Rawesome Foods operator pleads not guilty in raw milk case

Kristin Papac with daughter Ella and son William.
Kristin Papac with daughter Ella and son William. Brian Watt/KPCC

The founder of Rawesome Foods in Venice pleaded not guilty today on charges of processing and selling unlicensed raw milk. The arraignment of James Stewart drew dozens of demonstrators in favor of raw dairy.

Biologist Lela Buttery has volunteered at the Rawesome Foods members-only buying club for three years. She was there Wednesday morning when police raided the co-op and arrested its founder James Stewart.

"It is very ironic that we would be having guns held to us and for what? For milk? It’s not a drug. It’s not an illegal substance," Buttery said, as she waited outside the courtroom in downtown Los Angeles for the arraignment.

But in America, raw or unpasteurized milk is a substance that requires a license to make and sell. And prosecutors say Rawesome Foods has been selling it for years without permits.

Police also arrested the owner and one employee of Healthy Family Farms in Ventura County that produced the milk.

"This is what?" asked Buttery. "A nutrient-rich superfood that members are buying, members that choose to waive these rights, members that know any risks that might be at hand."

Across the street from the courthouse a crowd of people chanted "Hey, hey, FDA: Don't take our milk away!"

“I drank raw milk when I was pregnant with my second son because I felt it was healthy, more digestible because the enzymes are intact,“ explained 31-year-old Kristin Papac of West L.A. She held her 1-year-old son William, whose bib read “I drink two kinds of raw milk.”

Papac said the government is wasting time and money targeting clubs like Rawesome. "There’s more important things that the government can use sting operations and crack down on than a little liquid gold, raw milk."

Rawesome founder James Stewart and Healthy Family Farms employee Victoria Bloch pleaded not guilty. Bloch was released without bail. Stewart’s bail was reduced to $30,000, with the condition that he not distribute unlicensed dairy products. The L.A. County District attorney would not comment on the case.

If convicted, James Stewart faces up to eight years in state prison. Healthy Family Farms' owner is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.

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