Some of us know our calling right from the get-go. For others, it takes a crisis to kickstart our life’s mission. You can count Kristin Canty in the latter group. It wasn’t until her young son fell victim to debilitating allergies and asthma that the mom of four discovered the benefits of raw milk—after he guzzled the stuff and almost immediately kicked those allergies to the curb.
But Canty discovered something else along the way. Those family farmers who produce the raw milk her entire family now drinks? They, along with others who farm good stuff like organic produce and grass-fed beef, face draconian regulations, government threats and armed raids.
Like, with guns.
When Canty found out what family farmers were up against, she knew she had to get the message out. Which is how a New England mom who grew up on canned food and TV dinners became an eco-activist, a government gadfly and, lucky for us, a first-time filmmaker. Her documentary Farmageddon reveals the intense challenges and sometimes violent threats faced by thousands of sustainable growers, and what they, and others, are doing to fight them. Part Two of Five.
EcoStiletto: How, when and where did you first become aware of the plight faced by small family farms in America?
Kristin Canty: I found a page on the Internet, from the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, that was entitled, “What to do if you are a farmer and you think that you are going to get raided.” I found that astonishing, that there had to be information like that for farmers who were simply farming the way they always had for generations. Did they really need to know their rights and get tips in case they were raided by their own governments? It sounded so bizarre to me. I immediately wanted to spread the word about this.
ES: Wow. Why are family farms under attack, and from whom?
KC: In the movie you will see that there are a number of farms and co-ops that were raided by the government, all for different reasons. In one case it was for fear of mad cow disease (BSE) in sheep. In some cases the government was cracking down on private food buying clubs that were buying directly from the farmer, and in many cases it was because of the government’s harsh stance on raw milk producers. No consumer ever complained or became ill from any of the farms that were raided in the movie.
ES: What kinds of things happened during these raids?
KC: As many as 40 armed agents came onto the farms, thousands of dollars of food was seized (of course it rotted and lost all value to the farmer), expensive equipment was confiscated, and yet no one [depicted] in the movie was charged with anything more than a third-degree misdemeanor.
ES: Is it just raw milk producers, or are others being threatened? What other kinds of family farms are under scrutiny?
KC: Right now, a raw milk producer is probably the toughest kind of farmer to be, and they are under the most scrutiny. However, talk to any of your local farmers at the farmer’s market and most will tell you about regulations that don’t make sense, which are making it very hard for them to stay in business.
Vegetable farmers who grow organic have an enormous amount of paperwork to fill out that non-organic growers do not have to do. Grass-fed-beef farmers have a tough time getting their product to market due to the lack of USDA inspected facilities in this country. They are also now having a hard time finding organic alfalfa, now that the USDA has released GMO alfalfa in the US. People would be shocked to find out what kind of bureaucracy farms of all sizes have to put up with at both the local and federal level.