by Jessica Mosby
For almost a year I have been experiencing insufferable allergies. Many doctors’ appointments and medications later, I still wake up in the morning with my skin inflamed and my eyes swollen shut. By the time I watched Farmageddon:The Unseen War on American Farms, I was ready to try just about anything.
Drinking raw milk places me in the minority of people who consume unpasteurized dairy products. While there is a risk in drinking raw milk and a warning is clearly printed on the glass bottles I buy at a local health food store, I am a healthy adult so the risks are minimal. However, when I tell people that I now drink raw milk the responses are surprising. Many of my “Left Coast liberal-leaning” friends seem a bit horrified. Recently, when I was in a major organic grocery chain and asked if they sold raw milk, the clerk said “no” and that none of the stores in this chain do. He then leaned closer and whispered the name of a nearby independent market that sells raw milk.
Even more surprising is that Ron Paul, the Republican Congressman from Texas, and I now share a common belief: that people should have option to drink raw milk. As documented in Farmageddon, Paul is actively lobbying to change the laws banning the transportation of raw milk across state lines as the sale of raw milk is not legal in all states. When people ask me how I could drink raw milk and agree with Paul, I just tell them it is a matter of freedom. We have the freedom to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, both of which come with a warning label, so why not let individuals decide if they want to drink raw milk?Farmageddon is a documentary with a clear, explicit agenda. Canty wants the masses to at least embrace the idea that individual freedoms should extend to the food we eat. In the 90-minute film, Canty documents the assault on small organic farms and how federal and state food policies favor and protect large corporate farms. One of the most heartbreaking cases is the 2000 raid on Linda and Larry Faillace’s Vermont sheep farm. After spending months and exorbitant amounts of money in surveillance, the USDA eventually storms the property, confiscating and killing the Faillace’s entire herd of sheep. They were told that the sheep, legally imported from Europe and New Zealand, carried BSE or "mad cow disease.” Linda Faillace has since written a book on their experience that demonstrates there was no threat of mad cow disease.
The film also captures the targeting of private members-only food clubs that sell organic, locally grown food. In 2008, Jackie Stauer’s Manna Storehouse was raided by a SWAT team led by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Lorain County General Health District for operating a food establishment without a permit. Stauer maintains that a private cooperative like hers does not require a business permit. The raid was financially devastating as it cleared the business of thousands of dollars of food, and agents took $8,000 USD worth of the Stauers’ personal food supply.
Farmageddon, demonstrates how the small family farm has become the enemy of a government committed to protecting corporate farms. Through regulations, surveillance, raids, and bureaucracy, the government is making the already challenging existence of small farms close to impossible.
When Massachusetts-based Canty was in San Francisco, we discussed her conversion to organic food, the plight of small farms, and her decision to channel activism into a documentary film.
Why did you decide to start eating organic food and drinking raw milk?
My son, when he was a preschooler, had horrible allergies and asthma. Doctors told me he was allergic to the world – that meant grass, dust, every type of pollen, every type of animal, and bees. He was constantly stuffed up; he had a hearing impairment because he had so much fluid in his ears; and he screamed all night that he couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t sleeping [and] he wasn’t eating because of all the medications he was on.
When the doctor told me that [my son’s] immune system was severely depressed, I started doing research. First my chiropractor told me to take him off all the medications and to try whole, unprocessed foods. I wrapped his bed in plastic; I had a HEPA filter going; and I took out all of our carpets and our curtains. That helped a little bit, but he was still stuffy and still had the seasonal allergies and some asthma. I finally found the Weston Price Foundation, which is a nutrition action foundation. In the book Nourishing Traditions, I read many testimonials about people that had had allergies and asthma and then started consuming raw milk and their allergies went away.
I was a complete germaphobe at the time. Eating organically was one thing, but drinking raw milk grossed me out. Even though the stories were compelling, it took me a really long time to venture onto a farm and give it a try. I found a famer who would sell [raw milk] to me. I met his kids and made sure they were healthy, talked to his other customers, and spent some time on the farm. [I] took it home myself and drank a lot of it before I gave it to my son. I loved it and thought it was delicious, and I felt great. I tried it [with my son], and very quickly he had no allergies. He didn’t sniffle again.
Now I have carpets and I have curtains. [My son] exercises – he’s actually six feet tall and an athlete. He can breathe and he doesn’t have asthma. We have pets.How did you take this life changing experience and decide to make a film?
I didn’t. I hadn’t really talked to too many people until now about the raw milk story. When it first happened, I tried to tell a lot of people and they thought I was crazy. I became a Weston Price chapter leader so that if people found me on the Internet, I could help them find a raw milk famer, find a farmer to help them get grass fed meats, and find a community supported agriculture program to get unsprayed vegetables from farmers that we knew. It wasn’t until I found out that people around the country, who were trying to eat like I was, were getting shut down in armed raids by our government. That’s what made me want to make a documentary – not my own personal story.
I was surprised by the raids and the severity of the government’s response – it is as if the farmers are trying to smuggle guns and drugs as opposed to producing organic produce and raw milk.
I didn’t want to make a film. I couldn’t sleep at night when I found out about these raids. I tried to get others to make the film. I tried to advertise and tell people that this was happening. The general reaction – in fact, the only reaction – was, “No, our country isn’t like that. They must have had guns or drugs on their property for there to be such a violent reaction. Our government would never do that over food. We live in a free country.” That was the first reaction that made me want to go out and prove that this really is about food.
Why do you think that food has become such a contentious issue within the idea of a free market?
To me, the only food that has become contentious in the free market is the food that people are consuming because they say they’re getting healthier consuming it – the grass fed meats and the raw milk. I don’t see any crackdowns on the foods that are getting us sick… None of these [small organic farmers] are making millions. They are just happy producing healthy food to willing consumers, and basically just making ends meet. In this economy, for the government to be doing this to our small farmers in the name of food safety is a huge travesty.
About the Author:
Jessica Mosby is a writer and critic living in Oakland, California. In the rare moments when she's not traveling across the United States for work, Jessica enjoys listening to public radio, buying organic food at local farmers markets, trolling junk stores, and collecting owl-themed tchotchke.