Baraboo — Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on three of four criminal charges early Saturday morning in a trial that’s drawn national attention from supporters of the raw, unpasteurized milk movement.
Jurors in Sauk County District Court deliberated about four hours, until nearly 1 a.m. Saturday, before returning a verdict of guilty on one charge of violating a holding order placed on products on the Hershberger farm, following a raid on the farm in the summer of 2010.
The 41-year-old farmer faces up to a year in jail and $10,000 in fines on that conviction. A sentencing date will be announced later, said Judge Guy Reynolds.
Hershberger was found innocent of three charges that included operating an unlicensed retail store that sold raw milk and other products; and operating a dairy farm and dairy processing facility without licenses.
Hershberger’s supporters have said he was targeted for prosecution because he sold raw milk directly to consumers through a private buying club with several hundred members.
The trial’s outcome will set a precedent, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, an organization that has advocated for the legalization of raw-milk sales in Wisconsin and other states. “This is a victory for the food rights movement,” said one of Hershberger’s attorneys, Elizabeth Rich.
Hershberger said he was pleased with the acquittals, and that now he can return to his farm in Loganville and continue to run his food store without a retail license because it’s a members-only buying club.
“I can continue to feed my community,” he said….”
“In what Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund vice president Elizabeth Rich called a victory for the food rights movement, a Sauk County jury acquitted dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger on three of four criminal charges for violations of the Wisconsin food and dairy code after a contentious five-day trial.
Hershberger was acquitted on charges of operating a farm store without a retail food establishment permit, operating a dairy farm without a milk producer license and operating a dairy plant facility without a license. He was convicted of violating a hold order that Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) officials had placed on food in his on-farm store during a June 2010 raid; Hershberger removed tape that had been put on store refrigerators. Hershberger leases cows to members of a private buyers club and provides raw dairy products and other nutrient-dense foods to club members at the farm store. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
The jury’s verdict sets a major precedent in distinguishing between those producing and selling food to the public and those producing and distributing food through a private contractual arrangement (e.g., agreement with a food buyers club). DATCP had claimed broad regulatory powers over operations like Hershberger’s asserting that it has jurisdiction over any dairy farm producing milk where any of the milk leaves the farm premise. With its powerful dairy lobby, Wisconsin has been one of the most draconian states in limiting raw milk sales and distribution.
Hershberger’s lead attorney in the case Glen Reynolds said, “This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer rather than liquor and gangsters.”
The verdict should be a major step in increasing the freedom of people around the country to be able to obtain the foods of their choice from the source of their choice regardless of whether that source has a license from the state. This should advance the right to be left alone by the government when two parties enter into a private contract for food.
Congratulations to Vernon Hershberger for his courage in standing up to an agency trying to deny freedom of choice and to the members of his buyers club for the support they have given their farmer. Congratulations to attorneys Glenn Reynolds and Elizabeth Rich for their great work in representing Hershberger and to attorneys Amy Salberg and Anja Wilson for their help in the case. Congratulations to Liz Reitzig, Gayle Loiselle and the others who planned the events of Grow Your Food Freedom Week in support of Vernon Hershberger.
It’s a great day.”
“Make no mistake, Vernon Hershberger won a huge victory in today’s early morning hours in Baraboo, WI. “It’s a beautiful day,” Hershberger told me this morning, after a few hours of sleep following the 1 a.m. jury decision that acquitted him of three of four criminal misdemeanor charges. Yes, it was a beautiful day, for farming and for food rights.
The State threw everything it had at this humble father of ten children, and when it was over, its guys in the dark suits scampered out of the courtroom in the darkness of the night after a jury of twelve ordinary Americans handed them their heads on a platter. After less than four hours of consideration, those Americans told the hot-shot lawyers that their thousands of pages of legal documents and computer forensic experts and five days of arguing had failed miserably to convince a single one of them that Hershberger should be required to have any of three retail and dairy licenses insisted upon by the State.
Hershberger has already heard through the grapevine that the jurors didn’t give a moment’s thought to going with the state’s charges. “They tried their best to set me free,” he said.
The jurors convicted Hershberger only of something he publicly admitted to before and during the trial–that he had cut the regulators’ tape placed on his coolers and food shelves June 2 2010 so as to keep his food from rotting and to feed his 200 food club members–in other words, violated a holding order.
I’ll return to the holding order matter. The State’s prosecutors rushed out of the courtroom because they knew they had lost on the stuff that mattered the most–their effort to equate Hershberger’s Grazin’ Acres member-only food club with a Sam’s Club or Costco box store membership operation. In making their crazy argument, they were trying to press a much larger point: that there is no such thing as privately-available food, that we are all under the thumb of “The Man” and his clipboards and forms…and orders.
Moreover, the State lost on this same issue for the second time within a year. The State lost on pretty much the same charges against Alvin Schlangen in Minnesota last September when another jury similarly took just a few hours to tell the regulators to go find other ways to get their jollies than to harass owners of small farms and their private customers.
Not only did the State lose for a second time in trying to convict farmers as criminals for selling food privately, but the State lost this time after its actors thought they had solved the “problems” of the Schlangen case. In the Schlangen case, the defense was allowed to discuss raw milk, the health benefits of good food, and food safety. The judge seemed fair. The prosecution was tough, but not hard as nails…..”