Big Brother in Your Backyard

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
–Martin Niemöller 

While browsing the internet lately I ran across this famous quote by a German Protestant Pastor. He was imprisoned for seven years in a Nazi concentration camp after speaking out publicly in opposition of Hitler. As I sat and thought over this, I saw how this quote held true for the small farmer as well. Times are changing, the political ring in our nation is on fire. American heritage, cultural traditions and core family values are slipping away so fast many don’t even realize it is happening. Nowhere is this more true than on the family farm.

Andrew and I had just finished watching the nightly news when I found this quote. One of the features that night was on the proposed Federal regulation restricting child labor on family farms. The Tennessee state House has just voted against enforcing this law as it is currently written. After mass disapproval from family farmers, as well as farm groups, the Labor Department has agreed to take another look at the bill, and add exemptions for those children whose parents own or operate the farm. The theory behind this bill is that children can be protected from serious or deadly accidents by the government restricting their access to dangerous on-farm activities. But who is to say what is dangerous, and how will this be enforced?

With three young children in the house we are of coarse concerned about this bill. While protecting children is certainly a noble goal, I wonder what makes the federal government think they can do a better job at that by passing a law than I can as these children’s mother? We wonder, what will be next? If we do not fight against a child labor bill on family farms what will we loose next time? I’m sure you have heard the saying “Give a mouse a cookie and he’ll ask for a glass of milk.” Just how much will that glass of milk cost us? 

This bill is not the only matter we have seen lately that gives us concern. Lets talk chicken. The last few years have seen a huge boom of interest in backyard chickens. Unfortunately, when urban people began bringing home their cute little egg makers they ran into a problem. Chickens were prohibited! Many neighborhoods have successfully fought these rules and won. Still, many more out there find that they are not even allowed to own a hen, and certainly not a flock of hens with a rooster! 

The most recent case which incidentally, has NOT made national news, is that of Andrew Wordes from Roswell, GA. Mr. Wordes died on March 29th after a four year struggle with local officials over backyard birds. The official cause of death, suicide. In 2008 a disgruntled neighbor filed a complaint against Mr. Worde for keeping backyard birds. His small flock included chickens and button quail. Roswell had a city code which specifically allowed property owners having less than two acres of land to raise chickens and swine. When his case came before the judge, it was dismissed. Unfortunately for Mr. Worde, this apparently upset several city officials. What happened over the next few years was unimaginable. Mr. Worde was repeatedly fined, cited, and even arrested on several occasions for absurd reasons such as his home being a city nuisance and having to many cars parked on his property at one time. Several more times complaints against Mr. Worde were dismissed by the judge. When the city changed the code regarding chickens and swine to limit the number to six animals, the local judge stated that Mr. Worde would be grandfathered in since he had owned his property and his birds for several decades. 

Mr. Worde’s property became severely damaged when the city failed to maintain storm water infrastructure near his property which resulted in flood damage to his home and land. The city then refused to file FEMA paperwork for Mr. Worde to receive assistance in repairing his property. When he then attempted to repair the damage himself by grading his land, he was fined for doing so without a permit. This vendetta continued with an increasingly alarming viciousness. Mr. Worde’s birds were poisoned, his home vandalized, all of his guns, ammunition and valuables stolen, and eventually his home fell into foreclosure when he ran out of assets to take. On his last day, Mr. Worde sat alone in his empty unlivable home while the authorities closed in on him outside. With Fulton County Marshals raiding his property, Mr. Worde made a final phone call to a television reporter asking them to come to the scene and have the marshals leave the property. Moments after they left, there was an explosion from inside the home which destroyed the property and killed Mr. Worde. All of this over a backyard bird citation. 

While you may make the argument that in urban areas neighbors may be disturbed by a rooster crowing, what about tomatoes? Yes, tomatoes. How can growing tomatoes or peppers in your flower bed pose a danger or threat to anyone around you? Even these activities can get you fined, or even arrested, in some areas these days. In July 2011, Julie Bass was threatened with 93 days in prison for growing tomatoes in her front yard in Michigan. Mrs. Bass front yard had recently been dug up during a sewer line project. She was left with a yard full of dirt, and innocently thought that a small family garden would be a better use than grass seed for that area. The Oak Park city planner threatened to imprison Mrs. Bass if she did not immediately dig up her veggies claiming she was in violation of a city code that read “all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass, shrubbery, or other suitable live plant material.” City planner Kevin Rulkowski argued that “suitable” was defined as common, and that vegetable gardens in the city were not common. What could be more suitable than growing vegetables for your family? 

Last fall Rawesome Foods, a natural foods co-op in California, was raided by the L.A. Country Sheriff’s department, FDA officers, the Department of Agriculture, and the CDC. These groups came in “SWAT style” with many wearing helmets and riot gear carrying weapons as they hustled into to the store and demanded that all customers leave the premises. After questioning James Stewart, the owner, Mr. Stewart was handcuffed without being read his rights, and then placed into an un-marked car. The hoard of government “enforcers” then proceeded to pour milk down the drains, confiscate all cash assets and computers in the store (both store owned and employee owned), and destroy tens of thousands of dollars in cheese, melons, and other natural foods. He was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime for offering products in his store made from raw milk. Raw milk is currently legal for purchase (through varying laws) in 39 of 50 states, California being one of the few that allow retail sale of raw milk products. Here in Tennessee, raw milk must come from your own animals, or through a herd share with another farmer. Sale of raw milk for consumption is prohibited here. An attempt to legalize raw dairy failed in the Tennessee state House in 2003. Though you are legally allowed to consume your own milk produced from animals on the farm, there is no law allowing or protecting you if you process that milk into other products such as cheese or butter. Wondering if raw milk is legal in your area? Check out this map to find out! 


It is easy to hear these things and think: I don’t own a public store. I don’t have backyard birds or a vegetable garden in the city. Perhaps you live in the country, with 100 acres of open pasture where livestock peacefully graze. Maybe you simply have a five acre hobby farm. Or an orchard and bee colonies. These stories do not apply to you, they do not affect you in any way, right?

Martin Niemöller would disagree with you. He would say, these things have everything to do with you. Remember, if you give a mouse a cookie he asks for a glass of milk. Before long all he will be able to get is a nutritionally dead, hormone laced, homogenized and pasteurized product from a commercial cow raised on antibiotics and concrete. 

First they came for the raw dairy, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a dairy farmer.
Then they came for the chickens, and I did not speak out–
Because I did not own chickens.
Then they came for the organic produce, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not an organic producer.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Published on Apr 12, 2012

Grit Magazine

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