Mark Baker, the now-nationally-known small farmer in Michigan who went up against the DNR for the right to raise his heritage pigs has made a startling announcement on his Baker's Green Acres YouTube channel. The announcement comes just days after the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development conducted what spokesperson Jennifer Holton termed a "routine" inspection and days after Baker announced the loss of a dear friend who advocated with Baker on issues brought before the Michigan Small Farm Council.
The inspection, which was made using an administrative inspection warrant and was called a joint action by Michigan and U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety authorities by Holton, followed a complaint from a local health department.
The reported complaint was the response to an online newsletter's picture of a Traverse City chef holding a locally-produced prosciutto ham. The ham was credited to Baker's Green Acres as the source. A Grand Traverse County Health Department sanitarian saw the photo. According to Mlive, sanitarian Michael Kolbusz called the local MDARD inspector (who licenses facilities like Baker's Green Acres) and inquired as to whether Baker's Green Acres was licensed to produce and sell that style of ham. MDARD said Mark Baker's farm was not licensed for that type of preparation and sale.
Mark Baker was not licensed to process prosciutto for sale to restaurants, the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service said in a statement. The inspection never happened. Mark Baker demanded that the officials wait with him just hours until witnesses could be present for the inspection, because the inspectors were accompanied by the Michigan State Police. Baker's declaration was made at the suggestion of his lawyer. Before witnesses arrived, the inspectors left, Baker says.
MI gets 3-day search warrant for Mark Baker's family farm over A LABEL. #farmaggedon https://t.co/XfOZMTyokN pic.twitter.com/kr7v6DHFZfHolton says that a MDARD inspector and an inspector from USDA Food Safety Inspection Service did try to "conduct an inspection of the food processing operation to determine what type of products are being produced and sold and to provide information to Mr. Baker on what is allowed and the required inspections and variances, if any, are needed, based on the type of operation."
— Sally Oh (@xosallyoh) December 19, 2015
Baker's supporters allege that he was targeted after his legal battle with the DNR over the invasive species regulations.
"This is complete and utter retribution," Baker told Mlive, "for the stance we took on the feral swine issue."
@SchuetteOnDuty Hal Martin's behavior in the Baker's Green Acres / DNR case. Deplorable. http://t.co/xQqDjyVXd2In a December 23 video, Baker said that inspectors visited The Flying Moose in Marquette to examine Baker's Green Acres products and store records. Another customer, according to Mlive, called Mark Baker and said that inspectors had looked at his products in their facility, as well. Watch the video below, as Mark Baker asks for more people to do business with The Flying Moose.
— Regular Mid-West Gal (@Kathleen_Foster) March 1, 2014
Baker did praise the behavior of the Michigan State troopers during the visit from the inspectors, but alleges that their presence is hardly routine and called their armed presence at the unannounced visit "posturing" on the part of the inspectors. Officials with the state say that anytime a warrant is issued for an inspection, police are called to accompany them. Officials assert that they had to investigate for the safety of the public after the complaint was made. Baker said that the health department's complaint could have easily been handled on the telephone. Baker said that their issue could have been easily rectified, and that while the prosciutto in the picture could have been from his farm, "we don't sell it."
An Mlive journalist supposed that the meat could have come from a fully licensed facility that butchered Baker's meats. The reporter then supposed that there were many ways the meat could have come from Baker's Green Acres and legally ended up at the restaurant, such as if the restaurant chef cured the ham. Baker said that if the state called him, he could have produced records.
Baker told Mlive that the damage was already done, though, because his customers were intimidated by government officials.
Writer David Gumpert claims that the state veterinarian pressured almost every butcher within a hundred mile radius of Baker's Green Acres and that the USDA put enough pressure on Baker's restaurant customers that they stopped buying Baker's meat. Gumpert says Baker fought and won "an important battle, which will be long remembered."
However, after an exhausting battle with with the State of Michigan that culminated with troopers on his property, Mark Baker is done fighting to do business. Baker says that the inspection was the final straw.
"My wife didn't marry me so she could go to bed at night to be awakened by (fears of) armed men" in the driveway, Mark Baker told Mlive during a telephone interview.
In his video, Baker says he needs to make sure his family has security and feels safe. Almost two years after a judge dismissed the case against Baker's Green Acres, the case that started all of the state's interest in Baker's farms, Mark announces that Baker's Green Acres is going out of business.
Even as Baker announces the farm's closure, he contemplates the impact it will have on Michigan's other small farmers. Ultimately, Mark says he believes that with Baker's Green Acres out of the picture, small farm advocates might be more effective.
"We don't want to bring any discredit down on small farms community or the veterans community either," Mark Baker says in the video, "And it appears as though our adversaries have pulled the stops and are gonna go to... it appears that they are gonna go to great lengths to make this look ugly and to diminish our effectiveness."
According to the State Integrity Investigation, a data-driven assessment by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, the State of Michigan ranks last among the 50 states. The Center names "Michigan's money-driven politics" as the key reason why the state ranks so low in government transparency and accountability.
A representative from the Michigan Small Farm Council suggests on Facebook that anyone interested in purchasing any of Baker's Green Acres' hogs or Mark Baker's actual farm can contact the council by emailing: email@example.com.