Food Series: Grassroots Activism with Judith McGeary

Govern wisely and as little as possible.
~ Sam Houston

By Pete Kennedy

A promising trend in recent years has been the deregulation of local food production and distribution by state legislatures. Many states have passed bills to legalize or expand raw milk distribution, cottage food sales, and on-farm slaughter. One state legislature that has passed many bills helping small farmers and local artisan producers is Texas; the driving force behind that legislation has been the advocacy nonprofit, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA).

FARFA founder, executive director, and lobbyist Judith McGeary joins the Food Series audiocast to discuss her work in Texas and her nonprofit’s successes in the legislature and elsewhere. The Texas legislative session can turn into a brawl or free-for-all; FARFA has managed to stay the course and be largely responsible for passing bills that have improved the food and agriculture landscape. One of FARFA’s greatest victories was an expansion of the raw milk laws in Texas, a change that occurred not in the legislature but rather through the bureaucracy and the rulemaking process after a decade-long battle.

Prior Texas law limited raw milk sales to the farm. With many of the dairies being far away from any population centers, a number of farmers and their customers delivered raw milk to help the farm survive. There were multiple raids by state and local government agencies to stop that practice, resulting in the confiscation and dumping of raw milk and the initiation of court actions against farmers for violating state dairy law. During that time, FARFA was working with legislators on the introduction and attempted passing of four different raw milk bills, helping provide legal defense for the farmers facing prosecution, and operating in the “court of public opinion” by holding raw milk days publicizing the plight of the farmers at the state capital.

Eventually, the political pressure FARFA and others put on the Texas State Department of Health to change the law convinced the department to begin the rulemaking process, which not only legalized raw milk deliveries but also the sale of other raw dairy products. The Texas raw milk fight is a great example of how perseverance and using all possible avenues (legislative, judicial, administrative, and the court of public opinion) can lead to success.

McGeary also talks about other bills FARFA has worked on that have created a more favorable regulatory climate for local food in Texas, such as cottage foods, on-farm poultry processing, and custom slaughter. She goes over the obstacles that county and local governments can present in ignoring the will of the legislature to ease the burden on small food producers.

FARFA also works on the federal level; McGeary concludes the interview by discussing the 2024 Farm Bill, the threat posed by mandatory electronic ID for cattle and bison, and the damage Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws do to American ranchers. Throughout the interview, she provides valuable advice on how to effectively work for change on state food law and policy.

Related:

Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance

Council for Healthy Food Systems

Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund

Weston A. Price Foundation

Food Freedom Foundation

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