Help save our school and farm!
(Photo: A veterinarian with some of our goats on the day of the seizure.)
About me and this cause.
I moved my farm here to the Richmond metro area with the goal of rebuilding it and using it as a base for a private, alternative school. Our early students have even been instrumental in helping us with the designing and upgrading of the property. The goal is to develop a showcase agri-forest pasture management system for a large, working sheep and goat herd. The chores, activities, and lesson learned on the farm help teens develop a strong work ethic and a foundation of stewardship while allowing them to learn traditional subjects in more connected ways. Fortunately, we had just started our 2nd Quarter Break when the shenanigans started!
When a normal day turns into anything but normal.
My daughter and I returned from a feed run around 3 PM on June 13. We sat for a few minutes, planning our afternoon chores and how to handle the horse/fence problem. We came up with a plan, sent a text to our local hay supplier for round bale deliveries and proceeded to unload and start on the afternoon chores. We never got to do them.
As I was unloading the feed, we were swarmed by Charles City County Sheriffs, completely filling the large drive and surrounding space, overflowing into the road. It looked like the entire Sheriff's department plus two VA State Troopers were on our property. They descended on us with guns holstered but unsnapped and ready. Officer Greene handed me a single piece of paper and told me he was there to investigate us and seize my animals and I was informed that trailers were on standby. The so-called warrant (picture at bottom) said they wanted any and all records for feed, vet services, medicines, etc. for all animals. But he only glanced at a feed bag for the horses and photographed it and a cabinet I opened for them of horse meds, etc and then moved on with a private veterinarian to "examine" the animals.
They ordered us to sit in an area where I could not watch their activities. I was not asked nor allowed to collect any of the records the so-called warrant listed. An officer monitored us where we were. I was quite concerned at that point for my safety and the safety of my daughter.
They did not photograph anything that showed we were actually caring for the animals. They did not photograph the goat milk stand, the goat feeds, the chicken feeds, cat food or dog food. Officer Greene had the camera and reluctantly photographed our goat medicine cabinet after I realized they were seizing everything with hooves and brought it to him despite having been asked to stay where I was. He refused to photograph the area where we feed the goats and lied about the temporary water tank we had for the horses for just day use since they were moved to another area with big stock tanks in the evenings.
They made it very clear that they had an opinion formed about our care of the animals and acted solely on that opinion. We were known to be guilty, treated guilty and set up as best as possible to be found guilty.
From approximately 3:20 to 9 PM, we were not allowed to do our chores that we were already working on when they showed up. The horses and a couple of goats were grazing on grass. The entire rest of the herd was dependent on us bringing in the afternoon feed. We were not allowed to. Our entire sheep and goat herd was forced to have empty stomachs for at least 6 hours of their prime grazing time (a situation that can lead to gastric issues and even death). I'm sure it was considerably longer as there was transport time after leaving our property and who knows what sort of holding pens at the other end.
Some of the animals seized have medical conditions that need to be treated. No history on any of the animals was asked for nor any special care information. They clearly were not interested in the animals' well being. So many things were done wrong with my animals. Officer Green and the veterinarian provided strong evidentiary lack of knowledge on their part and left us with grave concern for the health and well being of my animals while in the County's "care".
It is not clear how any of this could ever equate to us being intimated and treated like hardcore criminals. I was told by Officer Greene that my animals were in danger and he was seizing them. He cited a lie about the water supply for the horses and that my goats haven't been given hay as the reason for the seizure. We haven't been giving the goats hay. It is summer and we feed them browse (trees, vines, etc. that we cut daily). He played the "good cop" and insisted he's seen cases like this before. Obviously I was overwhelmed. He wanted me to tell him what happened and why, in his opinion, the animals were suffering. I refused. I was not overwhelmed. He got more firm and attempted to coerce me into signing the animals over. I AGAIN refused. Then he moved on to extortion. If I sign the animals over, they wouldn't press charges and I wouldn't owe anything. I AGAIN refused. He got more irritated. If I don't sign the animals over, the County was going to charge me for boarding fees, the expenses for the vet to be on-site for the 6 hours of the so-called investigation and loading of the animals, and they would certainly go for criminal neglect and abuse charges. I refused AGAIN and politely thanked him for his time.
Coincidently, they did this on a day when AC Officer Wiggins was off duty. He arrived late in the process, as they were getting ready to load horses and seemed in a sour mood. Two different deputies apologized to us before leaving the property.
In the end, they only seized hooved animals. They left chickens, ducks, peafowl, rabbits, cats, and dogs, all of which were indicated on the paper.
We currently face two hurdles. We are a farm in a non-farm community and this same community is also dead set against us having a high school here. Both of these activities we are doing legally with proper zoning and County Licensure. Unfortunately, this type of activity (attacks by law enforcement based on complaints) is becoming more an more commonplace. When farms are surrounded by a non-farm community, these tactics are often used to run them out. They depend on the common factor that farmers have very little cash flow. They coerce, threaten large fees, civil and criminal penalties to get farmers to cave in. Animal rights groups are bringing many of these complaints to court and leading the charge on farm attacks.
The goal with this fundraiser is to raise funds needed to cover the legal expenses and any fees the County is intending to charge. If we are not able to win in Court on the 17th of July, we will appeal it but there will most likely be large bond fees for appealing. The more excessive the fees, the more difficult it is for anyone to win. They literally charge you out of the game.
Any funds left over from our expenses in fighting this case will be paid forward. We will pass these on through an organization to help other farmers who facing these same persecutions.
Even while we are working to fight this legal battle, we are working on improvements on the farm. Student families are sticking with us because they are here every day and know how hard we work. We are staying positive and pushing on. This weekend (June 29 - 30), we are hosting a fence building BBQ party and working on perimeter fencing. Classes and workshops that are scheduled on the farm will continue as usual. This will NOT stop our school!
Thank you in advance for your support!
Warrant and seizure list...
While we wait for the CA to get his stuff together and give us date for our vet to get to the animals, we continue farm improvements that were planned for this quarter! So excited to see continued improvements! Thanks to everyone who is supporting our farm, our school and our county issues!
So happy to get the news today from our Lawyer that we will be able to get our own vet in to look at the animals! A few of them need special care which they haven't gotten now for 2 weeks. It's so bad that when I noticed the seizure list only showed one sheep, I had to email this photo to the "investigator" who apparently has some problems identifying species, so they would know that one sheep had a ewe lamb! So eager to get our vet in there.