A long-running dispute between a Grand Marais man and Minnesota agricultural inspectors has landed in the Cook County courthouse.
Citing the Minnesota Constitution, farmer David Berglund has argued that he has the right to sell raw milk products to visitors without intrusion from state regulators, and he has refused to allow them to inspect his land.
“We contend that this is an example of the nanny state lording over its citizens,” said Berglund’s attorney, Zenas Baer.
Baer will face the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in court on Monday. The agency is trying to make Berglund pay $500 a day until he allows inspectors at Lake View Natural Dairy, which Berglund’s forefathers have farmed since immigrating from Sweden in the late 1800s.
Lake View, which relies on word of mouth for customers, houses 75 to 80 head of cattle, some pigs and a few chickens. Berglund sells milk from his cows without processing it in sanitized containers, according to court records. Some of the milk is turned into cream and butter for customers.
The Agriculture Department initially tried to visit the farm two years ago to discuss how Lake View could voluntarily comply with rules governing the manufacturing and sale of unpasteurized dairy products.
Regulators rebuffed Berglund’s assertion that he was constitutionally exempt — by the “No license required to peddle” clause — from a requirement that he have a license to sell goods from the farm. They argued that the farm was nevertheless subject to inspections and food-safety requirements and that it needed a dairy-producer permit.
The state said Berglund’s goods were improperly labeled. It also ordered him to discontinue selling yogurt and buttermilk, though milk and cream products were exempt. Inspectors told Berglund to obtain a license to manufacture and sell products not produced from the farm, such as chocolate milk and cookies that had ingredients from outside the farm.
Additionally, the state objected to Facebook comments by Lake View to its customers: “We have been in a major battle with the state fighting for what we do! Court dates, letters, and risk of major fines and even risk of a government shut down!!”
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen said his office has taken a neutral stance, given that it’s a civil matter, though he said that if a judge orders officers to enforce an order of the court, they would step in.
“They have a pretty good customer base,” Eliasen said of Lake View. “They’ve been here for quite a while, and their family dates back many generations in Cook County.”
As the case has dragged on, dozens of customers signed a statement in support of Berglund. They said that they voluntarily engaged in private transactions with Lake View, that they were aware of warnings about purchasing food from an unlicensed dairy producer and that their constitutional rights would be impaired if the operation were shut down. Baer, the attorney, has argued that the state Agriculture Department has not adopted rules to regulate dairies like Berglund’s.
“The state has no business interfering with a conscious informed decision made by adult men and women as to what food to put on the dinner plate,” Baer wrote in a response to the state’s order. “Adult men and women are free to choose what diet to feed their families.”
Why doesn’t Berglund just let the inspectors onto his farm and avoid a court battle?
“I think he is a person who believes that he has a constitutional and perhaps even a God-given right to conduct his business as he wants,” Baer said, “and if he can make a living by having customers come to his farm to buy his wholesome products, he should not have to be subject to inspection, to regulation, to licensing and any other intrusion by the government.”