Organic food co-op raid sparks court case against health department, ODA

SALEM, Ohio — Legal action has been taken on behalf of a Lorain County farm family that says a raid on their property earlier this month violated their constitutional rights.

The Buckeye Institute‘s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit Dec. 17 in Lorain County Common Pleas Court against the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Lorain County Health Department.

The suit was filed on behalf of John and Jacqueline Stowers of LaGrange, Ohio.

It’s alleged that on the morning of Dec. 1, ODA and Lorain County Health Department agents raided the Stowers’ home and in-house organic food cooperative, Manna Storehouse, and unlawfully seized their personal food supply, cell phones and computers.

The county says the Stowers need proper licenses to operate their retail store in accordance with state food safety rules.

“They brag on the Internet they don’t have anything to do with the government, but they’re selling perishable products to people, and that means they need a license,” said Scott Serazin, an assistant county prosecutor.

The Buckeye Institute argues the right to buy food directly from local farmers, distribute locally grown food to neighbors, and pool resources to purchase food in bulk are rights that do not require a license.

Chain of events

According to the court, search warrant and affidavits, county health department officials and an ODA enforcement agent said they believed the Stowerses were operating a retail food establishment without a license, which is a violation of Ohio Revised Code.

Dorothy Kloos, a registered sanitarian with Lorain County’s health department, and two other inspectors visited Manna Storehouse in November 2007 and “were told to leave the property before the inspectors could make observations of the operation.”

During that visit, Kloos left information on state licensing requirements. In December 2007, the Stowerses responded to the health department in a letter saying they didn’t need a license to operate their private cooperative.

In September 2008, the health department referred the matter to the Lorain County Prosecutor’s office and requested assistance from the department of agriculture and health department to “gather evidence regarding the Manna Storehouse operation.”

There has never been a complaint filed against Manna Storehouse or the Stowerses related to the quality or healthfulness of the food distributed through the co-op, according to the Buckeye Institute.

The Stowerses could not be reached by phone for comment. The health department referred all calls to the prosecutor’s office.

Raid

The court filing says police raided Manna Storehouse and the Stowers’ home Dec. 1, 2008.

It is alleged that “during the raid, at least one if not several police entered the home with guns drawn” and that the family’s home was also surrounded by police with guns drawn, according to the court filing.

At least eight children were in the home during the raid.

In a video posted on YouTube by the Buckeye Institute, Jacqueline Stowers described the raid as “violent, belligerent and forceful,” and described being held by armed guards for six to seven hours in the living room.

She called the event “extremely traumatic” for the family.

According to Kaleigh Frazier, spokesperson for the department of agriculture, an enforcement agent and a representative of the department’s food safety division were present for the visit “in a supportive role” and to answer any license questions that arose.

Frazier said department of agriculture agents do not carry firearms.

The Plain Dealer previously reported the search was conducted over three to four hours, that one agent carried a shotgun, and no semiautomatic weapons were present during the raid.

Taken

During the raid, officers seized computers, cell phones, and a “significant food supply,” much of which was from the Stowers’ own personal pantry, according to the court filing. The filing lists the value of the food as more than $10,000, including a year’s supply of meat for the family.

The Stowers family includes eight children, seven of whom live in the home. The family’s oldest son’s wife and three children also live there; the son is serving in the military in the Middle East.

The taking of the family’s computers also prevents the children, who are home-schooled, from completing their lessons, John Stowers said in the video.

Reasons

The lawsuit says the Manna Storehouse “cannot reasonably be classified as a retail food establishment because it does not store, process, prepare, manufacture or otherwise handle food for retail sale” and that the co-op is exempt from licensing requirements.

The Stowers describe the storehouse’s activity as buying local foods from farmers; growing their own food; consuming the food they have grown or purchased; and distributing excess of that grown or purchased to members of their co-op in prearranged amounts.

Serazin said because the Stowers are selling food they purchased, they need a retail license.

Stowers also said the only exception to the section of Ohio Revised Code the Stowerses are pointing to for their independence is meant for farmers producing a product on their own property and selling it from the property.

For instance, a farmer with a flock of hens may sell a certain number of eggs per year from the farm with no need for a license. If that farmer sells the eggs to someone else, who sells them to others, then the exception is voided.

Protection

“Ohioans do not need a government permission slip to run a family farm and co-op, and should not be subjected to raids when they do not have one,” said Buckeye Institute 1851 Center of Constitutional Law Director Maurice Thompson.

Thompson also said forceful raids and searches and seizures exceed the authority granted to ODA and county health departments.

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

16 Comments

  1. Dave Roman says:

    This is scary. Guns and a raid on a co-op. We are living in a police state and most people don’t realize it yet. If this economy gets worse, they’ll be sending us all off to detention centers.

    I sure hope this gets enough media coverage so as to embarass these gestapos to apologize and return the goods they’ve stolen.

  2. Shameful.
    Simply shameful.

    Why do the People of Ohio tolerate this type of Police State action?

    It’s a sad, sad day when Ohio tax dollars are spent in Amish raw milk sting operations & terrorizing rural women & children.
    Whatever happened to private contracts between adults?

    This is not a so called “Public Health” issue.

    It is instead a violation of the 4 & 5th Amendment of the US Consitution.

    The People will not continue to labor under Tyranny and Oppression.

    You can be sure that there is a Revolution coming to this country.
    It has already started.

    I just hope the goons & paper pushers at the ODA don’t get hurt next time.

  3. FAMILY FARM FOOD AND HEALTH ALERT ISSUED FOR THE STATE OF OHIO

    Due to these type of actions, the Ohio Whole Food and Nutritional Healing group has issued a Family Farm Food and Health Alert.

    We are seeking family farms and food producers to join in at http://wholefood.meetup.com/165

  4. The full text of the FAMILY FARM FOOD AND HEALTH ALERT ISSUED FOR THE STATE OF OHIO can be found at http://wholefoodusa.wordpress.com under the Farm Enforcement Report.

  5. Stephen Duran says:

    This is a case of the police and government abusing there power and entrapping a small family co-op. The state of Ohio is violating the 4th and 5th amendment of the Constitution.
    First off the health department did not leave any information on licensure, when they first approached the family. Second, the letter the Stowers sent to the Health Department asked that if they were in violation of the Ohio Revised Code to inform them in writing of what and how they violated these rules and how to fix the problem. Third, the use of excessive force is present and if you believe that no weapons were involved you are wrong….So the Lorain County Violent Task Force just raided a house with nothing in there hands. That is a blatant lie and it shows that they know there about to lose there pants in a lawsuit. This link is a Pod Cast from their lawyer and explains the families side of events. http://www.buckeyevoices.org/index.php?id=98 It explains and gives more info on what happened than the article above reported. Also ODA Agent Bill Lesho who led the raid is apparently President Elect Obama’s preferred candidate to be the head of the USDA. The ODA needs to learn from their mistakes and not use taxpayers money to terrorize innocent farmers.

  6. Mr. Duran:

    “Dorothy Kloos, a registered sanitarian with Lorain County’s health department, and two other inspectors visited Manna Storehouse in November 2007… During that visit, Kloos left information on state licensing requirements. In December 2007, the Stowerses responded to the health department in a letter saying they didn’t need a license to operate their private cooperative.”

    This information was taken directly from court affidavits – and the Stowers’ letter to the health department was in response to that information, according to the same documents. This information was reported correctly.

    Also, as for the questions on whether there were any guns present during the raid — I can only report what I am told, which is what I did. The Stowers’ video (linked above since this story was published) lets them say there were guns; My conversations with the prosecutor and ODA lets them tell their side. Fair and balanced on this, no?

    Please be aware that my article also includes links to the Stowers’ YouTube video with their side of the story, since I could not reach them by phone for comment before my deadline.

    As for your claims regarding Bill Lesho being a “preferred candidate” for USDA secretary — no worries there, Obama has already selected Tom Vilsack. (Did anyone else hear Lesho’s name on the shortlist? Here in the newsroom, we certainly never did!)

  7. andrew says:

    very useful information, i shoul tell my friend max to include this in ” ecologieparis” bye!

  8. Steve Duran says:

    Mrs. Zippay,

    I’m Sorry if I caused any bad feelings and I apologize for that. The link that I found the info on the Bill Lesho, Obama’s connection is: http://jeffreyquick.wordpress.com/2008/12/05/update-on-manna-storehouse/
    I guess I should start this way instead. In My opinion I believe that Government funds and resources could be better spent elsewhere. Farming in my opinion has changed from the good old days of the small farmer to the corporate machine today. Government rules and regulations protect the corporate machine more so than small farmers. It’s more of a pay to play scenario. As sighted in the http://www.ftcldf.org/news/news-22dec2008.htm article: “The Stowers’ contention is that since Manna Storehouse is a private cooperative they do not need a permit. A review of the Ohio Uniform Food Safety Code indicates that the Stowers have an arguable claim that Manna Storehouse is not required to obtain a permit–a claim that should have been given consideration by ODA and LCGHD before resorting to a search warrant.” It also States “The Code defines “retail” as “the sale of food to a person who is the ultimate consumer of the food” [OAC 3717-1(83)(a)]. The Code defines “consumer” as “a person who is a member of the public, takes possession of food, is not functioning in the capacity of an operator of a food service operation, retail food establishment or food processing plant, and does not offer the food for resale” [OAC 3717-1(18)]. As ODA Agent Lesho noted in his affidavit, the sign on the door leading to Manna Storehouse “indicates the store was private, not a business, and not open to the public.” If I was the Stowers I would of acted and responded the same. Who were they hurting…..No one! Well, except maybe some ODA’s pride, (for telling them to leave them alone and to get off of there property.) Other than that they were not doing any harm.
    Also the co-op was not attached to the farm house. So why raid the house with a SWAT team holding a small farming family captive that contained nothing more than a old man and his wife and their grandchildren. They are NOT felons running from the law. This story just frustrates me. What next? Is the Government going to make us get permits to buy live stock? Or maybe we’ll just fill out a permission slip for what ever they deem necessary. I will end with this: I hope the Stowers win their court battle against the ODA and ensuring the ODA is held accountable for their actions. Thank you for reporting on this story for the Farm and Dairy. Thank you for you time. Steve.

  9. No hard feelings on my end. I think many Farm and Dairy readers see this as a very frustrating situation, and I thank you for your willingness to voice your opinion.

  10. William says:

    The truth is that our country has evolved into overregulated jargon fueled by scare tactics and taxpayers money! What a waste! Illogical when “safety” for the people is such a concern while very questionable methods of farming and food processing are stamped as “government approved”. Antibiotics, which can lower the immune systems of both the animals and the people who eat the animals, growth hormones, which stimulate cell development maybe even to the production of growing tumors, bleaching of eggs (grade A) where chlorine and stronger substances penetrate the semi-porous shell and infiltrate the albumin and yolk of the egg. We end up sanitizing, radiating, and adulterating our food to the point that when weighing the odds of eating “contaminated” food from possible outside sources or definately chemically or structurally changed food, one would be better off taking their chances with the food the way nature first had it! People have the right to eat what they want to eat! Get rid of food restrictions and regulations and let people make their own choices!

  11. Jordan Roberts says:

    Although I may be heading a little off topic, I agree with William to the degree of being unsure of “safety” regulations for food that allows the use of Antibiotics and Growth Hormones.

    To be honest, I don’t know anything about raising livestock so I don’t know what is acceptable when it comes to regulating animal health with pharmaceuticals, but as a consumer it concerns me greatly what effects eating such things will have on me in the future.

  12. Marvin says:

    What these police did is 100% wrong in ALL cases, and if it followed a stupid law they tell us, then the law is also 100% wrong and should never be obeyed by anyone. This is leading to slavery. STOP IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Any American treated this way is abslolutely correct about drawing weapons on any form they have against it. If this is a civil war, then it is the government that is wrong.

  13. Mike Powell says:

    Well….it’s about time the government got its priorities straight. Things like the constitution and the bill of rights MUST take a back seat when we are in so much danger from people like the Stowers. When you watch their interview on you-tube it’s obvious that they are a threat that warrants a raid with weapons drawn. Thanks to the Lorain County Prosecutor’s office, the department of agriculture and health department for investing their precious resources to protect us from the Stowers. Thank goodness our government is not allowing itself to be distracted by silly threats from food from China, Mexico, Central and South America. And thank goodness that they are not wasting all of those weapons to secure our borders or search for illegal aliens in our country but using it to hold captive several children and their mother, who just happen to inconveniently all be U.S. citizens. Hopefully the government with its unlimited resources will continue to harass these people who want to eat healthy. (My God can you imagine?) The law officers and government officials involved should proudly hold their heads high for taking such heroic action on the front line of what threatens our country i.e. DANGERIOUS organically grown food. Let this be a lesson to all the rest of you who think you can selfishly put your health ahead of the government bureaucracies. I mainly eat at fast food restaurants where I can feel safe from armed government raids as well as healthy food.

  14. catlady says:

    i am a physician and i have to say just starting to eat more organic food. i see patients with vascular disease – vascular disease is more prevelant in patients who exibit a pro-inflammatory state. i have come to believe this is related to all the chemicals we consume- not just in farm products but frozen dinners, fast food, preserved foods etc- i think that is why countries like france actually until recently i think had less vascular disease despite higher smoking rates – they are more likely to be eating fresh farm food than processed food but they are picking up american bad habits. it will be interesting to see what happens to their health

  15. Augie says:

    A full story with videos, including the April 2009 video on the Manna Storehouse terror by the SWAT team is located here:

    http://wholefoodusa.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/swat-team-raid-on-homeschool-and-food-and-health-ministry-for-hungry-families/

  16. organic foods are the best for our health since they are free from dangerous chemicals and toxins ;~.

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