Friday, April 13, 2012

Animal Farm

It's not even a riddle in my mind. First came the eggs, and then the chickens who lied about them. And in the Ventura County case against raw dairy advocates Sharon Palmer and James Stewart, first came the verdict, and now finally... a public trial.

Innocent until proven guilty is just a myth in this land. And in its courts, “burden of proof” has become a crisis of faith. But don't look to the Ventura County District Attorney's office to explain why. After 18 months of fruitless investigation, god-knows how much in wasted taxpayer dollars, and three full days of useless time and testimony in court by six separate witnesses, the prosecution has proven very little in the March preliminary hearing on conspiracy charges against raw milk-man James Stewart and farmer Sharon Palmer. With 38 felony counts from which to choose, each related to allegations of defrauding farm investors, all that’s proven so far is this: A) Ventura County officials have no case; B) They apparently don’t care that they have no case; and C) They must therefore be pursuing some agenda outside that of the reasonable, albeit abstract, People.

If you’ve not yet read the full complaint, but would like to do so, you may by clicking here.

And now that you are somewhat familiar with the game and all its players, here is a fourth-grade level summary of the undisputed facts: Sharon Palmer is a farmer. In 2008, she needed help building up a farm. She and James Stewart and Larry Otting were all members of the same small health food community. By way of that community, various would-be investors learned of the opportunity to help Palmer build up the farm. With the aid of financial support from those investors, the farm (known as Healthy Family Farms LLC) was built and is currently operational, worked by Palmer and other dedicated volunteers. Still waiting for the nefarious, sordid plot to thicken? Me too...

What follows is a more comprehensive, albeit still very common sense, series of observations by this former Rawesome member on how the aforementioned chicken-and-egg game has played out so far in Ventura County court. On offense, we have Chris Harman of the Ventura County District Attorney's office and related investigators, and on defense, Sharon Palmer of Healthy Family Farms and James Stewart of Rawesome Foods.

(All photos were taken in March 2012 at Healthy Family Farms and are posted by permission.)
Behold, in my hand, an actual chicken egg, from an actual chicken,
actually present at Healthy Family Farms in Santa Paula, CA.

Perhaps you are rightly wondering already, as I am after weeks of scratching my head... If the farm exists (which it does) and still generates revenue (which it does), how could the investors possibly have been defrauded? One answer might be that they haven't. See, Palmer still is (and never hasn’t been) working to repay them. In fact, she might have had them repaid already, if it weren't for all the unwarranted attacks on her business over the years, including ruthless and unyielding slander campaigns by other community members, as well as repeated government raids on the farm which have resulted in extensive property destruction and/or seizures - all of which she has steadfastly endured.

At the hands of both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties together, Palmer has endured either a raid on the farm or a personal arrest, every year for the last five years, beginning on December 18, 2008 - just a few short weeks after the farm was finally up and running. Ventura County, she’s said, effectively put her out of the cheese business (which had been a significant chunk of her revenue) by calling every farmer’s market telling them she was not licensed. It wasn’t until two years later, she said, that they finally acknowledged that she actually had been licensed and dropped the felony charges against her to a third level misdemeanor. “They have spent millions raiding and arresting me for the last five years,” even after the (essentially coerced) ultimate dismantling of the farm’s dairy, Palmer said.

While difficulties like these would certainly lead to financial setbacks for any business owner, if hypothetically unsympathetic investors were unhappy with an extended repayment timeline, even now, plenty of options still remain for them to collect what's owed. Testimony revealed that Palmer has always been up front with investors, letting them know that she was (and still is) due to receive proceeds soon from a recent legal settlement which would more than cover what she owes them. If nothing else, I'd say this speaks directly to her intent NOT to defraud anyone. After all, how can it be her fault if the distribution of those monies is delayed by the legal system?

According to evidence presented in court, her negotiations with investors also included other remedies, such as interest penalties and even ownership options on the farm itself. And wouldn't any of those options - or even civil litigation - make more sense for everyone involved than going straight to felony charges in criminal court? It’s worth noting, by the way, that not a single investor has ever resorted even to civil litigation in efforts to reclaim their funds. That would seem to indicate many of them are not bothered by the extended repayment timeline. Some have indicated they are actually baffled themselves by the charges, while a few have reportedly even gone so far as to contribute to funds raised for Palmer's bail bond in Ventura County.

In truth, all criminal charges can accomplish for investors in this case is to further impair Palmer's ability to repay, and thereby perhaps even put Healthy Family Farms out of business. But maybe that is exactly what Ventura County has in mind... and wouldn't that then make the government liable to investors? Perhaps investors would do better to consider taking up suit against Ventura County, for interfering with their ability to recollect their invested funds... In the same way, former Rawesome members might do well to bring a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, et al. for the illegal destruction of their private property, i.e. raw dairy and other foods.

So what sort of predatory, malicious actions by a farmer and a milk man could possibly warrant 38 felony counts against them? The prosecution's lame conspiracy claims seem to hinge on the idea that Palmer ought to have disclosed to investors that co-defendant-turned-witness-for-the-prosecution Larry Otting, would hold title to the land on which the farm was to be built, despite the fact that they presented zero evidence to demonstrate that Palmer had ever led anyone to believe that she herself would hold title.

It appears to be an important point only for prosecutors, however, because according to investors (via both direct and hearsay testimony), they never thought to ask who would own the property. And that's not really surprising, is it?  Why would they? It seems clear they understood their funds were going to help build a farm, and build a farm they did. What difference does it make who owns the land on which the farm operates? Would it matter to you who owns the building where your favorite boutique has been doing business now for many years? Does it matter to you who owns the equipment your contractor leases to assist him in his work?  

"[The investors] all made inquiries about the nature of the business, but not about the nature of ownership in the land, because they didn't care," argued Palmer's attorney, Matt Bromund. "They didn't ask, because it didn't matter."

But the Ventura County DA would have you believe that Palmer misused funds collected by those investors in other ways too. Under oath, DA Investigator Catherine Mano referenced bank transactions and small purchases made from vendors like Circle K and Gamestop, implying that items purchased there had nothing to do with farming. It doesn't take an attorney to point out, however, that vendors like these might just as probably sell bottled water (which could be used on a farm in any number of ways) as soon as anything else. In one of the more entertaining moments of the hearing, Bromund deftly cornered Mano's otherwise seemingly flighty reasoning in the following exchange:

MB: You mentioned that on 15 September 2008 that in your review of the bank records for Healthy Family Farms, that you noticed purchases made from the account for Circle K, Gamestop... Is that your recollection?
CM: Yes.
MB: Were there any other purchases made from that account during that time frame, that week?
CM: Yes.
MB: Purchases for animal feed?
CM: I remember seeing that, thinking back, there was an egg carton purchase. I can't say for sure there wasn't feed purchased at that time
MB: Your investigation revealed that the production of eggs is one of the business operations of Healthy Family Farms, LLC?
CM: Not specifically, but I know that Ms. Palmer is operating a farm on the property.
MB: You know that that farm involves chickens?
CM: Yes.
MB: And you know that those chickens lay eggs?
CM: (pauses awkwardly amidst spectator giggles) Yes.
MB: So when you saw the egg carton purchase on the account for Healthy Family Farms, what did you think of that purchase?
CM: That is was being used somehow to handle the eggs.
MB: For the business?
CM: I don't know what goes on at the farm, but that is what I thought.
MB: On direct testimony, though, you mentioned the purchases at Circle K and Gamestop.
CM: Yeah.
MB: But those weren't the only purchases made during that time period, were they?
CM: No.
MB: So why'd you pick those two to tell today here at prelim and not the other?
CM: Because that $25,000 was supposed to be used to purchase the property and go into escrow, but it was not.
MB: That's a good point... Now, the $25,000 investment at issue here was from who?
CM: Mr. [Michael] Kirrene.
>> (( ...omission of extraneous detail regarding Mr. Kirrene... )) <<
MB: Now you were here for his direct testimony, weren't you?
CM: Yes.
MB: And you recall him saying that he invested to help the farm, right?
CM: I don't recall that specifically.
MB: If he'd said that would you have any reason to doubt his veracity in stating what he made his investment for?
CM: No.
MB: Your investigations revealed no reason why Mr. Kirrene would attempt to mislead you as to why he made his investment, right?
CM: That's correct.

In fact, Mr. Kirrene was quite clear in his testimony, stating that his investment was intended for the express purpose of helping the farm get started. And when asked by Bromund as to what may have caused him to believe his funds might be intended for a down payment on the land, his response was plain: “I made an assumption,” he said. Therefore I, quite frankly, do not believe Mano when she says she doesn’t recall what was said; that is, unless what she means by the remark is that she wasn’t paying attention to his testimony. In my opinion, after all, most of the demonstrated contents of the prosecution’s investigation in this case appears to be the direct result of very organized efforts in failing to pay attention.

So how does one manage to convert a happy, patient investor into an upset, victimized elder in this particular scenario, in which unhappy investors appear to be in short supply? Perhaps Ventura County investigators asked themselves the same question and then took it upon themselves to do the proselytizing.

As evidence of this, I offer testimony by Ventura County DA Investigator Frank Huber, of the real estate fraud unit, who plainly contradicted himself during cross examination. When asked by Palmer's attorney Matt Bromund whether he himself ever told investors during his interviews with them that they were never going to be repaid, Huber's response was, "I would never say never. I tell people that it's my experiences a lot of times full restitution is never made in a lot of our investigations."

Hmm. I wonder how any of us would respond if a government investigator approached us and informed us we had been the unwitting victims of fraud and, sorry dupes that we are, we were likely never to be repaid. My first guess is that most of us would believe the government official, simply because we perceive them to have authority over us. So now any story told by the government is accepted as truth simply because its source is the government? What a shame. What a sad moment for all our civil liberties. My next guess is that we might seek moral restitution in place of that supposedly unattainable financial restitution (i.e. ensuring the party who deceived us was unable to deceive anyone again), and we might, therefore, feel some earnest personal responsibility, beyond legal obligation, to help prosecutors in their criminal investigation, believing the whole time, of course, that what the government told us about never being repaid was really true.

But what if the government’s claims about Palmer later turn out to be wrong? Unfortunately, though we may not actually have been scammed by a farmer, instead we would now have been successfully scammed by the government... And if the scenario involves an investor who’s, say, older than 65, then it’s the government who becomes the clear perpetrator of crimes against the elderly. And who is holding them accountable for such offenses?

As Bromund stated in his closing argument, "[Palmer] never said, 'I'm not going to repay you.' She never said, 'You're not going to get your money.' No, it took investigator Huber to say that. And he said it was fraud from the outset. And his position was so absolutely closed off and deterministic, that this court ought to question whether he followed leads to a reasonable conclusion to present this court with true evidence.... [The investors] have available civil remedies, and none of them - none of them - were so concerned about the state of their investment that they initiated a single civil lawsuit. None. That has to be proof to this court that these people were acting reasonably and were reasonably content that they weren't the victims of grand theft until Investigator Huber implanted that seed in their minds."

Another seed the prosecution is trying to plant in all our minds, it seems, is their twisted interpretation of Palmer's actual criminal history. To make their assassination of her good character complete, they would have us all believe that one of her secret hobbies is stealing money from old people. Unfortunately, past convictions do make the truly good-hearted Palmer an easy target for prosecutors in this case, but it is unfair to take them so entirely out of context. Further investigation into Palmer's previous convictions, however, reveal that it was Palmer's husband - and not Palmer herself - who was the principal in those crimes. To get back home to her kids, a probably very intimidated Sharon Palmer likely did what any single mom and full-time farmer would have done in her shoes, even if it meant admitting guilt where she had none. A simple conversation with Palmer herself would uncover as much. But the prosecutor and investigators don't seem to care about what really happened - not enough, apparently, to investigate anything that might contradict what they allege to be true. And that, in my mind, is the definition of criminal negligence.

Rather than admit what a poor job they’ve done of investigating, however, the Ventura County DA has said that Palmer should have told her investors about her past convictions, because it might have influenced their decision to invest. They say she misrepresented the facts. Palmer’s attorney argues, though, that her prior convictions are unrelated to her abilities as a farmer, which is what really mattered to investors, as indicated by their visits to the farm prior to investing. Bromund cited Exxon and Sears as examples, stating that they’re not accused of defrauding anyone when they run commercials that fail to indicate their past financial crimes convictions. “It doesn’t come out because it’s not material,” said Bromund. If Palmer never misstated the fact of her convictions when asked by investors (and she didn’t), he said, then it’s not a misrepresentation of fact. Bromund contends the prosecution’s standard of material misrepresentation of fact is an impossible one. It would be nice, he said, in our current society of lifelong records, if people were able to anticipate what any given person may want to know about any given subject at any given time, but it’s just not realistic.

This criminal case should be dismissed, Bromund said. Yes, Palmer is still working to make good on unfulfilled promises to compensate her investors, he admitted, but at best, she should be held accountable to them in civil court.


I expect James Stewart will forgive me for comparing him to this rather large wild animal made famous by the circus, because the reference may help us all to see what we’re really dealing with here - the modern day circus act of court room theater. I draw the comparison because, if you’ve forgotten about Stewart of Rawesome Foods in all this nonsense, you’re not alone. Even the prosecution seemed to have forgotten about him. I could probably count on one hand the total number of times they even mentioned his name. In all honesty, much like that aforementioned elephant, his mostly unacknowledged presence in the courtroom was pretty awkward to those of us observing the proceedings.

In fact, the limited “evidence” offered by prosecutors pertaining to Stewart’s involvement in an alleged conspiracy, really only helped to demonstrate that Stewart had nothing at all to do with the farm’s business operations or financial interests. Co-defendant Larry Otting testified that Stewart introduced him to Sharon Palmer, but all three were members of a small, tightly knit health foods community. So, big woop. That’s like my boyfriend finally getting to meet my best friend because we both attend her birthday party... So then what if we bring her a gift too? Will we be hung for concealing it from her with festive packaging?  

Michael Kirrene, an investor whose wife had learned of the opportunity to help the farm through the community (many of whose members, like her, also shopped at Rawesome) had testified that, when he approached Stewart for insight into documents related to his negotiations with Palmer, Stewart told him exactly what he’s been telling everyone for years now - that he didn’t know anything about it and wasn’t involved in any way with the farm’s business dealings. Nonetheless, DA Investigator Frank Huber said under oath that Stewart's actions equate to what he calls the “sales pitch” in real estate fraud. And so, take note that it is now apparently a crime to network within your own community... Your best friend is just going to have to spend her birthday party utterly alone.

There was just one other piece of slightly more controversial “evidence” offered by the prosecution - a flyer on helping the farm, which contained the names of both Palmer and Stewart as contact persons. But because the source of the flyer was never identified (Stewart will tell you he knows nothing about it), presiding Judge Mark E. Borrell accepted it into evidence on the condition it apply only to the state of mind of the investors when they were allegedly duped out of investment monies by conspirators. During closing arguments, however, the judge revisited discussion on that flyer, indicating that it could be considered sufficient evidence of probable cause against Stewart. Interestingly, however, this discussion came after the prosecution admitted it had not proven 10 of the 40 overt acts alleged in Counts 1 & 2, which were related to these “solicitations”, and the court had them stricken. (For those of you paying close attention, those stricken overt acts were 2, 3 ,8, 9, 13 and 29-33.) So for my part, I don’t quite follow how the judge legally gets from admitting evidence on a limited “state of mind” condition, to striking it from the record, to referring to it later as sufficient evidence for probable cause... Can he do that?

In the spirit of that inquiry, perhaps this is an ideal time to address another perplexing topic - what appears to be the blatantly and disturbingly biased and unjust treatment against Stewart by Ventura County DA investigators and prosecutors. Based on the evidence (if we can even still call it that) of the flyers, which both the DA and the judge seem to agree are sufficient to establish probable cause against him, I’d like to remind everyone that Stewart’s and Palmer’s names weren’t the only names appearing on such flyers. In fact, there was another... that of Mr. Thomas Elliot, whom DA Investigator Catherine Mano testified played an active role in helping to raise money for Healthy Family Farms. Mano stated that during her investigation, farm investors Susan Hagemeister and husband Mark Martin told her they spoke, not with Stewart, but with Elliot, to get more information on helping the farm. Mano testified that Hagemeister had received a flyer in relation to a Wise Traditions conference she had attended in November 2008, where, according to Mano, "a man who she did not know made an announcement to the people that were there, saying that there was a small farm in California that needed investment monies". (No evidence was ever presented, by the way, on who that mystery man was.) The exchange between Mano and DA prosecutor Chris Harman continued...

CH: Did they try and contact anybody to talk about this?
CM: They told me that there were two numbers on the bottom of the flyer, listed as contact numbers to call if you wanted to invest.
CH: Okay, so did Mrs. Hagemeister tell you who she called?
CM: She and Mr. Martin told me that they had both contacted Mr. Thomas Elliot.
CH Did Mrs. Hagemeister tell you that she spoke with Mr. Elliot about this transaction?
CM: Yes.
CH: And did they come to an agreement with Mr. Elliot about this transaction?
CM: They did not.
CH: Well, what was the next step after they talked with Mr. Elliot?
CM: They told me that they spoke to Mr. Elliot and he explained to them that there was a farm that needed assistance and that he had done business with Sharon Palmer, and that they contacted Sharon from the number on the flyer.

Now, before I say anything more, please don’t mistake me; I believe this entire case to be a ridiculous farce and a merciless attack by a corrupt and power-drunk government on folks who are just trying to grow and produce healthy high-quality foods for themselves and their community. I do not believe there is a conspiracy to be uncovered here at all. And how can there be, when prosecutors have not proven any crime ever took place? But if we are to hold the prosecution to its own evidentiary standards, then by all accounts, should not Thomas Elliot also be named as a defendant? Instead, he is named by the prosecution as a “victim” in this case - presumably because he also contributed monies to help the farm, but for that matter, according to facts presented in court, so did defendant Larry Otting. So if the prosecution has found no grounds for charging Elliot in this case, then neither should they be charging James Stewart.

By the prosecution’s own admission near the end of the hearing, they were unable to prove 10 of the 40 overt acts alleged in Counts 1 & 2 and, as stated above, had them stricken from the record. It’s a shame they couldn’t bring themselves to admit to not proving all the 38 counts in their entirety. What they did do, however, is the kind favor of demonstrating for those of us in attendance just how thorough a job they didn’t do, and how compelling a case they don’t have.

Palmer’s attorney, Matt Bromund, even called them on their sloppy work during his closing remarks:  "We know that Mr. Otting was the only person who stands to benefit from this [alleged] scheme of fraud, excluding, I suppose, the hypothetical benefit that flows to Ms. Palmer for being able to continue operating a small family farm in Santa Paula. Because that has to be a financial benefit that the People can allege, that somehow this life of caring for chickens and pigs and goats and turkeys is so luxurious as to warrant this conspiracy. On the other hand, Mr. Otting stands to gain quite a lot. He has title to this property, and if Ms. Palmer defaults on her lease, he can file an unlawful retainer action and recover possession. He has title to this property where more than 50% of the property has already been paid in cash...”

He continued, “Ms. Palmer doesn't have a single ounce of equity interest in this property. This [alleged] conspiracy to defraud Mr. Kirrene and everyone else out of their money produces a legal situation in which Palmer owns nothing. And this DA's office has told this court that Larry Otting who stands to gain $2 million worth of real estate in Ventura out of this deal - that they're comfortable letting him walk with one count of grand theft in exchange for his testimony. That's it. But they would ask you to hold her to answer for being part of a conspiracy that results in her gaining nothing.”

And who in their right mind wouldn’t take the deal offered to Larry Otting? Arguably, someone with a clear conscience might not... But what if the government had you scared, and you saw no opportunity for fair play? What if you believed, even in your presumed innocence, that the government had already won, and you had best either sink or swim? If offered the chance, wouldn’t you choose to swim? And mightn’t the same logic be argued for someone in Sharon Palmer’s position at the time of her previous convictions? Isn’t it only fair to extend the same logic and reasonable doubt across the board? Because, believe me, if there’s one thing saturating this case, it’s reasonable doubt.

In direct testimony, Case Investigator Mano revealed that she first learned of the "existence of possible fraud" when Otting and his attorney Warren Nemiroff, along with Aajonus Vonderplanitz, visited her office on November 11, 2010. At that moment, did it not become the DA’s responsibility to pursue any and all leads relevant to the case? So why would they, as demonstrated in these court proceedings, pursue some leads and not others? Why, in some cases, would they stop half-way? Testimony from all six witnesses revealed a disturbing lack of due diligence on the part of DA investigators to explore all leads, especially those that might indicate there never even was a conspiracy. In this way, the Ventura County DA has made itself into, not an enforcer of the law, but an enforcer of the will of whomever the accuser may be, or worse - an enforcer of the will of a flawed and corrupt government hell-bent on policing us out of our natural civil liberties.

I must say that after three days prosecutors had me fully convinced... that working at the Ventura County District Attorney’s office must be one of the highest-paying, least-demanding jobs around. And if even our judges refuse to hold them to their lawful “burden of proof”, then what real work is demanded of these attorneys for the (abstract) People? Last time I checked, it doesn’t take a law degree to prove you can make poor choices on how to spend your (or other people’s) money. Just ask my still recovering credit report.

(This may not be a horse, but at least you can see plainly that it's an ass.)
In addition to their poor performance in court, I was disturbed by other activities I observed on the part of prosecutors during the days of the hearing. Notice that in the first excerpt of testimony (from the “Flying with Pigs” section), DA Investigator Catherine Mano confirmed she was present during previous witness testimony... In fact, as I observed, she was present and seated beside DA prosecutor Chris Harman throughout the entire hearing. Now, I haven't spent much time in courtrooms to understand fully why certain witnesses might be treated differently than others, but it certainly seemed strange to me that of the six witnesses called by the DA, only Mano was present for the testimony of other witnesses. Furthermore, by my observations, only she and her immediately preceding witness, DA Investigator Frank Huber, were not isolated from counsel during breaks in court sessions. Quite the contrary, in fact. I and others watched as they appeared to be receiving coaching from the prosecution during these intervals. Whatever their discussion those few feet down the hall, post-break-time testimony from both investigators seemed much more vague upon their respective returns to cross-examination. Suddenly, both appeared even more ignorant than before, as we spectators heard many more statements to the tune of "I don't recall".

Something else no one seemed to be able to recall was the source of scandalous rumors that Sharon Palmer supposedly misled Rabobank - the bank eventually procured by Larry Otting to provide a loan to purchase the land on which the farm was built - as to the nature of her relationship with Otting. It's undisputed fact that Palmer had hoped to get a loan herself to purchase the property, but that it was at a time when lending was especially costive. So once it became clear to Palmer she would not be eligible for the loan on her own, that's when community friend Otting stepped in to help purchase the property. Never mind that Palmer, now just a lessee of the property owned by Otting, had little, if anything, to do with the bank dealings after Otting entered the picture.

Despite the gaping inability by witnesses to identify the source of the rumors about their relationship, the prosecution wants you to think that it was Palmer herself who told Rabobank officers that she was Otting's sister - errr, or was it lover? Conflicting testimony indicates both sister and lover. So then do prosecutors expect us to believe that Palmer falsely presented herself as being involved in an incestuous relationship with Otting?? What is it Occam's razor tells us about the simplest explanation being the best one? Given that the source of these confusing rumors was never identified, I'd offer this as an alternate (and more likely) explanation: The rumors could just as easily have originated from inattentive bank employees. I can't imagine anyone having to stretch his or her brain much to wrap it around THAT as likely possibility.

If government officials want to prosecute a real conspiracy, I’d suggest they turn their gazes inward - to any number of legislative prejudices in favor of corporate greed and against the civil liberties of individuals - in this case, the rights of the People to grow and consume healthy foods (like raw milk) and to privately contract with one another in order to do so.

The persistence of these acts of freedom poses a direct threat to the very corporations who fund our government and the campaigns of those whom we believe we elect. It’s no secret pharmaceutical companies, for example, would be opposed to raw milk production, when you consider the ginormous profits to be made continuing to sell antibiotics and hormones to conventional dairies. And it’s no secret they have the capital to wage a well-funded smear campaign against any who would dare challenge them. It’s also no secret that companies like these lobby our governments at every level. Why else would the government spend so much money and effort pursuing such conspiratorial hogwash?

I have never met them and cannot claim to know what either Aajonus Vonderplanitz or Larry Otting had in mind when they brought their concerns to Ventura County. I must, therefore, assume the best of intentions on both their parts (just as we must all assume the best intentions as well as the innocence of James Stewart and Sharon Palmer, unless or until Ventura County can prove otherwise). Still, I can’t help but be mystified as to what the two men were thinking...

However fragmented and disorganized it may now yet be, I've counted myself a member of the raw food community for only a very brief, albeit surprisingly eventful, one year. In that short time, what began as a genuinely exuberant joy at being acquainted with such knowledgeable and inspirational people was met too early by disappointment, as I learned of the same stories of in-fighting that are currently splattered all over the internet - stories of betrayal, stories of slander, stories of jealousy, greed, hidden agendas and perceived justice. Sadly, they are not too difficult to find.

In spite of all that, however, my perhaps naive hope continues to be, in cases in which there is no clear evidence of harm, that any party who has a question about or problem with the product distributed by any other party, would be content (first) to investigate the matter personally and (then) if satisfied as to its truth, simply to stop consuming that product, particularly when the disagreement has arisen amidst members of the same small community. In this way, over time, we eventually vote with our dollars against those products we deem less worthy and in favor of those we consider superior. And especially, in the case of health foods, where our progress toward optimal vitality and increased longevity are goals we all have in common, and where it is painfully clear that big agriculture and big pharmaceutical companies (and, therefore, big government) have set their considerably wealthier wills against ours, my hope remains that we would not assist such powerful rivals to destroy us by dividing and conquering ourselves on their behalf.

Though in our journeys we may consider ourselves armed with only the purest and best intentions, when we succumb to attacking members of our own community, we are only speeding our ultimate destruction at the hands of our enemies.
An empty structure is all that remains today of
the former raw milk dairy at Healthy Family Farms in Santa Paula, CA.

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