USDA hassles Weekly Fig group uniting local farmers, families

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Michelle Reneau, a Chattanooga-area mom, is an organizer of Weekly Fig, a private group letting farmers and families exchange food for dollars via an online platform. (Photo Michelle Reneau on FB)
Weekly Fig is a private membership association in Chattanooga connecting farmers and families to help sustain local economy and make men, women and children healthier in the enjoyment of fresh local fruit and veggies. (Photo Weekly Fig on FB)

By Michelle Reneau

In case you missed it, Chattanoogan.com released an inflammatory & slanderous article last week about Weekly Fig that made us look like a company which processes raw meat and refuses to let the USDA inspector in. Obviously, we are very disappointed the Chattanoogan published the article without reaching out to us to confirm any facts, leading to on-line commentary and the ‘coincidental’ cancellation of our lease. (Seriously, if you know of a landlord and/or location that is 1200-2000 square feet in size that would be willing to lease to Weekly Fig, please contact us with the details.) •••

The facts

First, let’s address the elephant in the room to put all of our members at ease. We do not process meat nor do we ever handle raw meat. We receive all of our meat frozen from farmers who utilize USDA-inspected facility and it goes directly into deep freezers and stays there until it goes directly to the member.

The USDA may be a bit confused of their jurisdiction because Weekly Fig is unconventional. We understand how some readers, especially non-members, have responded to the article by asking why we don’t just let the USDA in? The answer is that 1) Weekly Fig is a Private Membership Association who serves members only, whereas the USDA upholds public policies within the public domain and 2)  We are also contractually obligated by our membership agreement not to share members’ information (just like a doctor is not allowed to share information without expressed consent).

We want to make it clear: Our members are welcomed at the hub anytime to inspect or participate in the operations process and we have had many members take the opportunity to do so! Howeverallowing the USDA to come into the hub and look around would result in us forfeiting our rights as a private group of people. The whole reason Weekly Fig exists is to protect member’s right to be fully informed and choose unadulterated foods that are not available in the traditional grocery store model. Giving our members access to the purest foods available is what makes us unique. Our farm partners are farms that you are already know and are familiar with in our community.  

That is a promise we made to you when you signed up. We are always driven by our principles and we encourage our members to be well-informed about their rights as consumers. If you would like to learn more, we have additional information below.

Pastured eggs from a local health food activist, Michelle Reneau, a founder of Weekly Fig, serving Chattanooga families. (Photo Michelle Reneau on FB)

Further reading

In accordance with the 1st & 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Weekly Fig is a private membership association for local sustainable foods.

  1. During the early phases of Weekly Fig, we filed as an LLC. Upon learning of the benefits of a private membership association, we terminated our LLC and instead filed with the IRS as a Private Membership Association.
  2. To date, Weekly Fig has only received administrative subpoenas signed by a USDA administrator, not a Court. Just as you would not allow a federal investigator or other government authority access to your private property without a Court sanctioned order, Weekly Fig in its capacity as a Private Membership Association has turned away government inspectors that have not been given Court ordered authority.
  3. On November 7th, when USDA Inspectors allegedly attempted to gain entry to Weekly Fig without notice, no one at Weekly Fig said “no” out a window. Weekly Fig representatives attempted to present documentation explaining how the USDA and Federal Regulators have no jurisdiction in Private Membership Associations, however the inspectors had departed and could not be found at or near the entrance of our facility.
  4. The USDA claims responsibility for ensuring safe meat & poultry handling however, this applies to public sales of these items, they have no jurisdiction in a Private Membership Association anymore than they would your home.
  5. To date, Weekly Fig has not received any notice of a lawsuit filed by the USDA or Dept of Ag.
  6. Under the 1st and 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, individuals have the right to associate with fellow members and offer benefits and services that are outside of the jurisdiction, venue and authority of state and/or federal agencies. Outside of the Private association this may be  considered a criminal act but perfectly legal within a private association. This right however is NOT absolute. The US Supreme Court has ruled in many cases that the State cannot interfere with private association activities unless the private members are being subjected to a clear danger of substantial evil I.e. someone becoming seriously ill or injured due to so called benefits and services, then outside State and/or Federal agencies can intervene. On several occasions, Weekly Fig has contacted the USDA in writing with several questions, including what, if any harm has been reported. To date, we have received no direct response about this question.  There have been NO reported illnesses attributed to or suspected to be caused by any due to meat/poultry products provided to members of Weekly Fig.

In 2017, Weekly Fig worked with Tennessee Legislators to pass the Farm to Consumer Distribution Point Law. The law clarifies that farms may work with private distributors like Weekly Fig without the financial and administrative burden of permits & inspections that so often prevent small farmers from competing with large food production businesses. Weekly Fig is legally engaging in practice in accordance to the bill.

Weekly Fig seeks new location

Right now, Weekly Fig’s greatest need is a new location. Our current lease is being cancelled without extension and we need to find a new, permanent home as soon as possible.

The location needs to be central to Soddy Daisy, Lookout Mountain, East Brainerd, and Cleveland.

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