“The Wisconsin attorney general’s office sent dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger a little invite this past week. It came from an assistant attorney general, Eric D. Defort.
“I am writing to invite you to meet with me at the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office at 1300 Lange Court in Baraboo, WI, on Thursday, December 1, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. so that I may inform you of the progress of the investigation of your dairy and retail food establishment. Feel free to bring an attorney to the meeting.
Hershberger is the Wisconsin dairy farmer, you may remember, who cut the tape placed on his coolers in 2010 by inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He doesn’t think he wants to have this little tête-à-tête with the AG. His reason? “I don’t have a retail store,” he tells me. “I have a private club.” He has nearly 200 members in his club, who pay an annual membership fee for the privilege of obtaining their food privately.
DATCP is feeling newly emboldened by a state court decision by Patrick Fiedler in August. So emboldened, it has taken to sending out letters to farmers selling privately, telling them to button up, get licenses.
“On August 17, 2011 Judge Patrick J. Fiedler of the Wisconsin Circuit Court issued a decision in the case of Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund…” the letter to one farmer (whom I don’t have permission to identify) starts.
“The judge’s decision essentially stated that a store which exists solely for the purpose of selling food and beverages to members is not exempt from the requirement to hold a retail food establishment license. Upon issuance of this decision, we have reviewed all the open cases which relate to the matter contended in this lawsuit. We believe that the decision reached by Judge Fiedler is relevant to you; our records indicate that you may be operating an unlicensed retail food establishment which sells unpasteurized milk and dairy products and an unlicensed dairy processing plant which produces unpasteurized dairy products.”
Indeed, DATCP is so emboldened it isn’t even waiting for an appeals court to rule on the Fiedler decision. What’s the rush? Maybe the same factors that have pushed the Maine Dept. of Agriculture to go after Dan Brown, a Blue Hill farmer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sees the demand for private food, for food sovereignty, for raw dairy, skyrocketing. It worries that things are getting away from it….”