Small farmers fighting the good fight

From Richard S. Gubbe in the Rock River Times:

“The best defense is a good offense. That axiom is proving to be the best strategy for the small farmer in America.

In two instances in neighboring states, the small, organic farmer is taking the initiative while enlisting the help of neighbors as well as local law enforcement to push back after being pushed around.

In Loganville, Wis., the saga of Mennonite farmer Vernon Hershberger has switched from defense to offense after four charges were levied this month. Hershberger has turned the pressure back on the state after being charged with four misdemeanors for selling raw milk and organic foods to his food club.

The state charged him with a retail food violation between Aug. 6, 2009, and June 3, 2010, a raw milk producer violation between Feb. 15, 2010, and June 3, 2010, a dairy plant violation between Feb. 15, 2010, and June 3, 2010, and a “holding order” violation between June 2, 2010, and July 8, 2010. Hershberger ignored the raid and went back to business as usual of supplying small amounts of organic products to members, or in his view, fellow owners.

Hershberger has a Wednesday, Jan. 11, court date at 1 p.m. The date was originally set a week earlier, but Hersberger asked for a continuance to set up a rally by food club members and by local concerned citizens to be held outside the courthouse, 515 Oak St., in the city of Baraboo, before Court Commissioner Leo Grill.

“We are planning to have a rally before court time, but I am not sure yet to what extent it will be,” Hershberger said in a recent e-mail to his membership. “One thing for sure is that we want all the club members there that can possibly make it. Let’s remember how we are set up. I am a member just the same as the rest of you.”

Hershberger’s Grazin’ Acres farm in Loganville was raided in July 2010 soon after then-Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a bill that would have allowed for limited sales of raw milk in Wisconsin. State officials have said the case had nothing to do with the debate over raw milk, but rather a licensing violation. Hershberger continues to distribute products and says consumers are leasing animals and consume the products derived from them, exempting him from state licensing requirements. The complaint makes no mention of his current arrangement, only the past, despite the fact current state law provides an exception for “incidental sales” of raw milk from farmer to consumer.

Hershberger has never laid claim to being a retailer.

“It just so happens that I am the one who takes care of the cows, which we all share in a lease agreement,” Hershberger said. “Let’s remember that by law, to lease is to own and that is why the state is picking on me. We are just completely overwhelmed at the support that has been shown so far and to think that our case has barely started!”…”

Read it all in The Rock River Times.

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