Michigan farmer fights state over milk inspections
STANDISH, MI -- In a rare move, Michigan food safety officials have asked a circuit court judge to shut down an East Michigan dairy farm that it says is selling milk products without a license – products the state says could endanger the public through deadly foodborne illness.
But a proponent of the raw milk movement who works with Standish-based Hill High Dairy, said the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development is overstepping its bounds, "putting its nose" where it doesn't belong - into family farms and consumers who are interested in what she says are the benefits of raw milk and its products.
Jenny Samuelson, who says she takes orders and delivers products for Hill High, said the state is infringing on her constitutional rights as a consumer and small-time business operator, she said.
Hill High also operates BJ's Cow Boarding, part of a herd share agreement, a legal program that allows consumers to "share" the costs of a herd as well as share its raw milk and its products. Those who use raw milk know the benefits and risks of the product and sign contracts, said Samuelson, who said raw milk is healthier and helped her overcome allergies.
"If I want to pay a farmer an extra two dollars to separate the cream from my milk, that's my right," Samuelson said.
The state seized milk products from Samuelson's My Family Co-Op during an inspection last year – products that Samuelson identified at the time as Hill High's, according to the complaint filed Monday.
The My Family Co-Op web site connects its business to Hill High Dairy Farm and BJ's Cow Boarding.
State inspectors, she said, are overstepping their boundaries by being concerned about the operations of the herd share, she said.
"They illegally searched and seized" the products, she said.
A call to Hill High's owners, identified in court as Joseph and Brenda Golimbieski, was not immediately returned.
Jennifer Holton, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, said Hill High currently has a Grade A license, meaning it can provide unprocessed milk to licensed processors and to provide raw milk through the "herd share" agreement.
The state is not asking a judge to interfere with those operations.
However, Hill High is not supposed to sell processed products on its farm without a license as a processor and retailer, Holton said.
The state is concerned about food safety, Holton said. Only through regular inspections and licensing can the state ensure milk-processing operations are clean and safe, reducing the risk of dangerous, even potentially deadly, food-borne illnesses such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.
"The only license they have is to milk cows," she said of Hill High.
The state is not asking that a judge stop Hill High's sharing of raw milk through herd share agreements or its sales to processing plants elsewhere, Holton said. It only demands that Hill High stops offering processed products from its milk for sale.
It's rare that inspectors would take their concerns to court, Holton said.
But the 21-page filing Monday in Ingham County Circuit Court seems to be a culmination of two years of battle between the farm operations and the state.
During several routine inspections since 2013 to allow them to continue to produce raw milk, state investigators have found processed food products with prices, pricing charts, a cash box, and a list of costumers, according to the complaint. On Sept. 19, 2013, owner Joseph Golimbieski refused to sign a "cease and desist" presented by inspectors, according to the complaint.
And last year, he sent the department a no-trespassing document to department inspectors, telling them they must "cease and desist" their "unauthorized invasion" of his private property.
Inspectors returned in December, this time with a search warrant, finding food products once again.