Judge writes in support of city against ‘buying club’

Uptown Locavore founder Will Winter pictured at the 3137 Hennepin Ave. drop site the city closed down in May. File photo

The Minneapolis City Council should not allow a man to restart the “buying club” through which he distributed raw meat and dairy products to members, an administrative law judge wrote Nov. 13.

Judge Eric L. Lipman wrote that the council should affirm the Minneapolis Health Department’s orders that forced Will Winter to cease operating his buying club, called Uptown Locavore. Further, it should dismiss Winter’s appeal for damages for shutting down the business, Lipman wrote.

“The State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis have significant interests ‘in regulating the health and safety of [the] food supply, including the sale of raw milk,'” he wrote. “Moreover, the administrative orders in this case were directly aimed at minimizing potential public health risks.”

Winter ran a private buying club out of a house on Hennepin Avenue, providing members the opportunity to purchase locally grown meats; unpasteurized, or raw, dairy products; ferments; and other products such as raw honey. He contended that the First Amendment shielded him from application of food regulations and that transactions through his club were direct sales between consumers and farmers.

The Minnesota Constitution allows farmers to sell their products without a license, and Minnesota’s dairy law allows farmers to sell consumers unpasteurized milk, provided they sell the milk from where it was produced.

The city maintained that Winter was operating an unlicensed food establishment and was transferring products that were not labeled or sourced as required by law.

Lipman wrote that club members’ rights to associate with each other, as protected by the First Amendment, do not immunize them from the state’s food code. Further, Lipman disputed Winter’s claim that transactions in the club are made directly between the consumer and farmers. He also disputed that transfers of raw milk occur at the farm where the milk is produced.

He noted that Winter required members to acknowledge that there may be risks of harm encountered in visiting or entering the club as part of its application.

Lipman also wrote that Uptown Locavore meets the definition of a “food establishment” as written in state statute, which means it requires a valid license to operate.

The City Council Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights and Engagement Committee was scheduled to consider Lipman’s recommendation at its Nov. 26 meeting, but the committee postponed the hearing until Jan. 7.