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How To Go Rogue

by John Moody

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have the government show up at your door?  To come to your business or your homestead? To your farm or your house?  To shut you down or take your stuff or even arrest you?

It happens more often than you think. Amos Miller. Manna Storehouse. Rawsome. Max Kane. Vernon Herschberger. Business after business.  Farmer after farmer.

Starting in the late 90’s, the government – driven by pressure from its corporate sponsors – began a war on local food, especially raw milk.  The local food movement was beginning to pick up steam, as was interest in “organic” food.  Farmer’s markets were growing.  Interest in unprocessed, real foods direct from farms was as well.

All of this started to create a credible threat to some thirty years of industrialization of the farming system and what American’s called dinner. A threat that the industrial system had an easy response to – if you can’t beat them, have the government drive them out of business.

For me, this became personally on Memorial day weekend, 2011.  Our buying club – just into our fifth year – enjoyed a surprise visit from the Kentucky Department of Health.  Cease and desist and quarantine orders were served.  Threats of fines and possible jail time were included.  A long history of farmers and similar outfits who had all been forced to shut down or stop stood behind us.

A Funny Conversation

Around 2017, Joel Salatin and I were sharing lunch.  As our habit, whenever we both were speaking at a conference, we would try to schedule a meal together and sneak away to catch up.  So here we were, in the corner of a restaurant in Seven Springs, PA, talking about books and the state of things farming and local food and all sorts of other topics.

As the meal and conversation meandered along, Joel looked at me and said, “You know, John, just once I wish I could go to a conference where instead of teaching me to comply with the newest set of government circus hoops, they would teach me how to circumvent them.”  I chuckled.

Joel was no stranger to innovating around needless regulatory roadblocks. (IF you haven’t read his book, Everything I want to do is Illegal, I would suggest put it at the top of your list!). A second generation farmer, Joel’s family had lived and farmed through some of the greatest changes to food regulations in world history.

Most American’s get a little peeved when their toilets don’t flush properly, or their lightbulbs cost ten times more and for the additional cost merely provide unnecessary eyestrain (though they have other health issues as well).  But few understand that almost no aspect of their life is as heavily regulated and manipulated by government as… the food they eat.

“But Joel, no one is ever going to put on such an event,” I replied.

He who controls the food.. 

“Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.”   Often attributed to Henry Kissinger, this ditty really hits home when you realize that for over seventy years, the government has been consolidating control of the US farm and food sector under fewer and fewer corporations and more and larger bureaucracies and agencies.

In the early 2000s, they tried even tried to RFID every single animal in the US… except those in industrial farming operations (the project was called NAIS, and thankfully because of grassroots pushback, it was stopped…)

Whether through the food pyramid (which has lead to rampant obedisty and ill health for the average American) or crop insurance subsidies (which almost exclusively favor , industrial agriculture’s infatuation with GMO soy and corn…)  or hundreds of other programs and policies, the US government now controls almost the entire food system.  Except that is, the growing local and regional, pasture based, independent one that started to rebound in the late 1990s.

That rebound, especially driven by interest in nutrient dense, traditional foods like raw milk, caused quite a stir.   As Congressman Thomas Massie puts it, “who knew the lactose lobby was so intolerant?”   Corporations saw the consumer move against processed foods, and responded not by changing their products, but by pressuring the government to do something to stop consumers from having other options.

And so in 2011, those government agencies ended up at the door of our buying club.

A Gut Punch

I started our buying club in 2006.  It wasn’t at all something I ever expected to do.  A junk food eating, Saturday cartoon watching kid of the late 80s and early 90s, I grew up on a steady SAD (standard american diet).  Dental cavities, seasonal allergies, and constant antibiotics marked my childhood.

But what really got my attention was while working on my master’s I almost died from severe digestion issues (duodenal ulcers for those who want something unpleasant to search for on the internet).  The doctors could only offer me pills and procedures, but I had a professor who had a different approach for me to pursue – changing my diet.

And so my then fiancee and now wife and I embarked on a journey into learning about food, especially learning how to use food as Hippocrates once remarked.  “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”  Startlingly, within a year I had completely healed by ulcers – something the doctor said was impossible – and also cleared up numerous other problems such as my seasonal allergies.

We were beyond excited, but also a bit frustrated.  Many of the foods we wanted were not available in regular stores.  Having to go to three different farmers markets, a CSA pickup, and a raw milk drop was a bit challenging to manage with small kids, work, and other responsibilities.

So the buying club was born. An alternative to the industrial food system and its distribution model, the club started in our apartment with ten other families. By 2010, we had well over 100 in membership.

Taking a Stand

As the club grew, we knew it was more and more likely that eventually, the government would come after us.  So we spent many years preparing.  And thankfully, when they did, our members were ready and supportive.  So ready and supportive that we were the first group in the nation to walk away winners from a government raid in the food wars of the early 2000s into the 2010s.

Winning wasn’t easy.  And it wasn’t without risk.  Our cease and desist and quarantine orders came with threats of fines, jail time, and more.  But it was a reminder that even a small group of people can stand up to the behemoth if they do so together and wisely.  It was through this raid and our victory I became friends with Joel and many others who all had one dream and goal – that farmers and eaters would once again be free to directly engage with each other apart from government interference.

And through those long years of battling the FDA and USDA and other state and federal agencies, eventually Rogue Food was born.  Joel and I had two simple goals with the conference.   Platform real doers in the alternative economy, especially the food and farming space.  And run an event that matched our goals and values – no eating off a Sysco truck or from a clown’s head!   Real food prepared by real chefs from real farms and businesses.

So, if you want to get your hands dirty helping build the alternative economy, and learn from folks with decades of experience, why don’t you join us at Rogue Food in May at Polyface Farms in Staunton, Virginia.  One whole day is set aside to enjoy and explore the farm.  One day to learn from folks who are helping recapture our freedoms and rebuild alternative systems to replace the ones failing all around us.

John Moody is father to six, husband to one, and a follower of Christ. His family are homesteaders and entrepreneurs in the hills of KY outside Louisville.