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



    You have seen? They do make organic but not without soy/corn

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yes, I have seen that website. This mill is such a large mill it is impossible to know what was in that bag of feed. But if it was their organic feed, thank you for pointing out that even their organic feed has SOY and Corn in it. Healthy Family Farms markets their meat and egg products as containing no soy or corn in their feed.

    It is also unlikely that these bags of feed alone are used for all 2,000 or so of Healthy Family Farms chickens and turkeys. I can guess that it is used for either baby chicks or turkeys, but again, that is just a guess.