Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Sharon Palmers

Sharon Palmer of Healthy Family Farms, via Edible Ojai

Here is the story the Healthy Family Farms apologists would like you to hear. It is the same story I heard about a year or so ago: 
Two things from this lovely pastoral farmer profile that I would like to point out: 
1) Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia and hero of the real food movement (what, you haven't heard of him?) recommends in his book, You Can Farm, that as a new farmer it is wise to not keep pets because their feed bills add up and when you are getting any new business off the ground you need to cut out all unnecessary expenditures to ensure that your business will be economically sustainable and viable. Not that the act of rescuing isn't noble, but Sharon Palmer rescues many animals and that means more mouths to feed.

 2) "A longterm frustration for Sharon has been finding high-quality feed. For example, she believes soy to be much too challenging to a chicken’s digestive process to produce a truly healthy bird. After a long search she finally found a supplier that custom mixes her own soyfree, non-GMO recipe including high-protein whey and pea, flax, essential minerals, etc." This is the same long term frustration of many local animal farmers and ranchers, especially if they produce at the scale that she once did. If she has found a feed supplier that is doing all of these things than I am sure that that feed supplier would be a huge success and in demand amongst the local farming community. Unfortunately, no one can figure out the name and location of this supplier.

The second tale that hit my inbox yesterday paints a far more sinister image of Palmer, from a bonafide local news article:

This is testimony coming out of the Ventura District Attorney's case against Palmer, Stewart and Otting that paints a picture of Palmer as the main player in a scheme to bait others to help her buy her farm:

"Frank Huber, an investigator with the District Attorney's Office, described how criminals use a "straw buyer," an individual who lends his name and good credit rating on a bank loan application. A criminal also will use so-called "silent seconds," money concealed from bank officials and used as a down payment on the loan....The focus of Tuesday's testimony was how the bank loan was obtained. Huber said that in his opinion, duping the bank and in some cases not being straightforward with people about a business venture constitute real estate fraud."

Another important point for both myself and Palmer's apologists:
"Huber said his concern isn't about the farm operation but only about fraud that was committed.
"It was about being ripped off and a bank being ripped off," he said."
My concerns about potential consumer fraud at farmer's markets and apologists concerns that she is being targeted by "the powers that be" because she is independently providing food, specifically raw milk, outside of government regulation...neither of our concerns matter in this case. It is about real estate fraud.

My question to the Sharon Palmer apologists is thus:
How can you reconcile these two very different women named Sharon Palmer?
One wants to grow healthy food for her community, and
The other allegedly ripped off members of her community for her own gain: "He said the Hetheringtons were promised 12 percent interest on their $60,000 investment and were sent an unsigned promissory note through an email. ...
Investors allegedly weren't told that their money would be used as a down payment on the farm or that it would be concealed from bank officials.
Huber said none of the investors have been repaid. One investor, Michael Kirrene, testified he was promised 9 percent for two months on his initial $25,000 investment. Kirrene invested $125,000."

Take Home Points:
My intro to criminology teacher taught me a valuable lesson through countless examples:
"If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is." People have, can, and will try to scam you in this life. It is your obligation to protect yourself and do your homework.

What I have learned:
I would like to highlight that the Edible Ojai farm profile was written by Joanie Blaxter, who was at one time a WAPF co-chapter leader for Ojai/Ventura County (I cannot confirm the current status of the Ventura WAPF chapter as they are no longer listed as a chapter on the WAPF website). AnnMarie Michaels and Victoria Bloch are also Sharon Palmer supporters, and were both chapter leaders of the WAPF Los Angeles chapter when my curiosity in this matter began. Victoria Bloch is a current co-chapter leader of the Los Angeles WAPF chapter, and AnnMarie is a current co-chapter leader of the Las Vegas WAPF chapter.

I would caution people to learn how to source food from farmers and farmers markets on your own and not to take anyone's word for it, even, in all likelihood, the good intentioned WAPF chapter leaders. Like I keep promising, it is my goal to write a Farmers Market Consumer Guide. I promise to float it around to the knowledgeable farmers and farmer's market managers: the food producers and distributors that have helped me make sense of Sharon Palmer's claims versus farm reality and the very people and markets who will be hurt WHEN this story is made more widely public (It is not a matter of IF anymore). 

Caveat Emptor!


  1. Thanks Kristen. I love the point you make regarding Joel Salatin. When my wife and I visited HFF some time ago, it resembled more of a petting zoo to me than a working, profitable farm (let alone a rotational grazing farm). We have been to Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma and Afton Field Farm in Corvallis - both farms are truly pasture-based and structured like Polyface. The products sold at the farms match up with the "inventory" grazing in the pastures. I have read every one of Joel's books except for Family Friendly Farming (which I'll hopefully read soon). He is 100% transparent and actually WANTS people to duplicate his business. He tells everyone exactly where he gets his feed and exactly what is in his feed.

    1. Luke and Steph: I truly appreciate your viewpoint. The closest to the Salatin method we have in Southern Cali is Dey Deys best beef ever, and they do chicken and eggs. Although I have endorsed them wholeheartedly on this blog I cannot say I have made a thorough visit and intend to do that in the proceed of writing the farmers market guide. Would you want to join me? I would appreciate meeting you! I grew up near Petaluma do I would enjoy learning about Tara Firma farms!

  2. We would be happy to join you sometime if we can work it out. We actually went to Afton Field Farm for the intensive farm day with Joel Salatin back in August. While there we met a gal who was working at Dey Dey's at the time (she is no longer there). So we got to know the farm a bit but haven't made it out there yet.
    Joel will be at Tara Firma on 4/15 for a lunch, walk & talk from 12pm-4pm for $65. You can also view numerous videos of Joel and Tara at Tara Firma Farm on youtube.

  3. WOW! Thanks. It is rare that I meet someone who is egg obsessed and loves Joel Salatin as much as I do! I am seriously going to check out the videos and am looking into the Tara Farms Visit. Thanks so much!!!