The unusual criminal trial of Alvin Schlangen ended Thursday with a guilty verdict in Stearns County District Court in St. Cloud.
Schlangen is a Freeport organic egg producer who had resisted Minnesota Department of Agriculture demands that he get a license, refrigerate eggs and package and label his food accurately. He will spend the next year on probation and will pay a $300 fine. If he violates state food laws, including those for raw milk, he could be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail.
Schlangen contended he’s not in the business of selling food commercially and doesn’t need the $155 license. He argued he provides food to a group of organic and locally grown food enthusiasts who buy and share with each other foods they have grown.
The case is unusual because it was handled as a criminal matter and it was doubtful that Schlangen would serve jail time if convicted. The state just wants him to obey the law, prosecutor William MacPhail said.
“There isn’t a bad guy in this case,” MacPhail said.
Schlangen wore a white T-shirt of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund that read “We’ve Got Your Farmer’s Back” Thursday and occasionally chuckled during MacPhail’s closing argument.
His lawyer, Nathan Hansen of North St. Paul, argued the state hadn’t proved any of the charges. The food the state claims was mislabled or misbranded wasn’t for sale and the commercially produced meat in the freezer was for family and friends, he said.
“He’s not in a business and he is not selling,” Hansen said in an interview.
Hansen said the the case was about Schlangen disagreeing with the facts of the case and disagreeing with the law.
He said he was suprised by the guilty verdict on the food handling and egg storage charges. He will consider an appeal.
Department of Agriculture efforts to negotiate a suitable compromise failed and it fell to a four-man, two-woman jury to decide the case in Judge Vicki Landwehr’s courtroom. Lawyers in the case spent time talking about the merits of government food safety regulations in the trial that spanned parts of three days.