Running a co-op got one family in a run-in with the law. Photo Manna Storehouse web site.
Food cooperatives come in all shapes and sizes - from the corner health food store jointly owned and operated by its members - to buying clubs that aggregate purchases of specialty products in order to decrease costs. Co-ops have vastly contributed to 'eat local' movements. You don't expect them to have law enforcement descending en mass one winter morning to serve a search warrant for suspected business license violations.
That's what happened to Manna Storehouse, however. Family run out of a home in LaGrange, Ohio, Manna states on its web site that it is a food co-op (the family also raises sheep) with 60 members that together buy everything from Amy's Organic Strawberry Toaster Pops to organic pastured chickens. On December 1 Manna got an unexpected visit from local law enforcement. Uncorroborated reports have Manna's family of owners being held at gunpoint for several hours while a "SWAT" team served a search warrant, proceeded to turn the house upside down, and left with computers, cell phones and several thousands of dollars in food. According to newspaper reports in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, the raid consisted of "four deputies" conducting a search over three to four hours, searching for evidence the family is running a retail food establishment without proper licensing.Organic co-op quiet after raid
It iss hard to say which of the conflicting reports is completely accurate, for at this point Manna's owners have not talked to the press, though one member of the family granted a short phone interview to blogger and journalist David Gumpert. Manna said it may issue a press statement at some point after the family has spoken with lawyers.
Fugitive grass-fed food?
Some of the basic details about the raid are spelled out in a Lorain County police incident/investigation report posted here. From that report, it seems that 11 officers were "assisting" in serving the search warrant.
It also stated that one deputy was wearing
"a clearly marked Sheriff's Department kevlar vest and (sic) as well as raid pants, as his duty as a member of the Northern Ohio Fugitive Task Force".
In addition, the report states that the "security team" cleared the residence and turned it over to an officer from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to conduct the "court ordered search and seizure." Though no mention is made of drawn guns, the report does say that the cellular phone of one of the family members was forcibly seized, and that there was initial "resistance" to the execution of the search warrant. Sixty-one boxes of food were taken from the home as well as three computers, cell phones and other electronic equipment.
Grass-fed farmers and an organic co-op as fugitives?
It seems hard to fathom. The controversy may be in the definition of a co-op. Co-ops do not fall under the same exact rules as other regular businesses, as those who receive co-op benefits must be members that agree to co-op conditions. The family running Manna Storehouse declared previously that they had no intention of being licensed, maintaining they were exempt from having to be. One blogger theorized that the Ohio Department of Agriculture used so much manpower in the raid because government agents are spooked by the murder three years ago of USDA department employees during an inspection of a sausage factory. Others believe it is part of a systematic harassment of small alternative farmers. If the co-op is charged with operating a retail establishment without a license, the charge is a third-degree misdemeanor, according to the Ohio Chronicle-Telegram.
The fact that the business deals in organic food "has no significance at all" in the investigation, Scott Serazin told the Chronicle-Telegram.
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