in 1995 to a little over 9,000 at the end of last year.1 Two particular recent developments have accelerated the decline of conventional and organic dairies in Wisconsin. First, more conventional milk is being shipped into Wisconsin from other states. In 2017 more than 100 trailer loads of milk per day3 was coming into Wisconsin from states such as Michigan, Indiana and Ohio; frequently this milk was being sold more cheaply than the price sellers of conventional fluid milk would normally get.

Secondly, this year certified organic CAFO dairies in Texas have increased shipments of milk to Wisconsin. According to a USA Today March 24 story by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer, six certified organic dairy farms in Texas produced about 23% more milk than all of Wisconsin’s 453 organic dairy farms combined in 2016.4 The greater supply of organic milk has led to more quotas for producers and co-ops cutting back on members; in addition to Self, Westby Creamery recently terminated the contracts of seven other members.

The commodity milk system is becoming more untenable than ever for small farms. Recent prices around the country for conventional milk have been as low as $1.11 per gallon; while there are some organic producers that are still doing well, prices overall have declined substantially for organic milk. Farmers wanting to sell cows are finding little or no market. Oversupply and lower pay prices mean a race to the bottom for commodity milk.

One way for producers to escape or survive the commodity milk system is to sell raw milk for direct consumption; prices farmers can get for raw milk sales to the consumer are much higher than what they can receive for either conventional or organic milk intended for pasteurization. In Wisconsin the law is there for dairies to sell raw milk and improve their bottom line; the problem has been DATCP and its interpretation of what an “incidental sale” is.

The legislature passed the incidental sale law in 1957. The original intent of the law was that any sale of raw milk for human consumption was an incidental sale. At the time the law went into effect, there were over 100,000 dairies selling raw milk intended for pasteurization in the state 5; for all of them, sales of raw milk for direct human consumption were likely a very small percentage of total sales.

At one time DATCP interpreted the incidental sales law as meaning only one sale of raw milk per customer ever. In 2008 the department changed that, issuing a regulation that stated, “a sale is not incidental if it is made in the regular course of business, or is preceded by any advertising, or solicitation made to the general public through any communications media.” There is nothing in the statute legalizing incidental sales that prohibits advertising or solicitation.

DATCP’s interpretation of “not in the regular course of business” has been unfavorable to raw milk producers and consumers. It’s time for that to change; America’s Dairy Land is in an emergency situation. Dairies are going out of business every day in the state. DATCP can help Wisconsin dairy farms by either adopting a more liberal interpretation of what constitutes “not in the regular course of business” or by waiving enforcement against dairies selling raw milk direct to consumers in the regular course of business. For precedent on the latter step, DATCP only needs to look at the bordering state of Michigan.

Michigan law prohibits the sale or distribution of raw milk for human consumption; nevertheless in 2013 the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) adopted a written policy in which it would not take action against dairy farms distributing raw milk through herdshare agreements. MDARD set parameters that had to be in place, such as a written contract between the farmer and consumer for it to waive enforcement; DATCP could take a similar tact in Wisconsin.

DATCP is charged with promoting Wisconsin agriculture; one way it can do that with the current dairy crisis is to change its enforcement or interpretation of the law to one that benefits raw milk producers and consumers. Producers like Chaz Self have the quality raw milk and the potential demand to succeed. DATCP shouldn’t be preventing Self from selling raw milk. DATCP has an opportunity to help dairy farms stay in business. Ultimately, it would be great to pass a bill taking the word “incidental” out of the Wisconsin raw milk statute; but with the accelerated decline dairy is going through, there is no time to waste. The department should either adopt a new interpretation of the raw milk law or exercise its enforcement discretion now.

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[1] Dennis Halladay, “Here it comes: less than 40,000 dairies”, Hoard’s Dairyman, March 19, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at https://hoards.com/article-22818-here-it-comes-less-than-40000-dairies.html

[2] Corey Geiger, “Dairy farm numbers hover near 40,000”, Hoard’s Dairyman, February 26, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/18 at
https://hoards.com/article-22687-dairy-farm-numbers-hover-near-40000.html

[3] Pete Hardin, “March Dairy Meetings Somber in Wisconsin…”, Milkweed, Issue No. 465, April 2018; p. 5. [Wisconsin Farmers Union, “How Does It Work, and Would it Work Here?”, Dairy Supply Mgmt. in Canada, meeting 15 March 2018 at Dodger Bowl Banquet Center, Dodgerville, WI, recorded by www.wiseye.org; last viewed 4/25/2018 at http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/12277]

[4] Rick Barrett, “Wisconsin’s small organic dairies squeezed by Texas mega-farms”, USA Today, March 24, 2018. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2018/03/24/wisconsins-small-organic-dairies-squeezed-texas-mega-farms/455330002/

[5] U.S. Department of Commerce, “County Table 10 – Dairy products and poultry and poultry products sold from farms: Censuses of 1959 and 1954”, U.S. Census of Agriculture: 1959, Volume 1, Part 14: Wisconsin (Chapter B – Statistics for Counties), p. 163. Last viewed 4/25/2018 at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/AgCensusImages/1959/01/14/866/Table-10.pdf


Photo courtesy of Grassway Organics LLC facebook page

Food Rights at Stake in Minnesota

A small, family-owned farm in Grand Marais, MN is facing excessive fines by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) because the family is refusing an unconstitutional inspection of their farm.

“On October 14, 2014 the MDA demanded to do an inspection of the farm, which the family refused on the grounds that the Minnesota Constitution acknowledges their right to peddle the products of their farm. Now the MDA hopes to fine the small operation a crippling $500 per day after the March 9, 2015 hearing if they are found to be in contempt,” according to blog Nourishing Liberty.

This is not only another case of farms being unjustly targeted by local and state departments of agriculture but, more importantly, it is a case about food rights. This community farm provides nutritious, locally raised meats, dairy products and baked goods to their neighbors. Don’t community members have the right to privately obtain foods of their choosing from local farmers without interference of regulators? Why is it okay for regulators to excessively fine a family for feeding their neighbors?

Read more about how you can support this family farm here.

Realmilk.com is a consumer education project of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Visit their website, westonaprice.org.

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

Minnesota Farmer, Alvin Schlangen, Convicted in Second Trial

Alvin Schlangen, a Minnesota farmer who was charged with five criminal misdemeanors relating to the handling and distribution of food, was found guilty on August 15th of all five counts. This is Schlangen’s second jury trial relating to violations of the state’s food and dairy code; he was previously charged and acquitted of three similar charges in a neighboring county in September 2012. Continue reading

Call To Action For Alvin Schlangen Trial

****CALL TO ACTION****

Please broadcast

Criminal trial for peaceful farmer Alvin Schlangen
August 13-15, 2013
11:00 am
Stearns County Courthouse
St. Cloud, MN

Background:  The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), through the efforts of compliance officer Jim Roettger, is successfully choking the main supplies of raw milk in Minnesota. In 2010 MDA shut down Traditional Foods of Minnesota, a private food club that was a primary food source for many families in Minnesota. Another farmer, Mike Hartmann, has been facing prosecution and harassment for years. Continue reading