“EAST BLUE HILL, Maine — Officially, her name is Sprocket. But Dan Brown has a tongue-in-cheek moniker for the 4-year-old cow at the heart of his legal problems with the state of Maine: Troublemaker.
Sprocket, it turns out, isn’t just part of Brown’s dairy operation at Gravelwood Farm, a small family farm on Blue Hill peninsula, but the entire operation. She is responsible for every ounce of milk that makes its way into the Brown family’s coffee and cereal. What the Browns don’t use, in some cases, is sold as bottled milk, butter and cheese made from raw or unpasteurized milk.
“I got this cow to have milk here for us, so that we have milk,” Brown said one recent cold and rainy December morning while standing in the barn on his family’s 70-acre property. “If I have some extra, we do something with it.”
It is those “extra” sales that have sparked Brown’s legal troubles with the Maine Department of Agriculture, which contends that Brown needs a license to sell raw milk because of the potential health risks of unpasteurized dairy products. But to the dismay of state agriculture officials, Brown’s case is attracting national attention from groups and individuals who view it as proof of governmental bias against family farmers and in favor of big agribusiness.
“A lot of people are watching the case around the country,” said Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a Virginia-based organization that has signed on to help Brown defend himself in court if the case gets that far.
The state has levied three complaints against Brown in Hancock County Superior Court, accusing him of selling milk without a distributor’s license, selling unpasteurized milk without a label and selling food without a license.
Brown retorts that calling a small farmer with a single dairy cow “a distributor” is preposterous. He also takes shelter under a “food sovereignty” ordinance adopted by Blue Hill residents earlier this year that he says gives him the right to sell directly to friends and neighbors without the government’s involvement. Four other Maine towns have adopted similar ordinances seeking to exempt from government regulation farmers who sell directly to consumers….”