Spies in the Farmers Market

Guest Contributor: Robert Burns, Farmer & Aikido Instructor

Guest Contributor: Robert Burns, Farmer & Aikido Instructor

Robert Burns was a reluctant farmer, he grew up on a Connecticut dairy farm and fled the farm life as a young man by going into the Marine Corps. Influenced by a radical organic farmer he worked for in California, Robert has returned to his family farm and now heads the progressive farmers in his local Farm Bureau. Burns is an Aikido master and 5th degree black belt, and his farm has a dojo where he does martial arts training. Today is the second in a series of posts from this farmer, turned farm food activist.

Connecticut Department of Health Descends on Prosperous Market with Ill Intent

by Guest Contributor, Robert Burns, Aiki Farms

The drums were sounding, and in the year 2007, after seven glorious years of happy profitable farmers markets, a retired Army General who has the title of Commissioner of the Department of Health in Connecticut (DPH) sent some of his soldiers into the fray of Connecticut Farmers Markets.

Local farmers markets had been operating for over 200 years in the State of Connecticut. During this time there was never a report of one single case of food disorder with the exception of two false alarms AFTER the appearance of the State health officials.

Farmers markets are unique. While there is a lot of rhetoric about “privatizing,” the bureaucrats eventually wanted more control. The farmers market, is by nature a private enterprise, led by a market master, with a bevy of farmers with their displays, all holding itself together with little or no need for outside forces to control this rich self-sustained dynamic. Initially, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture assigned one person, Richard Macsugas, to oversee this well organized privatized nutritional industry, and document as well as promote the Farmers Market. Richard  had an uplifting positive spirit and even was a pioneer in bring the government’s WIC program into the market, to enable the poor access to farm fresh foods. This soon influenced farm markets nationwide, enabling those less fortunate to buy real food instead of junk food with their government aid.

Because the farmers markets were growing, both in attendance, and in numbers, the General and the DPH decided to “involve themselves” after 200 years of healthy functioning tradition.  They sent out staff members who were allegedly, “just on vacation and happened to visit farmers markets”. The pattern was to cite alleged violations (I use the term alleged as NONE  of their findings had, nor has ever caused illness, nor did VIOLATE EXPLICIT CODE). We do not know how many “vacationers” were sent out from the DPH, but we do know of four similar cases, wherein the State inspectors notified the local inspectors about the violations. Most local inspectors observed, talked to farmers about health and safety, and left the farmers market to it’s own. Ironically, there were only two actual cases of disruption and one was at my market, and without this disruption, neither my involvement in this farm food movement, nor this article on this blog would have transpired.

The local inspector in Stonington, after bring briefed by the “vacationing” State health official, took her briefing so literally she shut the market down for the following alleged “violations”: 1) The market master brought coffee from a local restaurant in thermos bottles, and served hot coffee to raise money for the market; 2) I was cited  for serving wheat-grass juice at my stall (although I was cleared by Consumer Protection) 3) Local youths and their lemonade stand, who were actually paying their college tuition with their highly successful and brilliant idea to serve lemonade, a stand which had been operating for over three years. 4) Each and every farmer who offered samples of product.

Thus, in one fell swoop our prosperous farm market was closed by orders of an official appointed by the Governor.

Over 2,000 ANGRY consumers signed a petition that was immediately circulated statewide. As a direct result, the market was reopened.


Armed with this community support, we began our battle against the forces who are trying desperately to win both money, via grants,and approval of huge corporate chemical-agribusiness outfits like Monsanto, DUPONT, NORVARTIS, Cargill, and so on, and  whose lobbyists, and their state and federal allies, clamor for approval by attacking small farms, farmers, and farmers markets.

However, with respects to Barbara Walters, Mr. Polan, Mrs. Obama, and the citizen ranks now swelling with the support of small farmers,the need for good fresh healthy produce, we need to REALLY sharpen our teeth and with the fierceness, and love of self, and our children need to fight harder than ever to thwart this greedy set of  “CARING HEALTH OFFICIALS,” who explicitly, instead of doing their job, feel it is “easier” to destroy a small farm than to take on the real bad guys.

Is the peanut CEO who, with knowledge, gave the OK to process tainted peanuts being prosecuted quickly? Of course not, let’s wipe out a few more small farmers, like the Stower family’s Manna Storehouse Food Cooperative, in Lorain County, Ohio. Let’s attack them with the police, hold them at gun point, while huge food producers go unscathed. After all, they are nothing but small farmers.

To this I say, we farmers are the most sacred of the human race. We are loved by the best, and hated by the worst. We stand between heaven and earth, have been given the sacred skills to feed our brothers and sisters. We do our work with love and compassion, and give thanks for the role that God has bestowed upon us.

Therefore it is both our duty and our obligation to defend this sacred right, as we defend our own families, our crops, and all that surrounds our farms. Farmers are to reach out, into our churches, our communities, and if need be, launch into the sea of the political realm to carry on this fight.

We must gain the allegiance of the entire human race, all those who eat our food, and share in this wonderful gift of life we have together on this earth. We need to realize clearly, that some who are alive because we feed them have a contempt and hatred for us,and who we are. They have neither understanding nor compassion for either the gift of life, nor the role of the farmer.

It is these ones we must identify, objectively, and expose to mankind as the enemies of the human race, and if not defeated, will, as they do now, seek to destroy us all by a pure and clear absence of COMMON SENSE.

Robert Burns and Ed Begley, Jr.

Robert Burns and Ed Begley, Jr.

A Special Invitation to Hartke is Online! Readers:

Robert cordially invites you to attend a Victory Garden Seminar and Local Chef’s Feast at his Connecticut Farm on July 12, 2009. Ed Begley, Jr. will be the celebrity guest for the event. Tickets are $40.00. Please contact Kimberly at kim.hartke at gmail.com for a pdf invite to the event.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays on the Food Renegade blog.

Note from Kimberly: Robert has a copy of the petition that proved useful in getting the farmers market re-opened. If any one needs a copy please contact him through his Aiki Farms website. NEXT Friday, another post from Robert on, “What Citizen Activists Can Do.”


  1. As insider, this is what is coming. Here is Ohio and other states, all farmers markets, can be inspected. By rule, vendors are subjecting themsleves to home kitchen inspections, even though they do not know that. This is because they will fall under the cottage industry rules without even knowing it– these are new rules.

    Plus under the proposed Food Safety (Control) Act, FDA and all agencies can inspect farms/gardens at their choosing. The way the Federal LAW is worded, this will include kitches and farms/gardens for processed products offered for sale.

    Meat and other products cannot be vacuum packed and they must have oxygen surrounding the meat products. A note from one of my Amish contacts is looking for new ways to sell his grass-fed meats, because of the expense of the new rules.
    .-= Augie´s last blog ..Lard Has Clearly Won the Health Debate =-.

  2. This sort of government infringement on our basic rights to secure healthy foods in ways that promote sustainable community is why we offer a variety of trainings on community organizing and direct action as well as workshops on permaculture and canning. Regardless of how well we learn to provide for ourselves and our communities we must learn the skills needed to keep government and corporations in check. Without them, they will inevitably find ways to force us back into a corporate consumer loop through which they can profit; the corporations directly and the political bureaucracy through grants and political campaign contributions. Visit us at http://www.permibus.org to host a training in your town.

  3. Katrinka Yobotz says:

    See this 1950 warning, which should be put on DVD’s and given to all who don’t understand why this is so important.

  4. Aulbert West says:

    First Nais, then HR2749 [Do I have the number right?], and spies in the farmers markets, well now there is a water rights bill also being introduced which Howard Garrett spoke about on Bob Webster’s radio program and is in his newsletter on his website [http://www.dirtdoctor.com]

    To me, all this shows the times we are living in. The more the government can control us, the closer we are getting to the times of one of the beast of the Bible book of Revelation, chapter 13].

    We’re not far from being forced to put numbers in our foreheads and on our forehands.

    Thank you for recognizing that the government is trying to gain total control.

    By the way, do you know which politicians introduced each of these bills?

  5. Sorry, but this is not about the evil government trying to stamp on farmers.

    ANYONE who serves food has to follow Dept of Health guidelines. When I run a fundraiser table for our local non-profit horse Rescue, we *must* follow Dept of Health and other related rules.

    When I worked in a retail store that served food, once or twice a year the inspector would come through and make a list of changes. Is it “government control” to keep food vendors following sanitary guidelines? As a consumer I’d like to think the food I try or buy is least likely to make me sick.

    There will always be bureaucratic snafus, an inspector who needs retraining, or rules that seem inconsistently applied. This is true for *any* government or formal organization.

    When we do a stand that involves food the first thing we do is talk to the Dept of Health, dept of Permits/inspections, and anyone else relevant. Sometimes we do need a permit. Sometimes we do need to get a copy of a health guidelines. Sometimes we need to buy gloves, disposable cups, or other little things to meet guidelines.

    NOBODY is trying to end farmer’s markets. How did we jump from one inspector’s citations to some government conspiracy to shut down all farmers markets??

    I’m the one who is wrong if I break rules and an inspector sees it. It sounds childish for me to blame the inspector for just doing his job.

  6. robert Burns says:

    Dear calico,
    You are not a farmer.If you could concieve of our standards on our farm, which are far above DPH standards,you would get a a real feeling for who, what, and where we are as farmers….NOT RETAIL FOOD MERCHANTS…. there is a difference,,,the key is freshness.
    The wounds, and permanant damage done to us, as your food suppliers,by these unbridled REGULATORS cannot be measured.Theirs is not a cause for survival, but against it, LOUD AND CLEAR…


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  4. […] 10) Last and certainly my dearest guest blogger is an 80 year old farmer from Connecticut, Robert Burns who kicked off a series of great blogs with Spies in the Farmers Market. […]

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