The trial that put raw milk protestors on the streets of Minneapolis last spring finally got underway Monday in Hennepin County District Court. They say the man on trial is just a volunteer for a private food club that “serves to make a legal connection between farm food and city inhabitants.”
Defendant Alvin Alfred Schlangen drew Judge Robert M. Small to preside over the jury trial that will decide whether the soon-to-be-55-year-old Freeport farmer is guilty or not guilty on four misdemeanor charges of violating Minnesota’s food safety code.
Jury selection got underway Monday. Once the jury is chosen, the trial is expected to last three days.
Judge Small is a former U.S. District Attorney who was appointed to the district court bench in 2006.
Schlangen is an organic egg farmer who also operated the Freedom Farms Coop, which enlisted customers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul urban area to sign contracts for deliveries of farm products including raw milk.
“Alvin and other volunteers are part of a private food club that holds a lease on farm animals for food provisions,” Susie Zahratka, a food rights activist supporting Schlangen said in a press release. “The arrangement serves to make a legal connection between farm food and city inhabitants.”
Schlangen is accused of possessing and selling raw milk that he allegedly picked up at an Amish farm and delivered to his customers in the Twin Cities.
The jury trial that began Monday in Minneapolis was originally set to begin last May, but was postponed because a state witness was not available. According to the Minnesota Food Freedom Rally website, which helped organize the street protesters for Schlangen, the missing witness was the state lab expert needed to testify about the raw milk.
The state tried to get around the problem by getting Schlangen to stipulate to the facts to which the lab expert would be testifying, but his attorney refused and instead sought to have the trial delayed.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) sent Schlangen a letter in 2010 asking him to come in for a meeting.
Not only did that meeting trigger the four misdemeanor charges in Hennepin County, but the Freeport farmer also faces six misdemeanor counts in Stearns County, MN in conjunction with the June 2010 inspection of his farm. Among the violations found there were products kept at improper temperatures.
“The case the State is building against Schlangen dates back to June of 2010, when the Schlangen farm was searched following the raid and subsequent closure of the Traditional Foods Warehouse,” Zahratka says. “In 2011, the MDA inspected Schlangen’s farm vehicle without a warrant where the MDA then illegally seized food owned by the private food club. The food was valued at thousands of dollars.”
The way Zahratka see its, Schlangen is being “persecuted” not prosecuted. Women whose homes served as drop sites for the raw milk and other food products were among the protesters last spring and they may show up again before the trial is over.
Minnesota stepped up its enforcement of raw milk violations after non-pasteurized milk was associated with foodborne illnesses in 2010.
Schlangen was last in court in 2009 when he was ordered to pay $33,358.78 to Cashton Farm Supply, an organic feed supplier. That debt is now paid off.© Food Safety News