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PA - PDA Raids Nature’s Sunlight Farm; Mark Nolt Arrested

By Pete Kennedy

April 25, 2008

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) officials and police descended upon Nature’s Sunlight Farm in Newville this morning arresting Mark Nolt and seized around $30,000 (by Nolt’s estimate)in products, supplies and equipment including cream separator parts and lighter pieces of cheesemaking implements.  PDA had secured a search warrant from a magisterial district judge in nearby Camp Hill. 

After being arrested Nolt was taken to a magistrate in Mount Holly Springs.  David Gumpert reported that a clerk at the district court to which Nolt was taken said that the farmer was arrested in connection with five citations for selling milk without a license.   According to an affidavit signed by Bill Chirdon, Director of PDA’s Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services, PDA has filed seven criminal citations against Nolt for selling raw milk without a permit for which ”no hearings have yet been held due to Nolt either refusing to sign for service by certified mail, or, having been properly served, failing to enter a plea/appear.”  Nolt contends that he answers only to God’s law. 

When Nolt appeared before the magistrate today, he again refused to make a plea to the criminal citations brought against him (Nolt was released after his appearance before the magistrate).  As a result, a hearing has been scheduled before the local magistrate in Newville for April 30 for the purpose of giving him another chance to make a plea to the charges against him.   If he refuses to make a plea at this hearing, a plea will be made for him.  His trial has been scheduled for May 5 before the district magistrate court in Mount Holly Springs.  The court clerk told Gumpert that Nolt owes a total of $5100 in fines for the violations he has committed.

Last August in an effort to stop Nolt from selling raw milk and dairy products without a permit (Nolt had held a permit to sell raw milk for eight years but decided not to renew it in August 2006 because the permit did not enable him to sell other raw dairy products such as butter and cream that his customers wanted to purchase),  PDA executed a search warrant at Nolt’s farm seizing about $25,000 worth of dairy products and supplies.  According to Chirdon’s  affidavit, PDA had no evidence that Nolt was continuing to sell raw milk until on March 8 when a PDA employee purchased raw milk at the farm.  On April 17 a second PDA employee went to the farm and bought raw milk and butter thus prompting the agency’s application for the search warrant executed today.

An eyewitness to the raid said there were four police cars at the farm along with at least five unmarked cars presumably carrying PDA officials (Bill Chirdon was present at the raid).  Police cordoned off the property refusing entry to anyone, under the threat of arrest, during the raid.  It was reported that even Nolt’s father and brother who live on the same lane were not able to set foot on the property during the raid. 

Nolt has not decided whether he will contest the charges against him.   He is not a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.