Embattled farmer Mark Baker is still reeling from his surreal experiences last fall, when a Michigan judge in the closely watched case ruled against Baker in his lawsuit challenging the state’s efforts to shut down his family’s heritage-pig farm.
This onslaught is being carried out through the vague edicts of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Since this writer first reported on this matter last summer, the Baker family, which now includes a newborn child, has seen its savings nearly destroyed due to this state-sanctioned destruction of their farm income. And most of their pig herd is gone.
Judge Thomas Solka denied a request Baker put forth in court on Oct. 15 in Marquette County, Mich., to have a DNR Declaratory Ruling declared invalid because of its inherent vagueness. This DNR ruling was first issued April 1, 2012, saying any pig deemed “feral” must be destroyed.
This ruling’s baffling list of characteristics for defining a feral pig includes things like “straight ears or floppy ears” and “straight tail or curly tail.” It’s like racial profiling for pigs.
However, a “feral” pig, Baker explained, is simply a pig living in the wild. But Baker, as this writer determined by visiting his farm, is not raising “pigs-gone-wild.” Those, like Baker, who raise pigs within secure pens are raising domesticated pigs.
So while this DNR ruling outlaws heritage-breed swine as an “invasive species” that should be depopulated, the very thing Mr. Baker resisted the most in this difficult case — shooting his own pigs — actually happened. Sadly, about 150 pre-born baby pigs were among the lost when Baker was compelled to shoot 15 of his sows — his breeding stock.
Other Michigan heritage-pig farmers last year obeyed the DNR’s edicts and shot their animals. Baker refused, for as long as he could.
With his income plummeting, he could no longer afford the large quantities of standard feed these big sows consumed, so they were shot, gutted and processed by Baker and friends at his farm. “The DNR even leaned on my processors,” he told this writer, meaning outside companies could no longer slaughter and process his animals like before.
In his suit against the DNR, Baker was joined last October in court by other plaintiffs, some of whom own fenced-in game preserves for hunting heritage pigs. They, too, are at risk of being forced out of business.
Although Baker has only about 10 pigs left, the state still sees his family as “outlaws” harboring “an invasive species.” And despite assurances from the Michigan attorney general that law enforcement will “stand down,” the family still isn’t sure whether their farm will be raided or searched — possibly by heavily armed agents.
As an Air Force veteran who served a nation he barely recognizes today, Mark Baker would like to regain the right to raise heritage-breed swine independently of the corporate pork-producing associations.
Notably, heritage-breed is a livestock term applied to animals, such as pigs, that have been bred over time to be best adapted to local conditions. They withstand disease and survive well in harsher conditions.
The pork Baker used to produce until Michigan authorities shut down that production was considered by area chefs to be gourmet, because heritage-breed pigs are raised naturally, while growing at their natural pace without growth hormones.
Conventional commercial swine wallow in confined factory-farm buildings. They are deprived of sunlight, often sleep in their own waste and are injected full of hormones, so they can be fattened faster and whisked off to the slaughterhouse to become the pork found in most grocery stores.
In the face of such adversity, Baker is developing an educational program called Anyone Can Farm, to help anyone start any kind of farm for better health and self-sufficiency. Realizing the nutritional depletion of many commercial foods and potential food shortages, more people are returning to the land.
“You don’t have to have 1,000 acres to be a farmer,” he added, stressing that people with the most humble garden still qualify to be a farmer, even if they’re only part-time.
Also see www.BakersGreenAcres.com or AnyoneCanFarm.com.
Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2013
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