Economics

"The case is about a constitutional principle—the right to sell products grown in other states."

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The Institute for Justice filed a major lawsuit today against the city of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, which currently forbids local farmers from selling produce grown on their own land if that land happens to fall outside of the city limits. As family farmer and lead plaintiff Keith Bergmann explains in Minnesota's Pioneer Press:

For over 60 years, my family has lived and farmed in Lake Elmo. We run a small farm and greenhouse called Country Sun Farm. On our farm we sell flowers and plants grown on-site, pumpkins grown on the farm and elsewhere, and Christmas trees grown in other states. Maybe some of you have seen our farm along Highway 36 on your way to view the fall colors in Stillwater. We're the place on the south side of the road with a giant pumpkin, petting zoo, and haunted house filled with kids and families enjoying a wonderful fall day.

Unfortunately, our farm is in jeopardy. In December, Lake Elmo arbitrarily decided that most of the pumpkins we sell in the fall, and the Christmas trees we sell in December, are illegal. The city says these products must be grown within the city limits of our small town to promote the town's rural character. It did this even though we have grown pumpkins outside of Lake Elmo, purchased Christmas trees from growers outside of Lake Elmo, and sold both products at our establishment for over 25 years. This rule just hurts farms like ours. It does not make sense.

To stop this outrage we are joining with fellow family farmers from Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wisconsin who have sold us pumpkins and Christmas trees over the years. Represented by the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, we will file a federal lawsuit today because what the city is doing violates our constitutional right to participate in interstate commercial markets. We should be able to sell produce in Minnesota that we grow in Wisconsin. We should also be able to trade with farmers in other states.

For more on the case, check out the video below:

NEXT: Because it's Really About Principles

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  1. I wonder what farm completely inside the city limits got peeved at having competition from the Country Sun Farm…

    1. FTW!

  2. I grew up in Lake Elmo. They’ve been fighting the suburbs for the last 30 years, despite the fact that they are now completely surrounded. The level of retardation in local politics there has been consistently high for as long as I can remember.

  3. Wait a minute. Is this an actual potentially valid application of the interstate commerce clause?

    1. Which side of the argument are you referring to?

      The ordinance seems to me to be patently unconstitutional, as it is pure economic protectionism. Although Scalia and Thomas don’t like or agree with the notion of the “dorman” commerce clause, there it is, and this is a prime example of what it forbids.

      1. I hate it when my doorman restricts interstate commerce. He’s always misplacing my packages, and one time he lost an order of imported Danish viking smoked sea salt.

        1. I meant to say the “doormouse” commerce clause.

          1. If you mean the critter made famous by Lewis Carroll it’s “dormouse” – from the root “dormant” (due to their lengthy hibernations), not because of a penchant for portals.

            1. Which is what I meant to say, of course.

              I mean, really.

  4. I went into my favorite little BBQ joint the other day, the place just started up within the last year.

    There weren’t any tables–I mean, the tables were gone! They’d pulled all the tables out of the restaurant.

    When I asked why, they said the health inspector had come by and said that their restroom wasn’t adequately accessible, so they couldn’t have any tables…

    Being a commercial real estate guy, I immediately suspected and doin’ a little digging–of course–the entrenched franchise burger joint next door was responsible…

    You see it everywhere. Businesses do whatever they can to compete, and putting up and maintaining whatever barriers to entry is part of that. Make no mistake, local businesses are conspiring with local government to restrict consumer choice in your hometown. Right now.

    Much of what we see against Wal*Mart is driven by the same thing. It’s just that Wal*Mart offers local government such a huge tax revenue stream that they can get away with things other small local businesses can’t.* But small businesses are still the most important engine of growth, even more so in tough times when growth is hard to come by.

    And it’s a shame to see what rights and liberties governments of all sizes are willing to sacrifice for what they say is for the common good. But how can restricting consumer choice ever be for the common good? For the common good of competing businesses–maybe.

    *If you call the right to compete “getting away” with something.

  5. I don’t imagine there are any orange trees in Lake Elmo, so is it illegal to sell an orange? Those scurvy dogs. Or is it only illegal for a farmer to sell one? Isn’t it weird how regulations always seem to favor some unrelated party?

  6. I’m glad Reason pointed this one out…it’s obscene that somebody would file a lawsuit to prohibit the citizens of Lake Elmo from being allowed to make their own rules regarding what products can be sold in their town.

    1. It must be exhausting to be this stupid in such a consistent manner. And even more exhausting to be around.

      Remember this when your wife leaves you.

      1. I’m sure the residents of Lake Elmo are very thankful that folks like you know better than them how to run their town.

        1. I’m sure the residents of Lake Elmo are very thankful that folks like you know better than them how to run their town.

          No doubt your a firm supporter of this ideal across the board, correct? It would be disingenuous if you only agreed with the specific target and not the overall rule. Say prohibition by popular vote of gay marriage or prohibition of “obscene” art?

          1. I am actually a believer in the idea that the smaller the jurisdiction, the more restrictive the laws can be. I would not want a federal ban on gay marriage or obscene art but if Pigs Knuckle, Arkansas wanted to ban it that would be fine with me.

            1. Ah, so as long the jurisdiction is “small”, it can violate constitutional restrictions on the power of government vs. the rights of citizens? We’ll have a sliding scale? The ability of a government to violate the constitution is inversely proportional to that government’s size?

              Sounds like a great idea!

              1. But the other side of that coin is that you’re saying that a small group of citizens should not be allowed to agree upon their own rules but instead must be forced to adere to the ones set up by Big Government, thousands of miles away.

                1. We’re saying they shouldn’t be forced to do anything but not violate the negative rights of others.

                  But you know this already, and I’ve filled my quota of pig singing lessons for the day…

                  1. I object to your insinuation! We’re far smarter than Dan.

                    Pistols at dawn, sir!

                2. But the other side of that coin is that you’re saying that a small group of citizens should not be allowed to agree upon their own rules but instead must be forced to adere to the ones set up by Big Government, thousands of miles away.

                  Ironically, you hold this same position. Unless of course you believe that localities can resurrect slavery or voting restrictions or misogyny laws or any number of laws that have been struck down by Federal rulings.

                3. You are the most willfully ignorant creature to ever pollute this board.

                4. But the other side of that coin is that you’re saying that a small group of citizens should not be allowed to agree upon their own rules but instead must be forced to adere to the ones set up by Big Government, thousands of miles away.

                  No. I am saying that all governments within the U.S. are bound by the U.S. Constitution – remember, that quaint old document written by “the people of the United States of America” – and their respective state constitutions. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – which again was ratified by the States, meaning that all those “small groups of citizens” to which you refer agreed to it – forbids states from doing certain things. And then we have the Bill of Rights, which again, states cannot violate (most of, according to SCOTUS, although the clear original intent of the 14th was to adopt the BoR wholesale at the state level). And then there also is the specific delegation of powers from the people to the federal goverment – see Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

                  These are the rules by which we, the people of the U.S.A, have agreed to govern and be governed. You can’t get an exemption from those governing rules just by sayign “but we’re just a small group of people who want to agree upon our own rules!” You’re in the U.S.; you’re bound by the rules set up by the U.S. Constitution. And this means, among other things, no local economic isolationist legislation. In fact, that specifically was one of the problems that prompted the framers to do away with the Articles of Confederation and create the new Constitution.

                  And on and on…

                5. You said:
                  “you’re saying a small group of citizens should not be allowed to agree upon their own rules”

                  Not as long as they are living in the United States of America and have sworn to its constitution. If they are not happy about free interstate trade clause, they can get the hell of the country.

            2. So there’s nothing wrong with Pig Knuckle introducing that law against inter-racial dating, huh, Dan? Good to know how you feel. Those teenagers can move if they don’t like it, after all.

              1. So basically you’re saying that you know better than the resdients of Pig’s Knuckle as to how to run their town?

            3. The town could disincorporate and form a private entity to govern the area and make whatever rules they wish, as long as people may leave at will.

              1. Good point. Just call the people with power “private” instead of “government” and suddenly everything’s kosher.

                We should call this the “Libertarian Band-Aid”.

            4. “I am actually a believer in the idea that the smaller the jurisdiction, the more restrictive the laws can be. I would not want a federal ban on gay marriage or obscene art but if Pigs Knuckle, Arkansas wanted to ban it that would be fine with me.”

              Sage advice, Dan T. Sage advice.

    2. Dan T. Can you buy a banana in Lake Elmo? If you can, someone is selling out of city limits produce.

      1. I have never been to Lake Elmo and thus am not familiar with the produce situation up there.

        However, I do support the town’s right to run itself without interference from the Federal Government.

        1. OK, Dan T., let’s say your town decides to “run itself without interference from the Federal Government” and passes an ordnance saying you have to purchase all your food through a town-run food dispensary. And oh, I don’t know – let’s say they pass another one requiring you to allow the town to park public works trucks on your front lawn.

          How about they pass an ordinance requiring you to allow them to put up certain signs or billboards on the roof of your house?

          Maybe they’ll pass one saying you can’t have daffodils in your flower beds unless you have a daffodil growing license, which costs $2,500. And that you have to use town employees to trim your shrubs.

          I mean, we could just keep going here.

          But we wouldn’t want any interference from the federal government, telling your little town how to run itself.

          1. Well, I would move out of that town in a hurry.

            1. Wasting my time here, but…

              Busted Dan.

              So if Atlanta decides that you have to be white to live here, you are okay with the solution? If you aren’t white, move?

              CB

              1. You guys act as if all rules are the same. I think the Founders for the most part got it right…individuals have certain rights that should not be violated but at the same time communities should be allowed to establish some social norms as laws.

            2. Well, I would move out of that town in a hurry.

              I call bullshit, and we’re done here.

              1. Why is it bullshit? It seems very rational from the individual’s standpoint that you’d want to live in a town where the rules are to your liking.

                1. Friends don’t let friends post stupid.

                  Dan, please, get a designated poster.

            3. WTF for got to mention that the town also passed a law forbidding you from moving out of town.

              His bad. I’m sure he will apologize soon.

            4. WTF forgot to mention that the town also passed a law forbidding you from leaving. Because they loves you so much.

              Anyway, his bad. I’m sure he’ll apologize when he gets around to it.

        2. Gosh, maybe the farmer could have the right to run his business without interference from the local gummint? Perhaps he could run as he sees fit and his customers could vote with their dollars?

          Nah. Too rational.

    3. Holy shit. I mean, there’s stupid, there’s dumb fuck stupid, there’s incredibly OMG WTF BBQ hairy ass fucking ridiculously stupid, and then there’s Dan T.

    4. Contradiction troll contradicts.

    5. Fuck the constitution. How day they insist that all tariffs be uniform throughout the several states?

      California should totally be able to ban imports from Texas.

  7. …we will file a federal lawsuit open ourselves to court system ridicule today because what the city is doing violates our constitutional fundamental right to participate in interstate commercial markets sell property we legitimately own to those with whom we can reach peaceful voluntary agreement on the terms of the exchange.

    Fixed!

    I hope they win all the way up to the Supremes who drop a 9-0 in their favor, sweeping away bullshit local regulations like these. Still, I’m worried they’ll lose and indirectly establish yet another layer of Legal Precedent standing in the way of free exchange.

    1. Wow, you guys sure did drop the “small government” mantra in a hurry. I guess suddenly you think Washington knows better than Lake Elmo what is good for Lake Elmo.

      1. I’m betting that Keith Bergmann and his customers know what’s best for them WAY more than some twat on a city council.

      2. You should use this line of reasoning to troll the SWAT threads. You know… how locals have a right to the police they want, free from “Washington” influence.

        Just a suggestion.

      3. Oh, come on, Dan T. (I’m guessing the T stands for troll). You can’t really be this dense, can you?

        A lawsuit such as this one does not increase the size or scope of government. This has nothing to do with the “size” of government. The federal government does, after all, have certain legitimate powers – the federal courts do have legitimate jurisdiction under the Constitution to settle certain cases and controversies – including ones in which state or local governments enact unconstitutional legislation.

        I mean, seriously.

        1. I took me a minute, but what the idiot thinks is that small government (concerned with a narrow locality) and small government (constrained in size and power) are the same thing. A master idiot is being an idiot. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

      4. What if Lake Elmo started executing black people for the crime of being black?

      5. Are there any rights no government can violate, without due process of trial?

      6. I’m a “no government” mantra person so my take is likely different from many here.

        No, Washington does not know what is better for the residents of Lake Elmo. Neither does the City of Lake Elmo.

        This is because Lake Elmo has thousands of individuals living in and around it with different values, priorities, and preferences. Regardless of this diversity, it remains wrong to use aggression to restrict voluntary market activity. I don’t care if 50.1%, 75%, or 99.9% of the population supports banning outside food. A majority does not establish what is right and what is wrong.

        If the feds can knock this law down, great. My reserved support for that outcome has nothing to do with substituting Washington’s judgment in for the City’s. Even if the feds do it, they’ll undoubtedly couch it in terms that allow plenty of state intervention in the future.

        Which is the real problem, no matter if the scale you use is federal, state, or local.

  8. To stop this outrage we are joining with fellow family farmers from Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wisconsin who have sold us pumpkins and Christmas trees over the years.

    While it is great to see them all banded together I wonder if these family farmers will be fighting the good fight for farmers from outside the country?

  9. Here is another article reporting on the lawsuit.

    Lake Elmo City Manager Bruce Messelt is quoted as saying “We want the farms to be small and rural.”

    Well isn’t that nice? The city council “wants” the farms to be small and rural, so they are enforcing a ban on local farms selling anything they didn’t grow there on the farm.

    And:

    Farmers who sell their own crops in roadside stands should not have to compete with their neighbors who import crops, Messelt said.

    Read the linked article for a few more facts, and it become perhaps even more stupid.

  10. It seems to me this is analogous to the city of L.A. prohibiting commerce with the state of AZ over the AZ immigration law.

  11. Everyone in Lake Elmo has to walk, since there are no cars made there. Buy local ! And walk !

  12. I needed an excuse to post this awesome political ad for Alabama Agriculture commision.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..r_embedded

  13. By the Minnesota State Constitution farmers can sell the produce they grow on site without meddling from the local government. This doesn’t mean they can open a supermarket. It’s a land use issue about the difference between commercial and agricultural. There’s nothing here that has anything to do with made local vs made elsewhere except by association.

    1. Yeah, but what you find is that local gubmints will play all kinds of shenanigans by calling their overly burdensome restrictions “reasonable land use regulation.” It’s pretty disingenuous the things they will do in the name of (or more accurately, in the guise of) “merely land use regulation.”

  14. The issue is also complicated by the fact that the town apparently passed the ordinance back in 1980 but never enforced it until just now. This family farm has been bringing in Christmas trees and pumpkins grown elsewhere and selling them on their local farm for something like 25 years. When the town government suddenly found out this farm was selling Christmas trees grown in Wisconsin, it dredged up this 30 year-old ordinance.

  15. This could lead to some interesting protests. How about attending the town hall meeting naked. After all, a true believer wouldn’t wear clothes not made in town out of fibers grown in town.

  16. Come to think of it, I’ll post the video on the web this Friday. hehehe

  17. Lake Elmo City Manager Bruce Messelt is quoted as saying “We want the farms to be small and rural.”

    Isn’t that quaint; Brucie wants his pet farmers to stay cute and cuddly.

  18. Isn’t there a jurisdictional issue here? What right has Lake Elmo to regulate anything outside its borders?

  19. I live in Lake Elmo and here is what is going on:

    As New World Dan pointed out, the City of Lake Elmo has been fighting with the regional planning organization known as the Metropolitan Council for years. The people of Lake Elmo have expressed a wish to stay rural, and the Metropolitan Council is said no, you must grow. This resulted in a a lengthy and expensive lawsuit that went to the state supreme court, which the city lost.

    As a result of that, the city has been zoned according to a master plan required by the Met Council. A certain percentage of the city’s land must be zoned for residential, commercial, etc. Every single acre of the city has been planned out for the future, meaning any time you ask to rezone something from X to Y, more X must be found else where in the city in order to meet the Met Council’s minimum requirements.

    The Bergmann’s farm is zoned agricultural, as until recently everyone was under the impression they were growing all of the produce they sell. But, when it came to light that they were bringing in produce they stopped being agricultural and started being commercial. (What is the difference, zoning wise, between a Mom & Pop that imports christmas trees to sell and a big box, like Lowes, that brings in christmas trees to sell?)

    Now, I personally think all of this is dumb (I buy flowers from the Bergmann’s in the spring, pumpkins in the fall, and a christmas tree in December) and am not defending this idiocy. But, they and the Institute for Justice are being kind of dishonest when they portray this as a trade issue. It is a zoning issue. They are a commercial enterprise operating in an area zoned for agricultural, and the Met Council’s master plan hamstrings the city from rezoning it.

    1. I know the Bergmanns and the fact that they have been working with the city all along (the past 25 years) to get the city’s “blessing” each step of growth for their own family business. Who wouldn’t want a permanent solution? One that allows them to have the freedom to take their own business where they want and where the people of the surrounding area are willing to support. The American Dream is alive there and we all should be in support of that. No one should have to bring a lawsuit to protect their own right to live and prosper according to the US Constitution. I’m glad someone has the guts to stand up for what’s right. It’s the city officials who should be helping to enable their businesses to prosper or the city will end up nothing but a forgotten community.

    2. Thanks for posting. If what you say is true, then calling the IJ “kind of dishonest” is too kind.

  20. The city attorney of Lake Elmo is obviously incompetent and should be fired immediately. He should have learned this is a non-starter within his first five days of Con Law at law school.

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