By Vernon Robison
Moapa Valley Progress
Quail Hollow Farm owners Laura and Monte Bledsoe presented a draft of proposed legislation before the Nevada Legislative Interim Committee on Healthcare on Tuesday, April 10. The draft language would change the state law to allow small home-based agricultural operations to sell produce and meats raised on site to the public without state or federal inspection.
Quail Hollow Farms, a community supported agricultural (CSA) farm operation in Overton, ran into trouble last fall when the Bledsoes tried to hold a Farm to Fork Dinner for paying guests. The dinner was to feature meat and vegetables raised, and served in an elegant outdoor setting, right there on the farm.
During the event, Southern Nevada Health District inspectors arrived and required the Bledsoe’s to destroy much of the meal because, they claimed, the source of the food was uncertified and the meat did not bear a USDA stamp.
With the nearest USDA meat processing facility in central Utah, and tight restrictions against transporting meat products across state lines, the Bledsoes maintain that the right of the public to choose farm fresh meats for consumption were being infringed by government regulations.
So the Bledsoes approached the State Legislative Committee in January to request that new legislation be presented to allow for such activity.
“This has become a big issue,” said Laura Bledsoe in an interview with the Progress. “And it is not a partisan issue. We’ve got shareholders and dinner guests that were there that night from all over the political spectrum. There were conservatives there that were calling for freedom of choice. There were liberals that were interested in having a zero footprint and finding a refuge from pesticides and chemicals in their food. The fact is that food sovereignty is going to be a huge platform in upcoming political years.”
The proposed legislation focuses on two different areas. The first would allow private homes and farms to produce or prepare candies, pickles, relishes, salsas, jams, jellies or baked goods to be sold to individuals on site or at farmer’s markets without state inspection if the products are properly and clearly labeled as such. The second item would allow small livestock or poultry producers to process and sell their meat products to individuals on site as long as the seller clearly discloses that the meat has been prepared without state inspection.
Laura Bledsoe stated that the draft language had been sent to SNHD officials and the response was encouraging.
“They told us that the fruits, vegetable and preserves part was basically no problem,” Bledsoe said. “Their only concern was with the meat. They said that under federal law there is really no exemptions to USDA approval of meats.”
Bledsoe expressed optimism that legislation could be drafted that would allow consumers to “opt out” of USDA inspection of their meats. She said that many of her customers and shareholders don’t want to see a USDA stamp on the meat that they eat.
“When they buy direct from the source, they know for sure where their food comes from,” she said. “And yet, the USDA system will still be there for those who want it.”
Legislative Committee Chairwoman April Mastroluca said that the minds of committee members are open on the issue. She stated that draft legislation will now have a chance to go through a full review from SNHD and state health officials. The matter will then be heard again in the May meeting of the Committee.
“Everyone is willing to work and come up with a solution,” Mastroluca said. “There isn’t anyone trying to prevent it. All the parties agree to find a way to do this safely.”