Something Wicked West Wind Comes...
Doesn't sound like a big deal? Well it is. Soon after this visit the police arrived with a warrant and seized his horses and dogs. It didn't matter that he called a local vet to publicly post a letter that all the animals were healthy and fine. It didn't matter that the person who he adopted the dog from also spoke on his behalf. All animals passed their hydration tests. Locals, farmers, and customers are rallying to support him because they actually know him, know the farm, and know the animals. Regardless of all this support - the government came and took away his property because someone felt the need to make this man, and his two son's and wife, life a living hell. Now the man is facing court, charges of abuse, and has had his animals taken away.
How did this happen? Some one called the authorities on him. I do not know who did this, but since his farm is in a more suburban/city area many suspect that a neighbor called Animal Control on him because his animals were "outside" in winter. Police came to his home and were allowed by Joshua to search his farm without a warrant. Why did he let them? Because Josh, like many of us raising animals up here, are students of farms such as Polyface, which welcomes guests to visit and see the farm for themselves. Josh felt he had nothing to hide and was proud of his farm. He should be. He had the bravery to leave his old job in construction and do the hard work of networking, marketing, and starting a CSA to support his family. And he is doing it based on grass-fed, outside, transparent methods - the kind of farming we desperately need in this county. And he is now on figurative thin
ice because of literal thin ice. His reputation, his business, his farm is now part of an animal right's witch hunt. The sad part is the people screaming at him with pitchforks and rope mostly have no idea what goes into farming at all. They are white noise.
I have had animal control called on myself once and it was like a punch in the stomach. I wrote about it my book Barnheart. A neighbor who knew absolutely nothing about livestock watched my animals while I visited my family for Thanksgiving. I came home to a note on my front door stating that my farm was deplorable because November rains had caused her to need to wear muck boots to feed the chickens (dirty) , the geese had just hatched a half dozen goslings (illegal breeding operation), and the three sheep were pooping on the grass several hundred feet above ground water (poisoning local resources). If you knew nothing about me at all and heard that a local farmer was raising animals in a dirty place, running an underground breeding operation and poisoning water you would think I was a monster. The officer came and ended up apologizing me me instead. He said my animals were all in fine condition, there was not a single violation, and if the person complained about me again they would be considered a public nuisance. I'll never forget how he explained to me that in his line of work he sees truly horrible things. He was angry that he had to drive out to my place on a Saturday, waste his time, taxpayer money, and ton resources based on one ignorant person with an agenda.
Listen, farming isn't an act of perfection. Some days are horribly hot and humid, others are bitter cold. Guess what? On those days us farmers are ALSO hot and humid or bitterly cold. We are the ones outside driving tractors to make ice breaks in streams and carrying buckets to animals when pipes freeze. WE are the ones making sure that there isn't a sign of discomfort or pain in the animals we care for. WE are the ones who put ourselves out there online, in blogs, and in farmer's markets to bring a life, story, and product we are passionate about to our communities. And doing that doesn't mean our farms have to look like the adorable little displays at the county fair to be legit or "ethical". Real farms have more going on than just a half dozen show hogs in the barn or a handful of hens in a heated, painted, coop. Real farms care about things like body condition, hydration, infections, and consistent care. Joshua runs a real farm. Don't go to it and expect to see Martha Stewart's barn. Go to it and expect healthy animals, scrappy conditions, and a family starting a business of good food in a culture where reputation and community ends all.
Here is what is going to happen to Joshua and his family. His court date on the 24th will be full of supporters and friends. The charges will be dropped. His business will grow in support and appreciation. I have reached out to him as have so many local farmers in our area. And even though this is a horrible thing to suffer through, the silver lining is that hundreds of locals who care about ethical food and small businesses will now know about another producer in the area. He is getting a lot of attention, and he should. And it is important that those of us out there raising animals rally to support each other in such times. So reach out on Facebook, twitter, and his blog. If you can go to the hearing, go. All of us are in this together. And while I think good farms with transparency will win in the end, for the now, don't let anyone EVER search your property without a warrant. Have a local ag lawyer's number on hand, and keep your chin up.
Keep farming Josh. We've got your back.
Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and The Calvary Group. Both are stopping the overreach of government and extremists from infringing on Constituntional rights to farm, own animals, and raise good food.
photo of cattle is from Josh's website.