MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The state of Vermont threw its support Monday behind a folk artist whose T-shirt business is being threatened by the nation's second largest chicken restaurant chain because of his use of the phrase "eat more kale."
Gov. Peter Shumlin said that state would do all it could to help Bo Muller-Moore raise money to defend his small business, and by extension all Vermont small businesses and local agriculture, against what they both see as "corporate bullying" by the Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A.
Shumlin announced the formation of "Team Kale," a fundraising effort for Muller-Moore's legal expenses in its budding fight with Chick-fil-A.
"Don't mess with Vermont and Chick-fil-A get out of the way," Shumlin said. "Don't interfere with our agricultural renaissance, where we're growing local food and selling it locally because more and more Vermonters care about where their food comes from, what's in it and who grew it," Shumlin said at a Montpelier event inside a third-generation locally owned stationary store.
"And don't mess with our efforts to create jobs one job at a time," he said. "This is as good an example as any of how we create jobs in Vermont."
The "don't mess with Vermont" phrase originated in 2001, riffing off the Texas ad campaign, after now-retired U.S. Sen. James Jeffords left the Republican Party because of what he felt were the partisan excesses of the Bush Administration. At the time, Jeffords' defection changed control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats.
Muller-Moore has been making and selling the "eat more kale" T-shirts and other items for more than a decade. Chick-fil-A tried to get him to stop using the phrase several years ago, but gave up. They revived the effort after Muller-Moore filed the paperwork earlier this year so he could get a trademark to protect his phrase.
In October, a lawyer for Chick-fil-A sent Muller-Moore a letter telling Muller-Moore he had to stop using the phrase "eat more kale" because it could be confused with Chick-fil-A's trademarked term "eat mo chikin." The letter also ordered him to turn over his website, eatmorekale.com.
In a statement issued Monday, Chick-fil-A said it became aware of "Eat More Kale" T-shirts in 2006 and it had co-existed since, but that had to change after the Vermont company submitted an application to trademark its slogan.
"We support the entrepreneurial spirit of small business," said the statement issued by company spokesman Don Perry. "Unfortunately, when protecting our trademark, the law does not allow us to differentiate between a large company or a small enterprise... we must legally protect and defend our "Eat Mor Chikin" trademarks in order to maintain rights to the slogan. It is not uncommon for us – or for any corporation – to defend our trademark rights."
Muller-Moore has been making the "eat more kale" T-shirts and other items for more than a decade. The phrase was created by a local vegetable farmer who asked him to make three T-shirts with the phrase.
Muller-Moore sees the phrase as a tribute to local agriculture.
He has made the T-shirts by hand, but since his fight became public more than a week ago, he said he has been working to meet the demand for his product and a Montpelier printing business his helping him out.
"It's overwhelming," Muller-Moore said. "I've worked 13 and 14 hours a day. I've got friends that are helping me to load envelopes and address envelopes and answer emails."