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Published June 09, 2015, 11:52 AM

Judge partially backs farmer in Minnesota dairy's legal battle with state

A Cook County, Minn., farmer who wants to sell unprocessed milk to his customers can keep doing so for now, and won't be fined by the state in the meantime, as the two sides move toward a hearing in state district court.

By: John Myers , Forum News Service

A Cook County, Minn., farmer who wants to sell unprocessed milk to his customers can keep doing so for now, and won't be fined by the state in the meantime, as the two sides move toward a hearing in state district court.

That was the preliminary ruling by State District Court Judge Michael Cuzzo dated June 3.

Cuzzo ruled that dairy farmer David Berglund is not in contempt of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and doesn't have to pay any of the $500-per-day fines the agency wanted to impose on Berglund for not allowing state inspectors on his farm near Grand Marais called Lake View Natural Dairy.

Cuzzo also stayed, or removed, a previous court order requiring Berglund to allow state inspectors onto his farm.

"That's all gone now, the fines and the inspections, and we are moving toward a decision that's based on the constitutional rights," said Zenas Baer, Berglund's attorney.

A June 23 telephone conference has been set to schedule a later hearing date for evidence to be presented by both sides. Any final decision by the judge on the issue could be many months away, Baer noted.

Berglund first squared off with the agriculture department last October after officials with the agency learned of his farm and that he'd been selling raw milk and other raw milk products directly to customers who visit the dairy.

Since then, citing a more than 100-year-old codicil in the Minnesota Constitution that allows a person to peddle products of their farm without a license, Berglund has refused to allow state inspectors onto his property.

The case is drawing a growing measure of regional and national attention for its converging issues including individual rights and organic farming. Berglund is not commenting to the media, but Baer has explained the issues at hand.

According to documents filed by Baer with the court, the Berglund farm is more than 100 years old, having been started by Berglund's forebearers, who immigrated from Sweden. Located on Cook County Road 56, off the Gunflint Trail northeast of Grand Marais, it features 75-80 head of cattle and some pigs and chickens on more than 700 acres, some owned by Berglund and some leased. The farm sells raw milk, cream, skim milk, butter, yogurt, beef and eggs to customers who visit the farm.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials previously declined to discuss the case but noted that about 93 percent of the dairy farms in the state are inspected and licensed as grade-A farms, with their products able to be used for bottled milk, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese. Other products — cheese, ice cream and butter, primarily — can use milk that comes from grade-B farms. Regardless, most dairy farms are grade-A and visited twice annually for unannounced inspections and would require Berglund to pasteurize the milk, said Nicole Neeser, director of the Department of Agriculture's dairy and food inspection division.

Berglund has said that because his is not a grade-A or grade-B farm, state dairy rules don't apply to his operation.

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