Monday, December 19, 2011

calf manure.........yeah..............

My resonse to the last two blog posts at the Complete Patient Blog:

Mark is focusing on the 0157:H7 coming from the calves manure and somehow getting to the he saying the 5 kids from 4 different counties possibly got sick from some exposure to OPDC calf manure (touring the farm...licking the bottle!?!), but not from the actual OP raw milk or raw milk products? Is he even conceding that the kids got sick from OPDC milk? so confused...I hate being manipulated with brilliantly hazy rhetoric.

When do we get to see the state report?

I am happy that OPDC customers have their raw milk back. I am just concerned that there are still false assumptions floating around this same customer base. You know, the one where raw milk kills e.coli 0157:H7 so that raw milk is not inherently dangerous. Or that raw milk cures asthma or GERD.

I don't like sounding so cynical but the optimism and idealism in the CA raw milk crowd is a tad overboard. Yes, there is strength in happily engaged and vocal consumer base. Yes, OPDC does an amazing job at promoting raw milk and keeping up a positive relationship with their customers. Social media/networking and loyalty is powerful.

Where the RAW MILK MOVEMENT (i.e. OPDC, and the OPDC/raw milk consumer base gets in a bit of trouble is when political speech making and charming rhetoric is gobbled up and the truth gets dirtied in the calf manure.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Farmers Market Consumers: Buyer Beware. Part 3 of 3.

Buyer Beware at Farmer's Markets

Part 3 of 3. Part One and Part Two

I've spoken with the market manager for the farmer's market where I work and shop. Diana Rodgers runs the Sunday Mar Vista Farmer's market. Here is what she says about the issue of consumer protection in the ever growing direct to consumer farmer's markets: 

"You may be experiencing seeming reticence or apathy because farmers' market managers are concerned for the livelihood of the real, true dedicated farmers so one wants to be sure.   Also, a big expose would hurt the whole business including the farmers -- and there are still a lot of them-- that work earnestly to do things right.  The big supermarkets would like nothing better than to see farmers' markets go away.  At the same time, many are very concerned about fraud and looking for new ways to enforce thoroughly.  This takes a lot of research and diligence so it appears sometimes that nothing is being done.

Part of the problem is that the formal Agricultural inspection system is severely underfunded and we're having trouble getting the legislation passed to up the budget for agricultural inspectors.  A huge part of the issue.  There were 300+ farmers' markets in the State of CA in 2000 there are now over 700 so this is daunting and a lot is falling on market managers alone who don't have the resources to do everything by themselves.  Not to mention properly along with all of the other demands of the job.

Another problem is that there are a lot of people opening up farmers markets who know nothing about the system, farming etc.  So, they see markets as moneymakers but do not have the education to open and manage them properly.  A lot of this is the result of grass roots become industry and demand outweighing supply (small, family farmed produce).  An industry growing too fast without the proper checks and balances in place for the current system.

Big improvements have been made in the last year on the local level despite it not appearing so. A sincere and concerned group of LA Managers have gotten together to form a consortium around these very issues.  We  work on questionable farmer investigations as a team but we're having to learn a lot as we go.  We are doing inspections and sharing information and trying to do calculations based upon how many markets one farm goes to but there's a lot of other things to factor in.   I think we are all blinking in the horror of all of this and trying to gather ourselves a) to make sure our markets are quality and b) to join forces in our small way to work together to investigate and to enforce -- something, historically the job did not require to the huge degree it does now.

It is important to protect the small farmer in this work -- as it would be a terrible thing to ruin the very people we want to support, at the same time, more needs to be done to help work on a solution to the growing problem and to create a strong message to the cheaters that it will not be tolerated.

I think all the managers in my circle would be very interested in the information you have gathered -- many of them have HFF in their markets. Especially if it is evidential for them to use in enforcement.   They just have to be sure, clear and measured about how they use it.  If there is something tangible to enforce, I suspect they'd want to do so.

I so appreciate your concern.

Diana Rodgers
Mar Vista Farmers' Market"

What ARE the markets doing to investigate Healthy Family Farms in order to keep them in their markets as a vendor? 
Certain farmer's markets where Healthy Family Farms sells their products have lawyers on retainer watching the Healthy Family Farms saga closely. Or are they protecting their own interests, the interest of the small farms they host, and the cities that host the markets? "Farmer's markets have been sued by farmers that they've kicked out before," says Greta Dunlap, market manager for both South Pasadena and Beverly Hills farmer's markets. She said that her market's lawyer has been watching the "Healthy Family Farms issue" for about a year. Operations Manager Aaron Young confirmed that the Board of Directors for the Santa Barbara Farmer's market where Healthy Family Farms sells on Saturday had met recently to discuss the situation. Other farmers/ranchers in that market told this citizen and former Healthy Family Farms customer that they were surprised when Healthy Family Farms showed up the Saturday following the board meeting. When pressed as to why they are still selling in Santa Barbara, Young responded that they, too, have a lawyer on retainer and that "they [the board] are waiting to see what comes down the pipe [presumably from the current investigation and trial]." Dunlap echoed a similar sentiment, "We're waiting to see what comes down the pipe."

The manager of Hollywood's Sunday farmers market responded to my question about what they are doing to protect their consumers from fraud by basically stating that Cal Ag in Ventura counts what Sharon Palmer produces and Cal Ag Los Angeles keeps track of what she sells. According to Laura Avery, head manager of the Santa Monica farmer's markets where Healthy Family Farms sells on Saturday, Ventura Ag checks Healthy Family Farms egg layers and the last count, done in April, recorded that Palmer had 2,000 egg layers. But they don't count meat birds, Avery said. She also said that her market is trying to count what Healthy Family Farms sells against what Ventura Ag reports is actually on Palmer's land. This is a step in the right direction, but is it enough?

Recently, I inquired as to how the investigation into Healthy Family Farms is going at the Santa Monica Farmer's Markets, where I used to buy from Healthy Family Farms at the Saturday market. It is my earnest belief that Laura Avery is doing everything within her power to investigate Healthy Family Farms. Unfortunately, it seems as though the information I have gathered is from the past and the more current picture evidence does not provide anything that is "tangible to enforce" in the words of Diana Rodgers, above.  It is my sincere hope that Sharon Palmer is producing her own meat and eggs at this time.

So what do watch dog farmer's market managers do to investigate fraud themselves? According to Mar Vista market manager Diana Rodgers, where Healthy Family Farms is not a vendor, they are doing the best they can with limited resources. From an article by David Karp for the Los Angeles Times Farmers Market column:

"Rodgers meets regularly with other local managers in a group, recently incorporated in a chapter of the California State Grange, to discuss a broad range of issues such as street closures, regulatory requirements and quarantines. And in January she was appointed as an alternate to the Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee, which helps guide the state program.

Market integrity, always a concern for Rodgers, has become a priority since media reports last fall about vendors who sold produce they'd bought from the wholesale market rather than what they'd grown themselves. She evaluates farmers who apply to sell at her market by checking that they haven't been cited for peddling by agricultural authorities, by asking which other markets they sell at, by vetting them with other managers whose opinions she respects and by visiting the farms.

Verifying integrity can be tricky. Brief farm visits like the ones she recently did are enough to catch blatant cheaters, Rodgers says, but won't nail those who grow a plausible amount for show and then buy the rest. The new mantra for integrity-conscious managers is "do the math": check records of farmers market sales against estimates of production on the farmer's certificate, issued by county agricultural inspectors. But the variables, such as crops, growing areas, seasons and sales to wholesale outlets are so complex that it's difficult for even a determined manager to catch cheaters, who have grown increasingly creative in exploiting the loopholes in market rules, Rodgers said.

The problem is that farmers markets have proliferated, but agricultural commissioners have scant resources for inspections. Rogers recently took a lead role in rallying support for a plan, proposed by a committee appointed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to increase the stall fees paid by farmers in order to fund enforcement and manager training. If this plan fails to gain authorization from the state Legislature, as now seems likely, local managers may need to band together to hire professional investigators if they are to protect customers against fraud, Rodgers said.

Like many good managers, she provides customers with information to guide their choices, by posting on the website a map with descriptions of growing practices for each of her farmers. She also forbids vendors from displaying signs with misleading or meaningless phrases, such as "naturally grown" or 'no spray'."

Demand is Growing 

"Demand for local food is expected to reach $7 billion by 2012, nearly doubling since 2002, according to the Agriculture Department. And with more than 6,000 farmers markets currently operating in the United States — a 40 percent jump in the past five years — they are an easy place for consumers to go to get their fresh-food fix." states an article on MSNBC's food safety column. That article is concerned about food safety in the rapidly grossing and growing markets.

But as this current trial with Healthy Family Farms shows, maybe we should be worried that to "know your farmer" is not enough to put your full confidence in their products. A discerning consumer will visit the farm themselves, and know the tough questions to ask.

Part 3 of 3. Part One and Part Two

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Californians: What's in your Raw Milk?

The information contained in the videos posted below, is powerful.

Organic Pastures is the largest legal raw milk dairy in CA, and perhaps the world. Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures, is an outspoken proponent of raw milk and was one of the key note speakers at this years Weston A. Price Foundation Conference. When I met him at the raw milk rally to support the "Rawesome Three" this August, I was struck by his charm and ability to emotionally move and motivate people with his charisma. It was infectious.

The problem is, there are serious discrepancies between Organic Pastures marketing claims and what actually is occurring on their farm. I've been reading up and following The Complete Patient blog for awhile now. If you care about raw milk, this blog keeps it's pulse on North America's raw milk movement.

Mark McAfee posts there often and I was really very surprised with some of the things he would say and the tone of his posts. I was also concerned that some raw milk producers, especially the smaller ones, were highly suspicious of him and his dairy. They mainly objected to his RAWMI program.

I started getting more curious about the Organic Pastures dairy operation. I had literally bought into claims that raw milk is inherently safe and no harmful bacteria has ever been found in Organic Pastures milk. You can read more about their raw milk practices and safety here.

Organic Pastures is going through a tough time right now as the state of California has shut down production and sales of their raw milk the second time in 5 years due to 5 cases of ecoli 0157:H7 being linked to this diary through epidemiological data. Raw milk supporters and McAfee's customer base are outraged. They cannot believe that the state would shut down the dairy. They feel a recall would have been more than sufficient. They point to other "Big Ag" food born illness recalls as of late including eggs, spinach, and cantaloupe as being more of a menace to society than raw milk. Why shut down the dairy?

No one knows when the dairy will re-open but according to Organic Pastures they are hopeful distribution can begin as soon as next week. According to their press release this morning, e coli has been found in the manure of their calves. They are certain that the state will find the same in their testing.

I am certainly not trying to kick a man while he is down. Serious questions about the operations at Organic Pastures have been floating around for several years now. It just happens that these videos came out at the same time that Organic Pastures was ordered to shut down it's operations. I am pretty hopeful that it wasn't intentional or maligned. To be certain, this little article will not bring down Organic Pastures. Their fan/customer base is strong, and when they are up and running again I am sure they will be as financially successful as they have been in recent years. Some estimates in the comments section of The Complete Patient blog put the Organic Pastures Dairy's gross earnings at around $6 million per year. 

I am not arguing that raw milk is bad for you or even deadly. I am not saying we should not have the right to consume it. I regularly buy and drink raw milk! I am arguing that if producers are going to provide raw milk, at least give us the straight facts of how you 'grow' your raw milk.  We demand answers to tough questions from Big Ag and even our local food producers. Why not raw milk producers?

For Raw Milk Consumers:
While customers wait for Organic Pastures to reopen, I encourage OPDC customers to watch these videos and ask themselves a few questions:

1. Why does Organic Pastures state on their bottle that their milk comes from 100% grass fed cows. Clearly this is not the case.

2. Why does Organic Pastures have an open herd? What's the harm in having an open herd, you ask? I had those same questions. Fortunately for you and me, there are folks who have a passion for raw milk but also want to know if it is being produced in a responsible manner. Dr. Amanda Rose's history with Organic Pastures caught my eye, as well as her consumer guide for raw milk drinkers. She covers the open/closed herd question.

For Raw Milk advocates:
1) If OPDC is not forthright in their marketing, does it matter? Yes, because we, the raw milk consumers, are mislead.
2) 100% Grass-Fed is not a term to mess around with or dilute. It is highly irritating that farmers who are primarily grass farmers first and ranchers or dairymen second have to compete with producers who are not using the term appropriately.
3) I am fully aware that there is a higher demand for raw milk currently in CA then there is supply. I am fully aware that OPDC has helped to create this awareness of raw milk and demand for raw milk precisely because of McAfee's enthusiasm and marketing know how. To this I say, well, then market it like you do it, Organic Pastures. Otherwise, let a competitor or a few come in and above all, do it better.

What's my beef with Organic Pastures Beef?
Here is another example of misleading advertising. Organic Pastures began to sell ground beef from their spent dairy cows at farmer's markets and in stores this past October. I was alerted to their suspicious marketing because they sell their ground beef at the same price point as the grass-fed beef rancher that I buy from.

From their USDA Organic Ground Beef email launch:


Our cows graze on organic green pastures, all year long. Warm California sun + a lot of green pastures make for the best tasting beef with all the right nutritious, good healthy fats our bodies need and deserve. Our pasture fed animals are raised outdoors on pasture and treated humanily with organic practices. This combination makes the best meat around! We call it "back to basics". Our cows call it "AMAZING"!  We believe you will call it "the best beef you have ever had!" 

The problem I have with this is now they are directly competeing with an honest to goodness grassfed cattleman who prides himself in the taste of his beef and even borrows this rancher's marketing tagline with a slight twist: "The best beef you have ever had!" I beg to differ. Cattle that are raised for meat consumption on an 100% grass-fed cattle operation graze on irrigated pasture their whole lives (usually around 2-3 years old). The rancher I buy my meat from chose a specific breed, Lowline Cattle, specifically for the taste and quality of the meat. He grows 5 kinds of grass to produce the best tasting beef a la the Joel Salatin method which can be read up on in his book "Salad Bar Beef". He makes sure his beef is full of healthy fats, 15% fat to be sure. Organic Pastures USDA Organic Ground beef is less than 15% fat from dairy cows that stop producing (how old are the cows, when/why do they stop producing?) These are important questions to ask yourself. Why would you pay the same price per pound for different quality beef?

Not Grain-Finished

There are many different types of beef varieties available to purchase at the store. Grain adds weight, mostly in the form of fat, faster than grass. Weight equals money for the rancher. Americans are also used to more fat in their beef than most other people. Some find grass-fed beef too lean, but it is healthier and more flavorful. Corn is also the cheapest form of animal food, which is why most beef is grain fed or finished. We believe in quality NOT quantity. You will taste our quality in our healthy meat. 

This is highly misleading. According to the videos below, as well as from statements by their telephone representative, Organic Pastures dairy cows are given up to 4 lbs. of corn daily their whole milk producing lives, the same grain they say is the cheapest form of animal food! They also buy adult cows from other organic ranches, and who knows what they've been fed? I wonder what "not grain finished" really means? Does it mean that after the dairy cows are spent, they are stopped their grain rations and put out to pasture? How long are they off their grains? These questions matter.

Another point raised by a source who is in the know about small scale food distribution:
"distribution is always the key for any new venture, and Mark McAfee has worked hard over the years to develop his own distribution network in California. Most food producers don’t develop their own distribution, but wholesale out to distributors. So that gives McAfee a huge advantage over the smaller producers of beef because McAfee has his raw milk dairy network. Consumers beware!!"

And now, the videos:
This is from a blog for a new buyers club being set up in CA by the owners of Tropical Traditions. In an effort to track down a source legal raw milk in CA, for their buying club, they visited the two CA regulated dairies, Claravale and Organic Pastures. Having a background in researching and working with truly grassfed beef, chicken and egg ranches in Wisconsin's Amish country, the Shilhavy's know what to look for and what to ask when finding food resources for their own family and others.

I recommend that you read the full article, but here are the videos:


Organic Pastures

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Weston A. Price *FOUNDATION* Groupthink

I think I'll order this book on Amazon...I love unexpected finds searching Google images!
Edited to add: Tonight I feel FREE! Not sad anymore, but free from GroupThink. Now I know what cult members must feel like when they emerge to see the light of day: grateful for the experience and for the lessons learned, sad for the friends still entrenched, and more hopeful than ever for the future.
I am so disappointed in people who are Weston A. Price Foundation leaders. Don't ask me particulars, I won't tell you. I just have to warn others that my inklings of a highly suspicious type of "groupthink" occurring within the Foundation when I first joined are becoming true. I still hold dearly the values of Traditional Food Preparation that I have learned. This makes me very, very sad. Not angry anymore, just very sad.
From Wikipedia: 'T Hart (1998) [3] developed a concept of groupthink as “collective optimism and collective avoidance,” while McCauley (1989) [4] pointed to the impact of conformity and compliance pressures on groupthink decisions.  
Maybe one day I will gather my thoughts and publish them. But for now, I'll stick with melancholy.
(Hours later: Nope. Not melancholy. Only infinite gratitude, forgiveness, and hope. Grace. It feels incredible. Thanks for your insights and know who you are!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Farmer's Market Customers: Buyer Beware, part 2 of 3.

Part 2 of a 3 part series. Part One and Part Three

When I found out about the source, I knew I had to visit the source as soon as possible.

What I heard was the testimony of a witness to what he alleged was fraudulent activity on the part of Sharon Palmer: buying goats milk for cheese making while advertising it as her own goats milk cheese, as well as buying eggs and chicken and repackaging them as Healthy Family Farms product. Several members of her family were also said to be aides/witnesses in this operation.

I do not feel at liberty to share all of what the source shared. I do feel that it would be wise for the source to contact the Los Angeles District Attorney's office. I contacted the District Attorney's office with news of a witness, but so far no one has called back.

In order to prove their version of events, I asked the source for photographic or paper evidence of what they had witnessed. The source gave me a receipt for sales of poultry from Roger's Poultry in CA to Healthy Family Farms in the amount of $1,726.58. This receipt was recovered from a dumpster in 2008. Roger's Poultry confirmed Healthy Family Farms had been a customer, but the account is now closed because Sharon Palmer had owed them money that they never received. Roger's Poultry sells conventionally raised chicken, organic chicken, chicken livers and feet, as well as duck and turkey. They also sell pork, veal, lamb and game meats (including rabbit).

Part 2 of a 3 part series. Part One and Part Three 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Farmer's Market Consumers: Buyer Beware. Part 1 of 3.

Part 1 of 3. Part Two and Part Three

Does anyone care that farmer's market consumers were allegedly sold repackaged meat, poultry, and eggs by Sharon Palmer and Healthy Family Farms representatives, such as Victoria Bloch?

From the "Declaration in Support of Motion Regarding Source of Bail and Bail Deviation" dated August 12, 2011:

"Other invoices and records seized in the search warrant at Palmer's Healthy Family Farms location in Santa Paula also revealed that she was buying thousands of dollars worth of meat, poultry, and eggs from other vendors and reselling it at farmer's markets and at Rawesome, despite claims and advertising that it was raised on her farm and not fed commercial feed." Source: PDFs on South Pasadena Patch

Healthy Family Farms Then: April 2008, Fillmore, CA
Certified organic? 

Sharon Palmer says that her farm was certified organic when her farm was located in Fillmore, CA. Farm Muckraker has not been able to track down any paperwork or certifying agency through which Palmer was organically certified.

Courtesy of CHEESESLAVE blogger, AnnMarie Michaels, former co-chapter leader with Victoria Bloch of the Weston A. Price Foundation's Los Angeles Chapter, from her flickr photostream:
"Healthy Family Farms produces some of the very best chickens and eggs in southern California. They are pastured raised -- meaning the chickens get to run free outside (not just "cage free" which means that although they are not in cages, they are still cooped up inside).
One of the most important things about eggs and chickens is what the chickens are fed. Most chickens, even "free range" "cage free" organic chickens, are fed corn and soy. I don't care if the soy is organic -- I don't want to buy chickens that ate soy. It's not good for them and it's not good for us.
Another thing I read was that chickens that get adequate protein from the pasture (worms, grubs, snails, etc.) are much healthier. The reason they have to de-beak the chickens who live indoors is two-fold: (1) they are often living in quarters that are too close for comfort and (2) they do not get enough protein from insects, which causes them to peck at each other. Very sad. Many organic "free range" and "cage free" chickens are still debeaked.
But that doesn't happen at Healthy Family Farms!
It is also very important for the health of chickens for them to take in sunlight and eat grass.
Pastured eggs and chickens are a LOT more nutritious than battery eggs and chickens.
Healthy Family Farms also raises turkeys. I bought one of their turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner -- it was delicious. I think they also have duck sometimes. And, best of all, they will sell you chicken livers and chicken feet. I put some on order to pick up next weekend."

Healthy Family Farms Now:

After her move to the new farm in 2008, Palmer did not bother to get re-certified as organic. But this doesn't matter too much to Palmer because her farm-raised meats and eggs are now "always grass-fed, free-range, fresh and delicious!" Her egg laying hens are "proudly non-vegetarian. No corn, no soy, no antibiotics, no hormones." She sites the whole organically certified vs. what's IN the organic feed debate. She would rather not feed her chickens soy than give them organic feed that has soy in it. What's funny about that is that the eggs I buy are truly pastured, and according to my organically certified farmer, there is no soy in the egg layers' feed because they are moved around on pasture and get enough protein from the organic feed they receive and the plethora of bugs that they eat. I know that HFF eggs are free range, yes, but are not truly pastured. They are raised in a large pen, and according to Ventura Ag as of April 2011 there were 2,000 egg layers at HFF which means that this is not a small egg operation. Contrast that with the farmer I buy my eggs from who has around 200 egg layers rotated on 100 acres of irrigated pasture (it is green year round). Gama Farms claims their 2,000 free-range egg layers are on an ACRE of land. From the pictures below it looks like the egg laying chickens are on significantly less than an acre of land.

Feeding 2,000 egg laying chickens requires a lot of feed, and the bugs (if there are many living in the waste of so many chickens in a confined pen) are not plentiful enough to provide adequate protein to produce quality eggs. In other words, the bird's waste needs to be dealt with because it accumulates, and how are bugs supposed to live in that harsh environment? Too much chicken waste is considered a pollutant. So if protein in the feed is a must, then what type of protein is in the feed of Healthy Family Farms chickens?  So far Sharon has yet to report what kind of feed she feeds her egg layers, how much she buys, and from whom.
Always Grass-fed and Free Range!
"Free Range Eggs from Chickens Raised on Pasture"from Healthy Family Farms.
If the egg laying hens don't eat organic soy laden feed, then what do they eat? For the thorough answer, which is very helpful and encouraging about Healthy Family Farms practices, see this video posted on youtube in February 2009. Notice this is former employee, Vanessa Parrotta, Sharon's niece and former market laison and salesperson for Healthy Family Farms to LA area restaurants. 

VP: "They can access bugs, they're vegetarian fed, so they get fresh produce, and strawberries, in addition to their grain which does not contain any corn or soy and they're high in wheat barley and flax. So what they're eating is what you're eating.

Interviewer: "So their natural diet is to eat bugs, grubs, worms, even grass-hoppers, snakes, all that good stuff..."

"And they're outside, they're on huge pasture so they're always scratching around...especially when it rains because that's when the worms come up...that's they're favorite time they go out and play in the rain all the time. Yeah, Lot's of protein. They're high in Omega-3, you're just getting all of those nutrients. Especially because our land is organic, everything that's coming up is organic."

So the land is organic, just not certified so?

Who knew that to be, or not to be, certified organic would be such a conundrum?
Farm Tour and Photos
Healthy Family Farms had an open farm policy every Sunday between 10am and 2pm this summer and early fall. I went on a Saturday in the afternoon, unannounced because I was in Ventura (about a 30 minute drive from the farm) for a birthday party. I thought I would pop in since the farm is an hour drive away from my home and I did not want to drive all the way back the next day, or another weekend.  Plus, I was curious. When I arrived and parked, the Healthy Family Farms farmers market workers were unloading their leftovers from that day's markets in the commercial kitchen on the property located in the red barn. I asked them if I could look around the farm. Diane told me no, because Sharon was not on the property. She could not answer any of my questions because Sharon was not there to answer the questions. Jose echoed her statements. I was told emphatically that I could not take any pictures. According to Palmer, when I spoke with her on the phone the week following my visit, the farm is not open at any other time because of liability reasons as well as that her dogs are free to roam the property, and her children live on the property. Here is what I saw, some pictures taken from the privacy of my own vehicle, and some from across the street:
View of the Farmhouse from the parking lot of the Red Barn. Small garden on right?
View of the Red Barn where market workers Diane and Jose were unloading a Healthy Family Farms van.
The sign reads: Goats
Healthy Family Farms goats, or Rawesome goats?
Cardboard dumpster across the street. Sharon Palmer acknowledged the dumpster in a phone interview and said it is used by at least 6 neighbors. When I asked if Healthy Family Farms uses the dumpster, she acknowledged that they do.
View of Palmer's farmhouse across the street from dumpster.
Egg Case Flats: When asked about all those egg flats, Sharon Palmer stated that they do not reuse their egg flats but instead buy egg flats by the 10,000. When asked why, she said it is because of safety and health reasons. "No one reuses their flats. Salmonella can get on there from a cracked egg", she said. Feed bag tucked in the back left corner, yellow from the bag barely visible.
On the boxes: Harrison Poultry: Young Chicken, USDA inspected seal. Harrison Poultry is located in Georgia. A sales representative for the company said that Healthy Family Farms is not a known customer. She did say that although they ship young dressed chickens that are freshly slaughtered all over the world, California is their largest market. I asked how a small farm might get hold of their birds. She replied that they sell to wholesalers who in turn sell to vendors. She proudly said that they are a commercial poultry producer and that they slaughter ONE MILLION young chickens per week. ONE MILLION young chickens per week...and they sell for $3 a chicken.

Bags of Feed from the dumpster. I have no idea what type of feed this, soy free?
Ah, Kruse's Perfection Brand. Maybe someone can help me out here? I don't know what's in it?
Another Dumpster View
Signage says the chick barn.
The red egg layers in the back? White meat birds up front? "HFF" feed silo.
"Open Sunday: Big Red Barn (Organic)" At the bottom: "Cheese!!" It doesn't say if it is pasteurized or not?
The HFF silo in the background. Garden in foreground: to feed the chickens their strawberries?
The dry and dusty canyon in the background where I thought the beef cows were hiding.
Horses? Sheep? Goats? Not sure if these are even HFF owned?
I spoke with Sharon Palmer on the phone the week after my visit. When I asked where all the grass is, she became defensive. "This is 150 year old cattle country." she said, "Look around, everyone in the canyon raises cattle on pasture." When I responded that I had thought that pasture raised animals ate green grass, she told me that I needed to look up my definition of pasture. I guess I should have asked what exactly her cattle do eat? At the height of the summer there is a whole lot of dried grass and dirt in the Golden Hills of California. Does a rancher need to supplement their cattle's diet to maintain a healthy cow? If there is enough "dry pasture" per cow, is that enough? I also asked her where all the cows were. Are they in the canyon there behind your home where I heard they were? She said that she leases 600 acres "up the road" where her cattle roam freely. I am learning about ranching myself, and forgot to ask her how many head she generally keeps. I wonder if her herd is open, or closed?

Before I had even written a public blog but was just a Weston A. Price Foundation member angry and looking for answers from my local chapter leaders as to why the state claimed it had evidence that she was purchasing, repackaging, and selling commercially raised meat and eggs, Sharon emailed me directly. She was gathering her receipts, she said, and was certain the receipts mentioned in the bail documents were from her slaughtering receipts or receipts for the business she has selling to restaurants, private chefs, and...charities? I wonder why the assistant district attorney would lie about finding receipts that clearly showed she was buying meat, poultry and eggs from different venders and selling them as her own?

Sharon has also said that she buys these chickens to give to her employees. When asked how many employees she has, she said she has one part-time employee. Currently is seems she has none, as Victoria Bloch sent out this appeal to Los Angeles area WAPF members to volunteer at Healthy Family Farms. So did she buy the commercially raised chicken for her employee dinner of one, or for her volunteers who believe in local, sustainable, and ethically raised animals? What was the date of these dinners and charity events? What are the names of the charities? Would Sharon care to provide receipts of how many she purchased and from whom? After all, if she is doing her taxes she needs to keep records of these purchases so she can write them off for charity. But according to the state, she hasn't paid her taxes...?!?

She would probably also like you to know that she is a small farmer, a single mother, and that farming (ranching?) is very personal business. She said, "If you don't like one farmer, go to another one." Thanks, Sharon, I did that a long time ago.

Part 1 of 3. Part Two and Part Three

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Must watch video

This is a must watch video. I grew up in Marin County and am so proud that people are returning to farm practices that our grandparents knew best. Marin farmers are on the forefront of the locally produced food movement. I also had no idea that there was such nutrient dense food growing in MARIN!

Heritage breeds, pastured meats and eggs, oysters, and award winning cheese! Oh my. Strauss is an amazing dairy as well. Did you know that the cream top milk at Trader Joe's is from Strauss, as well as their European style yogurt? Swoon!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sharon Palmer Speaks

If you're anything like me, after watching this you have more questions than answers. Please write your questions in the comments here or on YouTube. Thanks.

And then, as Sharon says, please do keep shopping locally and at your farmer's markets, or Chipotle, if you wish! Be a part of the solution.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who has got the best eggs ever?

I like my eggs and eat them too.
A friend posted the recent Los Angeles magazine article today on my FB page guessed fresh EGGS! When the article came out, I was thrilled for the exposure for John and Nadine DeBruin.  But then my cohort at the Sunday MarVista Market and I were left scratching our heads a bit. SECOND???

John pastures eggs a la Joel Salatin method and currently has about 150 egg layers that follow the cows on pasture. Gama eggs has 2,000 birds on 1 acre of land. They are free range. John does not feed his egg layers soy feed. I am not sure what Gama feeds their birds.

I took my first good look at the actual picture of the eggs from the LA Magazine article today and got even more befuddled. The egg labeled #1 looks more like Dey Dey's eggs than #2, which is labeled with DeyDey's sister company that raises cattle. This is all so wierd.

So anyway, I posted my pictures of Dey Dey's eggs vs. Trader Joe's organic free range eggs for your perusal on my facebook page. Enjoy.

This past week Gama was not at Sunday Mar Vista, and with us having so few eggs to sell and the only other vendor selling out, people were scrambling for their eggs (yes, pun intended!). Ah, people after my own heart.

Gama will be back at the market next week... so have no fear. You can buy your farm fresh free range eggs.

I have an egg and photography addiction, and puttin' them together is making me giddy. Goodnight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why So Quiet?

I know, I haven't written much information lately of what I am continuing to learn about farms and farming and one farm in particular, HFF. Trust me when I say a lot is going on behind the scenes. Trust that the truth will be revealed in the end. For the moment, I don't want to spoil any of the information gathered or processes that are in motion.

For now, please keep shopping local, sustainable and at the Farmer's Markets. There are a hundreds of farmers and a few ranchers in LA that are doing it right. Please support them so they can keep feeding us.

Word on the street is Rawesome will be up and running if it already isn't. I don't know for sure, because I was never a member. But is seems to me good food will remain supplied in LA.

Go to the GOOD FOOD FESTIVAL starting TODAY! Hooray! It's about time people are waking up to good food and demand is outpacing supply. YES! Here is the directory of events if you are curious.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where's my Pastured Eggs?

John DeBruin of DeyDey's Best Beef Ever
UPDATE: September 21, 2011:
Dey Dey's Best Beef Ever was featured in LA Magazine this month because they did a "farm fresh egg test" and John's eggs came in 2nd. They used his commercial company name: California Lowline Cattle Company for some reason. You all know they are first in my book. To see the results, see this months article at L.A. Magazine or listen to this Good Food show on KCRW. For me personally, this is such validation that I am not the only one obsessed with finding the best farm fresh eggs. John is now selling out of eggs before we can even set up the booth at MarVista Farmer's Market. He is in 15 markets, people, so you can go to another one...maybe Saturday Sherman Oaks? Spread the Egg Lovin', aight?

Okay, folks, as if it wasn't hard enough to come by truly pastured eggs in all need to stop hoarding the eggs.

I worked at the farmer's market stall today to help give Rancher John a day at home on the ranch. The man works his patooty off and he still can't make enough LOCAL and TRULY-PASTURED eggs for us. What gives?

I got six measly eggs. I am not happy. You all bought my dang eggs!

Wah Wah Wah!

Seriously, though, I had the best time meeting the people who are seeking. Seeking better health, losing weight, gaining nutrition, gaining bone mass, gaining brain function and who are trying the best they can with their time, money and talent to feed themselves and their families well. And MANY of you are seeking better eggs. :)

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for caring about good food. Thank you for supporting the ranchers that do it right. Thank you for asking questions, and learning along with all of us what constitutes a real ranch and a real rancher. 

It seems to me that there is a shift after this past raid of Rawesome. Some people want to put what is broken back together again. Some want the f-ers to go to jail. Most want the government to let me decide what to put in my mouth, thank you very much.

And then there are the thousands of the rest of us, who just want to be able to feed ourselves and our family well with local food. Is that too much to ask?

No. It is not. Ask more. Put pressure on the farm fraudsters to go into another scam. Put pressure on the guys that do it well to do it better. Put pressure on the guys who do it the best to produce as much as they can and still be true to their SOIL.

My daughter and niece in the grass at DeyDey's Farm Tour.
May 2011 

The lowlines out on pasture at DeyDey's. You might want to try their beef, too. ;)

Put pressure on the government to let you eat the food that is the cleanest, healthiest, and purest.

Please do not whisper about HFF and Rawesome anymore. The information is out there if you really want to know. The information is out there if you really CARE to know.


Ask the other farmers and ranchers. Ask the farmer's market managers what they are planning on doing? Ask your foodie friends. Ask. Please. Just ask. And ask your questions below. I will answer them to the best of my knowledge.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Smoking Egg?

The smoking gun...Where there's smoke there's fire...THE SMOKING EGG??? You tell me:

Credit: Abbey Cat Chat Blog, May 2010, comparing Healthy Family Farms 'grass-fed' egg with store bought cage free, grain fed egg)

My opinion: This photo is very telling. This is photographic evidence of HFF egg quality before Aajanus' website came out and the first Rawesome raid went down. This was taken before Rawesome customers knew that at least one point they were sold outsourced eggs repackaged as HFF eggs. The yolk of the store bought egg, on the left, was darker orange in color, which in Weston A. Price Foundation circles is the gold standard of egg yolk nutrient density or content. The HFF egg, on right, was bright yellow. Although, it's yolk sac and white were more intact and clear which leads me to believe it was a fresher egg than the store bought version. In reality, it could have been a farm fresh egg (from which farm remains to be seen) but the hen was not getting the adequate nutrition required for a hen to produce an egg with a deep orange yolk.  

‎"Pale yolks indicate that hens are not getting sufficient green feed. Probably clover, vetch, rape, grass and other green feeds will all produce yellow yolks." 
--Profitable Poultry Production by M. G. Kains, 1910

Which leads me to another question: let's just say this was a Healthy Family Farms produced egg. How can they call it "grass-fed"? Is this not misleading to their consumers who probably relate "grass-fed" with truly pastured a la the Joel Salatin method? So many questions...this egg issue is frustrating indeed for a confused consumer. If you want to learn more, read all about it from Mother Jones. And hopefully soon I will come up with a consumer guide on what to ask for and look for when determining the quality of eggs you purchase from your farmer or farmers market.

Nothing compares to the deep, dare I say almost radioactive looking orange yolk of a truly pastured egg like Organic Pastures or Dey Dey's here in Southern Cali. Yes, I am passionate about TRULY grass-fed, free-range, pastured eggs!!!

While I'm at it, here are photos from Healthy Family Farms Facebook page 
the truly pastured egg operations of Organic Pastures and Dey Dey's Best Beef Ever who follow the pastured poultry practices of Joel Salatin. More on day...I hope...

Egg Comparison Poster courtesy of the Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter - Santa Barbara:

For more pictures and discussion on battery vs. organic vs. pastured egg comparisons, see this photo from Nourishing Our Children:

or this photo from Organic Pastures on Facebook. 

I rest my obsession with the HFF egg issue...for now.
I was honestly going to go to three different outlets and buy truly Pastured vs. store bought vs. HFF eggs and photograph them. But this past Sunday after obsessing about eggs all week, it didn't seem all that appealing. I went to one, bought my favorite eggs from Dey Dey's, and am now eating it fried with the Trader Joe's Free Range egg we had left over from last week. Guess which one is bright orange? Guess which one this nursing mama prefers for brekkie? This fabulous photo will be posted soon.

I figure people who care about the quality of their food and farmer's markets will fall into one of these three categories or shades between: 
1) Those who are HFF supporters and deny that Sharon could have done any fraudulent behavior.
2) Those who say, "What does it matter?" She is a small farmer, we've got bigger fish to fry.
3) Those who accept that HFF has participated in de-frauding their customers and are interested in preserving farmer-market-consumer integrity.

I still want to talk with the people from Hohberg, and also follow up with Laura Avery, the market manager from Wednesday Santa Monica who is checking into this story. I would even like to visit Healthy Family Farms, if they would have me. I haven't heard back you think I should drop by one of these days? For now my little ones want their mommy back and my husband wants his wife back from the land of obsession with eggs and food politics. If you want to really be political, you have to cook the foods you advocate, which has been a little lacking around here.

To be continued...for those who wait!!!


edited to add content about egg yolk debate: 11/20/11

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Egg-cellent Questions

Farm fresh eggs from Healthy Family Farms.
Edited for content: October 9, 2011

I have heard from a few friends regarding HFF farms products now. One says the liver smelled pastured to her, and the other says that the chicken tasted like any other pastured chicken she has eaten, which means it was probably tasty.

That's the thing...the products seem normal enough for a farmer's market product. In fact way better than any store bought battery egg or chicken. Heck, when I bought the eggs when we first moved to LA, they seemed good enough quality to me. Until I read Aajonus' website, and then doubt trickled in.

I am not the only one who was angered by the proclamations of Deputy District Attorney, Kelly Sakir, in the "Motion Regarding Source of Bail", nor am I the only one who has doubts about the authenticity of Healthy Family Farms products. It is coming close to a year now that these allegations have been swirling. I know Sharon Palmer and HFF employees are busy, but if they don't get busy showing their records and numbers...well, I don't have many numbers of consumers but it seems to me that people would be hesitant to buy. But then again, people are flocking to farmer's markets and what do they know of this saga? Where is the consumer protection for them?

Anyone who is interested in this story wants to hear from Hohberg Poultry Ranches. They have a website and are on Facebook, so they are social media savvy, yet they cannot seem to return emails or phone calls. If I don't hear from them soon, I will make sure I go visit them! If anyone wants to come with me, please email me or let me know.

Hohberg Poultry Ranches, Fontana and Ontario, California

Here is why we need to speak with the Hohberg's:
On the original website put together by a Southern California WAPF co-chapter leader, was a private letter from another local WAPF co-chapter leader describing her suspicions of Healthy Family Farms eggs. This letter was originally posted here but Farm Muckraker was asked by it's author to remove the letter. Loosely paraphrased: When asked about the possible outsourcing of eggs, a FM employee, Tina, said that Sharon told her she took the eggs to Hohberg's to have them washed. This co-chapter leader concluded that the eggs weren't outsourced.

Hohberg Poultry Ranches of Ontario are first mentioned in the investigative report:
"Approximately 5 or 6 months ago, there was a period of lower egg production at Nichols resulting in eggs not being available for sale through the retail store. At that time, Mr. Cisneros suggested Sharon Palmer try Hogbert Egg Farm in Fontana. Since that time, Sharon Palmer had not come back."

So who, then, are Chris and Christina? 
Victoria describes them as: "disgruntled former employees...two of our former market managers were let go for stealing (well, technically, one quit just before things hit the fan, and one was fired). They tried to extort additional money from the farm by threatening to get the farm in trouble if they didn't get a hefty severance package. We never told our customers why they left, because we didn't want to gossip; but clearly, they've headed down a lower road. What a shame – we've put that unfortunate situation behind us, and we're sorry that they have chosen to be vindictive. (And now we understand that they are letting people know that they left because of their concern over our "deceptive farming practices". What rot.)" in her original letter to HFF Customers. in the Fall of 2010.

Here is a testimony, in their own words, from Aajonus' website:
"Christopher and Christina Girard:
Subject: Healthy Family Farms And Rawsome Club Members Deceived For Years
As an interested party, I am forwarding this message to [Dr. Vonderplanitz]. This is the reason that Christina and I quit Healthy Family Farms. My family could no longer work and distribute products from Healthy Family Farms. Due to the fact that reporting this to you prior to having received your report, Christina and I could have been seen as just vindictive ex employee trying to damage my former employer. However, we did report it to the district attorney.
[Rawesome members and farmers’ market buyers] have been duped out of your hard earned money plain and simple. Test results show a 5 times higher than allowable level of Mercury in the eggs and Arsenic in the chickens. I will also encourage you to print this email and present it to the Farmers Market Managers and complain and encourage the managers to no longer allow Sharon Palmer and Healthy Family Farms to make a handsome profit at the Farmers Markets from pure deception and fraud. Christina and I thank you for all of your friendship and support.
I [Chris] took all of the photographs I sent you while my wife and I worked at Healthy Family Farms (HFF). As you see, Sharon Palmer had us repackage meats and eggs from commercial wholesalers as born, raised and layed at HFF as organic without soy. When we repeatedly complained about misrepresenting HFF products as organic, she fired us.
 HFF sold 523 chickens and game hens, and 18 ducks per week. Just at Hollywood Farmer’s Market alone, we sold about 12 pork rib racks. Customers would request things like organs etc. and we would not have them but would have 15-20 Racks of Lamb and 2-4 legs of lamb just on Sunday Hollywood Market. Since there were only a few pigs and one or no lambs at HFF, you can guess where Sharon bought the meat. The numbers of items sold on the chart on the freezer were weekly sales. Cases of eggs were 15 dozen per. Also Notice that the Hollywood Farmers Kitchen operated by SEE-LA (Hollywood FM Management) received 10 Large Chickens per week (Bottom of Picture just below "Hollywood" I would personally deliver the chickens to the kitchen. Let me know if you need more info.
Christopher and Christina Girard"

Did Sharon Palmer and James Stewart conspire to sell Rawesome customers outsourced eggs?

James words: "For your piece of mind, know that his claims regarding poor animal feed quality, negative laboratory testing results, alleged felony convictions, high temperature oil processing and huge profits are inaccurate and outlandish.

I have always been transparent and shared with everyone "exactly what I know” about the food represented in our club. If a food producer has lied, the minute those suspect items were proven to be false, they were removed from our club."

Notice James did not mention egg outsourcing. Notice his last sentence. 

From a conversations with those closest to this case, Sharon has admitted to buying eggs and repackaging them for Rawesome only. She said she had James' blessing to do so. The story goes like this: sometime in the year of 2009/2010 a mountain lion consumed a lot of the egg laying chickens. Sharon made arrangements with James to pick up eggs from other farmers. I cannot confirm if these eggs were repackaged as HFF, but it seems to me they were. She has admitted she only did this until she could raise more egg layers to support his co-op since she was only able to produce enough eggs for the Farmer's Markets.

Did Rawesome club members know that James and Sharon did this? I believe they found out after Aajonus' announced his suspicions. How did some of them keep buying eggs from Healthy Family Farms after the admitted fraud? I do not know. Here is word from an anonymous Rawesome member in an email to Aajonus: 
"I used to be a member of Rawesome Foods and agree with the concept behind what they stood for obviously.  I stopped shopping there about a year ago after you brought some important issues to light and after visiting HFF.  I definitely consider myself to have been “duped” regarding the eggs and was very frustrated (especially since I eat most of them raw) that I had taken Rawesome’s word for it.  I never liked the yellowness of the yolks (as opposed to the brighter, darker orange – a sign of a grass diet) or the way they poached (or didn’t).

I visited Healthy Family Farms during an “open house” on a Sunday and was extremely disappointed, even though I was bracing myself for a negative experience already.  The reps at the numerous farmer’s markets, HFF literature, and web info indicate that it is a grass/pasture based farm (i.e. Joel Salatin), as does Rawesome.  The farm is nothing of the sort as you know.  It reminds me of a petting zoo.  Since they have four open houses per year they can prepare to put their best foot forward each time and yet not one blade of green growing grass was available for any animal to consume.  They have permanent fencing and dirt “pastures” just piling up with bacteria.  The amount of nitrogen the animals are putting down is far too much for the soil to metabolize.  This kind of farming does not demand my food dollar.  For all the talk about James Stewart and Sharon Palmer working an “under the table” deal, did no other Rawesome leaders visit Healthy Family Farms and see this?"

Did James remove Sharon from the club? I do not believe so, because in the
"Declaration of Support of Motion Concerning Bail" Deputy District Attorney declares, "continued investigation, including an undercover buy made on May 18, 2011 at the food facility known as Rawesome, indicate that [Sharon Palmer] is still selling her illegal dairy products at that facility."
I do not have these answers, though, since I was not a Rawesome member. 

If buying eggs from someone else and repackaging them as coming from your farm isn't bad enough, how do we know what quality of eggs these outsourced eggs were? The investigators hired by Aajonus confirmed that at Nichols/Chino Valley eggs where Sharon was a known customer: 
"We saw commercial and organic eggs which were brown in color. The organic eggs were only being sold by the dozen at a cost of $3.50 per dozen. The commercial flats of eggs were sold at $1.99 per flat....We spoke with David Will, Steve Nichols General Manager. Mr. Will agreed to research invoices on Ms Palmer, but recalled that she had bounced a check on them and that he thought she was buying eggs from other companies.
He subsequently contacted us by phone and advised that Sharon Palmer had not purchased eggs from the company in at least six months. He confirmed that Ms Palmer was buying 10-15 cases of commercial (non-organic eggs), jumbo browns."

Victoria told me at my first WAPF-LA meeting that Sharon had apologized for this outsourcing. But it begs the question, is this the only time Sharon has done this? How do we know that not only did she not have enough eggs for Rawesome but for the Farmer's Markets as well? How do we know she didn't outsource eggs for the Farmer's Markets, as her former employee suggests? Surely Sharon would have known that outsourcing is against the rules of the farmer's markets. How do we trust that she will never outsource again?

And that, my friends, is the conundrum: trust.