A husband-and-wife farming team is preparing to go to court after being threatened with jail and thousands of dollars in fines for allowing goat owners to board animals on their farm.
Mike and Jane Hulme say they have been targeted simply because the owners drank raw milk from their own goats.
|Goat owners and supporters of Mike and Jane Hulme turn out at county offices to show their support for the couple. (Jane Hulme Photo)
The couple, who run Evergreen Acres in San Jose, Calif., are suing the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture and Santa Clara County for infringing on their constitutional rights.
“There is no injury here,” Mike Hulme said. “No one has become sick from milk produced at the farm. There have been no complaints from either the goat owners or officials in the city of San Jose. The only conclusion I can draw is that this is a politically motivated action . . . to effectively put a small family farm out of business.”
As part of their business, the Hulmes look after and milk goats owned by people who want the right to drink raw goat milk, which is said to be easier to digest than cow’s milk and to have some health benefits.
He charges $500 per goat and the owners, many of them city dwellers who have no room to keep their animals, get two gallons of milk a month. “We are not selling to the public. These people own a part of a herd. Many of them have children with medical issues, and 20 to 30 percent of the shareholders want their children to know where their food is coming from," he said.
Pat Zahn, one of the goat owners, denounced the action against the Hulmes as “bullying in the name of the law.”
She wrote on her blog, “Mike and Jane . . . have operated within the law. I signed a goat share agreement with them. I receive milk in return. If I choose to make soap out of it, bathe in it or consume it, then that is my personal choice.”
But the authorities decided it was legal for goat owners to drink up only if they did so on the Hulmes’ property. If they left with the milk, Evergreen Acres would be considered a dairy processing plant — and it doesn’t have a license.
“It’s a matter of food safety,” Steve Lyle of the California Department of Food and Agriculture told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If these places aren't licensed and regularly inspected, there is no way to know whether they're safe or sanitary."
The Hulmes say the court action could put them out of business, as it would cost $120,000 in equipment, construction, and licenses to comply. If they continue, they face a year in jail and fines of up to $10,000.
“It is incomprehensible to me that a district attorney would overlook the rights of citizens in the pursuit of regulation of a private farm over milk from a goat that was clearly for private consumption by the goat owner only and not for resale,” said Mike Hulme.
“It is a sign that says there is clearly no recognition for privacy.”
Backing the couple and three goat owners in their court case is the Virginia-based Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. A suit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court is asking for a permanent injunction to stop the state and the county from taking enforcement action against the farm.
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