This is a speech by Melinda Olson, given at the May 14, 2012 Raw Milk Freedom Riders rally in support of Minnesota farmer, Alvin Schlangen.
In lieu of a farm and livestock, I have two boys, a pair of cockatiels, breeding guinea pigs, and an English Mastiff named Soren. He’s actually here with us if you want a ride for a nickel later. No- I’m just kidding, and if you even mention his name and the word saddle in the same sentence, I’ll have to charge you a nickel. Anyway, our menagerie has also extended to other dogs, pet rats, cats, and snake that have graced our home in the past.
Nothing set me up for a life of activism. My awareness of civic matters extended only far enough to allow me a barely passing grade in my high school social studies class. Until May 2010, the greatest exercise of my democratic liberties was to vote for a president and a few local officials every four years.
But in May of 2010, I got mad. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture raided my farmer’s property for what would be the first of two times that summer, confiscated and embargoed countless dairy products, and began an endless cycle of litigation, harassment, and intimidation of my farmer. I believe that the unstated intention of this regulatory Frankenstein was to raise doubts about the efficacy and safety of raw milk, denigrate and destroy a family’s reputation and livelihood, and further separate consumers from their food supply, thereby crippling another avenue of choice and freedom. It didn’t work.
The dreaded orange stickers were applied on a Wednesday, but not believing for a second that this milk was tainted, I called my friend Deanna. That day, and for weeks following, I made the 160 mile round trip drive with embargoed milk.
Anyway, that didn’t stop us, and about this time, a lobbying group began to coalesce with the intention of changing Minnesota law to make it easier for farmers to deliver their products. My husband and began to sporadically attend those meetings, as well as host meetings for our farmer to connect with his customers and keep them updated on his case.
In November, I packed up my kids, several gallons of Minnesota Raw Milk, and went to Maryland with another friend and her three children for the Inaugural Raw Milk Freedom Riders Event. People back home have said they’re proud of me; I can’t even express how much I got back from that trip; so many firsts for me and my boys in addition to the wonderful connections over raw milk.
I found myself preparing for a meeting with the Governor’s Liaison and fellow members of the Food Freedom Project to discuss changing legislation for the transport of Raw milk within the state. The other attendees were Diane Miller, nationally renowned attorney specializing in health freedom and food freedom issues, her intern, also Beth Cowart, who is studying for her Masters in Nutrition, and Greg Schmidt, president of Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project. Remember, I’m just a mom. I kept wondering, “why am I here? What can I possibly have to offer that isn’t already here with these astounding and accomplished people?”
Well, I brought the experience of repeated trips to the farm, a passion for the topic, and a desire to protect my children’s’ freedom. We all worked well together; Diane’s focused, detailed and sophisticated understanding of the law reeled me in, when my emotions may have detracted from our message. When I related the story of my son surviving being hit by an SUV while riding his bike last summer due to the benefits of raw milk, Beth was able to corroborate with her nutritional science and expertise. I represented countless mothers with concerns like mine. I had a valuable contribution to make that I didn’t discover until I showed up. There is a woman in the Food Freedom Project who can’t regularly attend the planning meetings, but when she made a meal for the group one evening, she offered us the gift of her ethnic cooking and the opportunity for fellowship in the midst of a really intense workload and political crisis.
I’m often tempted to believe that I’m just an average mom, but I’m not. You’re not average, either. Our culture has a practice of simultaneously exalting and denigrating the individual. Your independence is tantamount. You don’t need community. But on the other hand, you’re only valuable if you drive a nice car, have a beautiful face, fill in the blank…However, don’t let these messages of the world rob you of the belief that you have something critical, something infinitely valuable to offer. You just may not discover it until you stand. Certainly, the bureaucratic infrastructure would have us believe that if we rise up or even stand, we will be humiliated and crushed.
Mostly I drive, often I just show up. If I’m afraid to stand because I might lose something, or I’m afraid to go to jail, I’ve already lost, and I’m already in prison.
Let me leave you with another quote, this one from Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
Melinda Olson is a wife and mother of 2 children. Her family is one of the 10 drop site hosts whom were sent threatening letters by their state agricultural agency. She is bravely defying their warning as an act of civil disobedience. Read more about the letters on David Gumperts blog: Upping the Ante in Minnesota.
This post is part of the Fight Back Friday blog carnival, see more uppity moms talk about real food on Food Renegade.com!