Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted of fresh food crimes after an extended legal battle with the state. Hershberger was charged with multiple offenses related to sharing GMO-free raw milk with folks eager to consume the natural and unpasteurized version of the dairy staple.
Vernon Hershberger had four raw milk related charges levied against him for operating a food club co-op. In addition to unpasteurized milk, the Wisconsin dairy farmer also offered other Monsanto-free farm produce. The court ruled that Hershberger was well within his rights to share such items within the private food club without a license.
Raw milk fans from around the country are rejoicing at the Vernon Hershberger acquittal. The court decision serves as a legal precedent in support of both consumer food clubs and raw milk herd sharing programs. Hershberger was found guilty on just one count from the original indictment—violating a “hold order” placed on his farm fresh products after a government raid on the farm.
Such a charge carries the possibility of up to a $10,000 fine and a year behind bars. Since the Wisconsin jury ultimately ruled that the government raid on the raw milk farm was not justified, it is unlikely that Vernon Hershberger will receive anything near the possible maximum sentence. Jurors in the raw milk trial deliberated about four hours before finding the dairy farmer innocent on the three most serious charges. The debate continued into the early morning hours on Saturday.
It would defy logic that the state would want to go to the expense of placing a peaceable man in prison based upon an illegal raid. The dairy farmer is known to volunteer his time for community service initiatives and has no criminal record. Hershberger was found not guilty on charges which claimed he operated an unlicensed retail store, and the operation of a dairy processing facility and a dairy farm without a license.
“This is a place where you go to purchase things. You saw the products labeled with prices, on shelves, in coolers …meat, pork, bison, cheese, juices, all kinds of products — all labeled and priced for sale,” stated Department of Justice Attorney Eric Defort when pushing the jury to return a guilty verdict in the raw milk trial.
Defense attorney Reynolds countered the retail store argument by noting that the prices were flexible and those who “fell on hard times” were not turned away. Vernon Hershberger was reportedly known to give such families fresh food for free if they could not afford groceries that week.
The prosecution claims that in March of 2010, Vernon Hershberger’s Grazin’Acres “stores” had $25,426 in sales. The statement intended to reinforce their argument merely served to demonstrate how many Wisconsin residents are eager to consume healthy and natural foods.
Members of Vernon Hershberger’s buying club routinely did farm chores in exchange for the right to buy organic crops and raw dairy products. Club members reportedly washed Mason jars, took care of the chickens, and even shoveled manure. It would have been far easier to browse the aisles of the local chain grocery store, yet these folks opted to do the dirty work so they could offer real food to their families.
The “locavore” (or food freedom movement) largely considers Vernon Hershberger a hero. Fighting back against the government can be a costly and overwhelming endeavor, but the Wisconsin family farmer remained steadfast in the battle for the right to produce and share fresh food with consumers.
Glen Reynolds, the lead attorney in Hershberger’s defense team, had this to say during his closing statements in the food rights trial:
“One of the most abusive, most incomprehensible uses of government power that I’ve ever seen, when an agency of our government took such an aggressive, mean-spirited approach against such a good man, against a member of this community. 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.”
Reynolds also referred to the Vernon Hershberger trial as a “pathetic waste” of governmental resources preceded by a mean-spirited and biased investigation. The case was yet another example of taxpayer abuse, since we, the people, pay for all actions of government. Wisconsin surely has their fair share of real criminals to work through the legal system. The prosecution (or perhaps, the attempted persecution) of Vernon Hershberger further delayed actions which truly would have benefited the taxpayers.
Hundreds of raw milk fans traveled to Baraboo, Wisconsin to support the 41-year-old dairy farmer. Current state law allows only a few exceptions relating to selling raw milk to consumers. The statute maintains that unpasteurized milk might contain pathogens which could result in serious illness or death. Apparently those who pushed for such a law feel that genetically modified and processed foods are far less likely to have negative health effects.
At least once a month there is a recall on some type of processed food, yet organic farmers like Hershberger have become targets of the food police. Corporations like Monsanto are free to continue peddling their GMO seeds and filing lawsuits against American farmers, yet a small raw milk co-op is deemed a dangerous entity. The vast number of Monsanto staffers which now hold positions of authority at the USDA have far more to do with the raids on raw dairy farmers than any actual health concerns about unpasteurized milk. First Lady Michelle Obama may grow and stock only organic produce at the White House, but her husband appointed former Monsanto executives to govern the nation’s food supply.
The Weston A. Price Foundation, a group pushing for raw milk legalization in many states, considers the Hershberger trial a “victory for the food rights movement.” May unpasteurized milk supporters believe the “good bacteria” present in the unprocessed dairy product helps to boost the immune system naturally, among many other health benefits.
As for Vernon Hershberger, he is thrilled that he can now go back to feeding his community healthy fresh foods. The Grazin’ Acres dairy farmer looks upon the trial as the result of an act of civil disobedience. Hershberger had this to say about facing criminal charges for sharing raw milk:
“I prayed and meditated a lot. I tried to work with people. I would have been happy to sit down with them and come up with a workable solution, and I would still do that.”