“A Santa Paula farmer at the center of a raw-milk prosecution in Los Angeles says she did not sell unpasteurized products to the general public without a license.
Sharon Palmer, owner of Healthy Family Farms, is charged in a felony indictment with being part of a criminal conspiracy to produce and sell unlicensed raw milk and related dairy products in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
“I have always been licensed for what I sold to the public. Always,” Palmer said Monday as she walked around the farm where she raises chickens, sheep, pigs and cattle. “I never sold milk. I only sold cheese.”
She believes she’s been targeted as part of a wider government effort against people who want to control their own food supply.
The government is cracking down on operations like Palmer’s that are considered herd shares, where several people split ownership of goats or cows because an animal’s owners can legally drink its raw milk without state inspections. The California Department of Food and Agriculture argues that herd shares must be licensed and inspected by the state, according to Steve Lyle, spokesman for the agency.
The crux of the agency’s position is that herd-sharing arrangements, where milk is distributed off the property, is a commercial distribution subject to state law, and authorities must make sure the food is safe.
“It’s not just about me. It’s happening all over the country,” Palmer said. “I am very, very hopeful that this will become apparent that this is government abuse.”
Palmer was arrested by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 3, acting on a warrant issued out of Los Angeles County.
“At 6:30 in the morning, six sheriff’s deputies came to my door. They were kind enough not to handcuff me in front of the kids,” said Palmer, a single mother of three teenagers.
She spent six days in custody before being freed on $60,000 bail. At her Aug. 10 arraignment in Los Angeles, she entered not-guilty pleas to nine charges against her.
Her co-defendants are James Stewart, who operates the private club Rawesome, and Victoria Bloch, who helps Palmer with her website and farmers market sales. They also were arrested Aug. 3, at Rawesome in Venice. They also pleaded not guilty at their arraignments.
“This is really about freedom and our freedom as citizens. All people are doing is trying to get healthy food,” said Ajna Wilson, an attorney for Stewart….”