(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – Ronald Reagan was fond of saying that the nine most frightening words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” A couple who owns a small farm in a small town discovered first-hand the destructive power of a bureaucracy intent on helping.
Monte and Laura Bledsoe, the owners of Quail Hollow Farm, a small organic farm in Overton, thought they would host a gathering to bring community together and celebrate local farmers. Instead they ran headlong into a bureaucratic buzzsaw.
The Bledsoes had planned what is called a Farm-to-Fork dinner, one featuring all locally grown food. Hoping for a large turnout they advertised in the local paper and spread the word around their small community.
A couple days before the dinner they got a call telling them they needed to pull a permit from the Southern Nevada Health District. Even though it was on their private property, since they had advertised it, the dinner was considered a public event requiring a permit.
So Mr. Bledsoe traveled from Overton to downtown Las Vegas to fill out the paperwork and pay the fee to apply for the permit. As he completed this process he was informed an inspection would be required before the permit could be issued.
The Bledsoes had hired a certified chef for the event. He assured them the inspection would be no problem as he’d been through many of these inspections in the past.
But this inspection was unlike any other.
The Health District inspector showed up just as the guests were arriving. “It was apparent she had arrived with the sole purpose of shutting us down,” Mrs. Bledsoe told us.
The first thing the inspector went for was the kitchen. Luckily for the Bledsoes they had rented a certified kitchen trailer foiling any hopes the inspector had of pulling the plug on the dinner for that infraction. In addition, some of the food had been prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas and delivered to the farm in time for the dinner.
However, she was not to be deterred. “From there,” said Mrs. Bledsoe, “it was, ‘let’s see what we can find.’”
She eyed the meats and told the Bledsoes they were not USDA-certified. She demanded receipts or packaging for the meats, which the Bledsoes obviously could not produce since the animals had been raised and slaughtered on Quail Hollow Farm.
When she was asked what could be done, the inspector replied the Bledsoes could go to the supermarket, buy meat and give her receipts. The fact that would defeat the purpose of the entire event didn’t seem to bother her.
She then proceeded to take the temperature of the food that had been prepared in Las Vegas and which the cook was getting ready to heat before serving.
After declaring this food was not up to the proper temperature the inspector deemed all of the food unfit and unsafe for consumption. She demanded it all be destroyed. Every morsel.
The guests had absolutely no say in whether they would eat the food that had been prepared. They had no rights and they had no choice. The agent of the state, the representative of the all-powerful bureaucracy, had issued her decree and the subjects had no choice but to obey.
The inspector further declared that not only could it not be consumed by the guests, the Bledsoe family could not keep it to eat themselves. She went even further than that. Not merely satisfied with declaring it unfit for human consumption, she prohibited the Bledsoes from feeding it to their pigs and forced them to pour bleach on it.
“We had 12 rabbits we had raised and butchered,” Mr. Bledsoe said. These animals were declared to be trash by the Health Department inspector. Dozens of pounds of produce were destroyed as well.
Before you start thinking that this was just some rogue inspector taking out her frustrations on an unfortunate business, this outrage was sanctioned by higher-ups in the department. Bledsoe indicated the inspector was communicating with and receiving approval from her supervisor throughout the inspection and destruction of the meal.
The Bledsoes were able to act quickly and not allow the Health District to entirely destroy the evening. They took some produce that was ready to be delivered to a farmer’s market the next day. Between them and the chef they were able to prepare a meal so the guests would not be sent away completely famished.
Upon hearing of this fiasco, Overton resident and County Commissioner Tom Collins was outraged and arranged a meeting between Mr. and Mrs. Bledsoe, the Health District inspector, the inspector’s supervisor and her supervisor. After spending most of the meeting attempting to justify their disgraceful actions, eventually the supervisor issued an apology to the Bledsoes.
Although it is an extreme case, the Bledsoes’ story is far from unique. It represents precisely the type of outrageous government overreach and arrogance that businesses and individuals are forced to deal with on an almost daily basis and that stifles business growth, consumer choice and personal liberty.
In this case their overreach may have backfired. The Bledsoes are now motivated to change things. They are working with organizations of small farmers and with politicians to change some of the laws and regulations that are burdening small farmers.
But the Farm-to-Fork event was probably the last for Quail Hollow Farm. “We never want another public official on our property again,” declared Laura Bledsoe.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)