Last month, we introduced PAN supporters to Oluf and Debra Johnson, the organic farmers in Minnesota who have been fighting to protect their crops from pesticide drift for over a decade. We asked the PAN community to help us thank the Johnsons for their courageous perseverance in the face of adversity.
This week our Midwest organizer, Linda Wells, visited the Johnson farm and delivered a book for Oluf and Debra made up of the more than 7,000 signatures and individual thank-you notes from PAN supporters. The couple was beyond grateful.
"Oluf and Debra were incredibly touched by how many people care about their case," said Linda. "They immediately starting flipping through the book and enjoying each of the comments. It will take a long time to read everyone's notes, and Oluf said the book would be a bright light for them during what has been a challenging period."
A long road to organic
Going organic has not been easy for Oluf and Debra Johnson. After growing up on his father's farm and running his own conventional operation for 15 years, Oluf decided to make the transition to organic in 1998. Despite Oluf's many warnings to the Paynesville Coop, one of the largest local pesticide applicators, the Johnsons' fields were contaminated by pesticide drift and overspray five times between 1998 and 2008.
As a result of this pesticide overspray, the Johnson farm lost its organic certification. And in 2009, Oluf and Debra finally filed a lawsuit against the Paynesville Coop for the damage to their crop and the loss of their organic certification.
Just last month the Minnesota Supreme Court heard the case. Now it's a waiting game until the Court's final ruling.
In the meantime, the Johnsons are enormously grateful for the gift they received yesterday from 7,212 PAN supporters who signed their card and wrote notes of appreciation for their efforts. They heard from all kinds of people — including other organic farmers and organic consumers from around the country.
What's at stake
The Johnson's legal case was originally dismissed by the Stearns County District Court in a summary judgement based on Wendinger v. Forest Farms Inc, which hinges on the fact that Minnesota has not yet recognized "particulate matter" (i.e. pesticide drift) as trespass. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Johnson, based on their analysis that pesticide drift could satisfy the “unlawful entry” requirement of a trespass claim.
If the Johnsons win, the MN Supreme Court will be the highest body of law in the country to rule that pesticide drift can be considered in a trespass claim.
The Court established a new test for “unlawful entry,” measuring whether a substance “affects the composition of the land” and results in deposits in “discernible and consequential amounts.”
If the Johnsons win, the Minnesota State Supreme Court will be the highest body of law in the country to rule that pesticide drift can be considered in a trespass claim. It could open the door to more lawsuits in Minnesota, ensuring that pesticide applicators be held accountable for damage to organic fields. The Court has until May 9th to make their ruling.
This could be a long wait for Debra and Oluf, who asked us to pass along their appreciation for the outpouring of support from the PAN community.