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.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Challenge to Healthy Family Farms

I challenge Sharon Palmer, or anyone associated with Healthy Family Farms to post the video and images of the chicken run for the public to disseminate online. But that is not enough. We need evidence of number of chicks bought vs. chickens processed vs. number of chickens sold...each every farmer's market...for an extended period of time. Cold, hard numbers, please. If the farmer's market is going to request such numbers from you for eggs and chickens and turkeys, then please post it online for all to see. While we are at it, please post receipts for the feed that you use for both egg laying and meat chickens for at least 6 months or until you can gain your public trust back.  

That is true transparency.

The Rawesome/Healthy Family Farms Enmeshment History by aajonus

Aajonus Vonderplanitz, speaking in Los Angeles in the autumn of 2010. 
Photo by Jennifer Sharpe

From aajonus himself:

James Stewart and I discussed establishing a raw-milk outlet for people on my diet. We joined together and started the raw milk outlet from a one-car garage from coolers. James made arrangements for the garage and raw milk through my resources. I notified people on my diet. I organized the outlet into a members' club and eventually wrote the membership agreement. Rawesome grew exclusively from my client-base so James agreed that food had to meet my standards always as much as possible. I introduced James to my honey producer, John; it took me 4 years to convince John to cold-pack honey for my patients.
In 2001, James and I spoke over the phone several times with Mark McAfee who was interested in developing a raw dairy that he would call Organic Pastures Dairy (OPD). James agreed to distribute his raw organic all-grazed raw milk in Southern CA, mainly to Rawesome members. (Within a year the distribution extended beyond members to health food stores.) I agreed to help loan OPD/Mark money to make cheese from his milk. He accepted my loan that was to be repaid in one year. He repaid half within 4 years but has not paid the balance or interest. He has continually said he would but hasn't.

Several times and for a long period in 2002-2003, Mark's milk tasted bitter. Finally I called him about what he was feeding his cows beside grass. He had fed them rice bran. To acquire rice bran it must be at least heat treated and every rice mill that I know uses chemicals to dry and preserve rice bran. So even though the rice may have been grown organically, once it is processed it is no longer organic. We discovered that not only were OPD's cows not fully grass-fed, they were not completely organically fed. For about 2 years Mark removed the label stating organic but did not announce that he was feeding his herd commercial food. Nor did he change the company name to something other than "Organic" Pastures Dairy. I realized that no matter what, even in the world of health-minded individuals, people make unhealthy choices for convenience, profit and/or simply because sometimes we have no other choice.

In 2002, James Stewart began providing a product at Rawesome that was not food, as we had agreed. He sold and promoted a saltwater product for people to consume. Most Rawsome members at the time were my clients and people my clients referred to Rawesome, I was dismayed. I explained why saltwater was harmful and he responding crassly, "You don't know everything "Godjonus". I think it is a great product and I am going to carry it." Everyone who has consumed saltwater knows that it causes nausea and illness. I tried to reason with him by saying, "Just because you take an amount that does not cause those symptoms does not mean it is good for you." He got angry and more insulting so I let it be. The only way that he might see what I saw was to let him discover if it eventually harmed him and others. I let my clients know that if they wanted to experiment with it, it would likely cause problems. I warned James that bringing in a supplement would invite the FDA and governments into our club. I was not happy with it but I am not a fascist. People must have there experience.

Also in 2007 at home in Los Angeles, Venice, CA, Rawesome took on a major change. James Stewart treated me with not only disrespectful but disdain. He found a new goat's milk and cheese supplier, Sharon Palmer, and wanted me to protect her within RTCHF/Rawesome's umbrella. I spoke with her, her voice sounded disingenuous. I was reluctant to get involved with her. James was insistent so I did but told him he had to be responsible for the quality of the foods she produced for us. He had to assure me that they were the quality we wanted. He assured me he would. I made the contract, signed and sent it to Sharon Palmer. She never returned it. A year later after the government started harassing her for goat's milk and cheese violations, James asked me to help her. I told him that Sharon did not return the contract and was selling outside of Rawesome boundaries and there was nothing I could do.

In 2009, Palmer began producing eggs for Rawesome members. I asked James every time I saw him if the chicken who laid the eggs were fed soy and truly organically raised by Sharon. He assured me unequivocally they were and sometimes was annoyed that I frequently asked. I had to because the eggs were too uniform as if they were massively produced and proficiently sorted by size. That does not happen on small farms producing only several hundred dozen eggs weekly.

Talks about buying a members' farm evolved without me. James teamed with Sharon on the idea that if James could raise money from Rawesome members, they could buy a farm together and supply goat's products, eggs and meats (chicken, pork, lamb and duck). James asked me to get involved and I spoke with Sharon. Sharon had no interest in healthy food for herself. Therefore, her interest had to be other than health. She solicited with appeals to the emotions and dreams for members. She would do it for a Rawesome-family farm environment where all members could come and enjoy the place that produced their organic food. It was an excellent idea but Sharon wanted all of the power of the farm without any contract to bind her to producing organic foods the way I wanted them produced. She refused to sign a contract. She wanted everything to be based on verbal agreements. Little did we know at the time, but she was feeding toxic commercial feeds to the goats and chickens and telling us her milk, cheese and eggs were organic.

I object to carrying her products with James. He yelled and screamed at me. He had done that with many volunteers but never to me. I was shocked, embarrassed, angry and sad. My brother in Rawesome was betraying us by getting involved with someone who does not care about healthy food and has ulterior motives. Was it just money she was after, I wondered? I refused to support members involvement in the proposed farm with Sharon's "un"Healthy Family Farm. To me, the farms name was another misnomer.

Larry Otting and many other members asked me about getting involved in buying the farm. I advised everyone against it but they were enamored with a dream. Again and again, Sharon refused to or failed to agree to anything in writing as to how she would farm organically for us and what our organic standards would be.  James and other members were not business-like, nor diligent. The way money was raised, how it was turned over to Sharon, how she handled the farm and animals, nothing was in writing except a fraudulent deed.

The few times that I tried her "organic" chicken, I had problems with it. Once it was so salty from the outside in, it seemed as if it had been soak in brine (saltwater). I had a massive headache for about 20 hours. I get a headache rarely from dental problems (from radiation therapy years ago that dissolved bone around my teeth and damaged my teeth). That headache was not a dental problem. I brought it to James attention. He immediately got on the phone with Sharon and she assured him there was no salt involved. I knew she was lying because I could still taste the salt in my mouth. The next week the chicken was not salty tasting but I sent a sample to Doctors Data. The tests showed very high for sodium and told James. He called Doctors Data and inquired about the measurements. I had misinterpreted the measurements. It was not as high as I thought but still higher than organic chicken could be unless fed salt. So, even though that chicken had not been soaked in brine, salt had been fed to the chickens, against my standards. James screamed at me and said he did not mind that level of salt in the chicken and that I was full of shit.

Insults are the character of the person spouting them so I was not bothered by that but I was bothered by the fact that he was reckless with food quality. His complete control of food-quality was to accept whatever the supplier told him. Later, when emotions were calm, I confronted him on his attitude toward me. I asked him why he was so disrespectful toward me when I had never done anything offensive to him. He had no answer but said he would control himself better in the future.

In July 2005, an agent for the Los Angeles County Dept of Health Services trespassed onto Rawesome property and was told to leave. He did not have a warrant but refused to leave. He walked around inspecting members food and cited Rawesome for health violations. I immediately responded to the citation with a fax and certified letter stating that we were not open to the public and there jurisdiction failed. Five years passed before they returned.

On June 30, 2010, the LA County Dept of Health Services, FBI, FDA. CA Dept of Agriculture, Canadian Dept of Agriculture and LA Police raided with guns raised and pointed at the food. They confiscated thousands of dollars of Rawesome members' food and ordered the Club closed. We waited for them to file charges so we could finally take it to court immediately without having to wait for an outcome in civil court but they never charged James or me. I was traveling abroad but James called me and I was on the phone while the raid was still in progress. I returned three weeks early to deal with the situation. I asked James to produce testimonies from every volunteer who was present during the raid to initiate a lawsuit against all of the governmental agencies. I reminded him at least 11 times but he failed to have members write their testimonies. I asked for donation from members and thousands of other on my mailing list to help support a lawsuit against those agencies. My strategy was too wait for the statute of limitations on the raid to pass and file suit on June 28, 2011 but James prevented that from transpiring.

In July 2010, Los Angeles Building and Safety notified James and the owners of the Lot on which Rawesome functions to stop operations and vacate the premises. I was in the process of handling it but James went behind my back and got an attorney to mishandle the case and it is still unresolved a year later. James demanded that donations that I had collected for the lawsuit be used for the defense of the Lot. That was not the reason that I asked for the donations and I declined. James got furious and his attorney threatened to sue me for the funds. I said that he was welcome to try. As I picked up my food weekly at the club, James and I simply ignored each other.

In the Fall of 2010, I was having difficulty helping 3 particular patients who had suffered Multiple Chemically Sensitive. I was unsuccessful to abate their problems for the first time in years. My suggestions for their symptoms worked at least 80% of the time but now nothing I suggested worked and symptoms seemed to progress. I did not understand and felt miserable because I am often not just sympathetic but empathetic.

Concurrently, I was contacted by 4 people about the eggs and chicken from Sharon Palmer's HFF. Two of them had tested the eggs and chicken and found them high in contaminants only found in commercial food, including mercury. I showed the info to James and he got spiteful and angry, again. I sent an email to patients not to buy the eggs and chicken produced by HFF. I asked a patient/friend to send an egg and a chicken from HFF to a lab for analysis. Tests proved high in contaminants with one that did not show in other tests on HFF food, uranium. With such a variation of analysis of the supposedly the same animals producing the eggs, they should be very similar. That was the first evidence that the eggs were truly not from the same farm.

Two people who volunteered at Rawesome and helped raise funds for the farm and subsequently worked on the farm with Sharon for many months, called me and testified that they quite the farm because Sharon purchased commercial product and sold it to Rawesome as organically produced at HFF. They also stated that the feed for the goat's was commercial feed. They told me that they continued to work with Sharon because Sharon kept telling them she would buy organic next time, she could not afford it that week...and the next week... and on and on until many months later they quit; Sharon would not stop her fraud. They told James but James just yelled at them and did nothing about it. He even picked up eggs and chicken form the HFF where everything was revealed if he cared to look. The couple were so embarrassed because they had talked several members into giving money to a criminal like Sharon but hoped it would eventually work. Because I had warned them against investing in the farm with Sharon, they did not tell me until others exposed them first.

Larry Otting and I made arrangements to have the accusations investigated and witnesses formally interviewed by an investigative firm. The results of that investigation with photos are on I notified most of the Rawsome members from RTCHF database that was created for me by a volunteer at Rawesome. In January of 2011, James banned from the club members who exposed Sharon and him with HFF, including me.

Then came the events mentioned above on August 3, 2011, when the LA County Dept of Health Services, FDA, LA County Sheriff's Dept, and others raided, stole and destroyed about $40,000 worth of members foods. James Stewart, Sharon Palmer and Victoria Bloch were arrested.