January 25, 2024

Sarah King is passionate about farming, sharing social media posts and pictures of her family’s life at Godspeed Hollow Farm in Newberg, Oregon. There, she cares for and milks her cows, named after Disney princesses. Her business is small but thriving. Customers come from all over to purchase her cows’ milk, which she sells in glass jars out of a fridge in her barn.

Sarah provides a vital service to members of her community: sustainably sourced milk. This belief in sustainability is evident in every aspect of her business from the way she cares for her cows, to the way she handles her product, and the way she cares for her land. Her animals freely graze on the land, their waste goes into the earth, helping to grow more healthy grass, and the cycle continues. The long wait list for her products shows their quality and desirability.

Now, however, a newly reinterpreted regulation from the Oregon Department of Agriculture threatens to shut down Sarah’s business—and hundreds of similar-sized dairies across the state. Oregon, like many states, has a special permitting process for operating a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). CAFOs typically house hundreds and even thousands of animals, as mismanaging water can have a serious impact on the local environment. For years, the state did not interpret these regulations as applying to small farms like Sarah’s.

But now Oregon wants to regulate small farms like large commercial dairies. Why? Not because of real environmental concerns, but because large commercial dairies insist that small dairies somehow have a “competitive advantage” over big ones—that is, that they don’t have to install expensive infrastructure to manage waste.

But small dairies don’t need that infrastructure because the amount of waste generated can safely decompose in fields or be composted for other productive use. The state is wrapping small dairies in meaningless red tape just to please big dairies. That is protectionist, irrational and, moreover, unconstitutional. Sarah, and three other small farmers, teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Agriculture and save small dairy farms in the Beaver State.