By Richard S. Gubbe
The Wisconsin State Department of Justice continued its persecution of small organic farmer Vernon Hershberger of Loganville, Wis., last week in a circus-like court hearing that saw one of his charges dropped and two women removed from the courtroom.
With an overflow of support and local media coverage looking on, Hershberger was asked to give a statement before the judge waived one of six given regarding his farm and the co-op of people who work on it and prosper from raw dairy and organic food.
The state DOJ has stated Hershberger cannot sell any food products without a proper license. He claims he is not a business but rather a group-owned co-op. He says he is just the caretaker of the animals and the land west of Baraboo, Wis. The state also said he may not manufacture or process any dairy products, nor sell any without a proper license. The state said he also may not have anyone else operate his farm or work in any room or building on his property.
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. The last count was dropped at the last hearing.
The State of Wisconsin appears unwilling to budge on any of it and isn’t flinching after a hailstorm of public pressure in protests, phone calls and e-mails to the state.
The hearing held Jan. 27 in Baraboo was a pretrial proceeding in which Hershberger again appeared without counsel to claims he should not be prosecuted for providing food and raw dairy products to a co-op of neighbors and nearby farmers.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is making an example of Hershberger while also quietly pursuing six other farmers on similar charges.
Hershberger said there were more than 100 people for the rally outside the courthouse.
“The courtroom was so small that 30 people could not get inside at all,” Hershberger said. “Until everything was said and done, the judge struck No. 6 of the prohibitions, but he said the rest will remain standing. I tried to argue the court’s jurisdiction in this case, but the judge would not hear anything of it, being that it was on a different motion.”
When it came time for Hershberger to address the court, he gave the following speech:
“I cannot, in good conscience, tell the 100-plus families who own the food and depend on it to feed their families that they can no longer get food to feed their families. The Almighty God has spoken, and I cannot do otherwise. God’s word in the Bible states in 1 John 3:16-18, quote, ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the Brethren. But whoso has this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in Word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.’
“Your honor, I have spent many sleepless hours since signing the bond due to my conscience being plagued by the thought of shutting up my bowels of compassion to my Brethren who are dependent on the food that is provided by and for them on our farm. To most of them, it is not merely a matter of preference, but much more a matter of life or death! If the owners of the food cannot eat their own food, aren’t we living in a communist state? If our farm stopped feeding its owners’ families, there will be literally hundreds of children who will suffer malnutrition and even starvation. Your honor, I would much rather spend the rest of my life behind bars or even die than to be found guilty of such a gross sin before the Almighty God. Col 3:6, quote, ‘For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience.”
Two women were removed, one forcibly, from the courtroom after they stood up and shouted at the judge. “I just have to say you have trampled on his constitutional rights,” one woman said. Judge Guy Reynolds asked the two women to leave the courtroom. When one of them refused to budge, a Sauk County Sheriff’s Department employee ushered her out while she continued a vocal protest.
In a statement released later, Hershberger said, “In making this statement, I feel that I have freed myself from the Prohibitions before God, regardless does the Court think so or not.”
Raw milk supporters from around the state and members of Hershberger’s buyers club, Grazin’ Acres, have protested outside the Sauk County Courthouse in Baraboo before each of his first two court appearances.
Hershberger’s co-op issued the following statement: “Vernon Hershberger is privately contracted with Right To Choose Healthy Food members to board, and produce health-giving organic food from members’ animals for members-only consumption. The State of Wisconsin tried to close his farm in 2010 and recently filed multiple charges against him for operating a retail store and dairy without licenses and defying WDA (Wisconsin Dairy Association) orders to not distribute members’ products to them. That is not only a violation of our civil rights, it is a moral assault on our health and well-being.”
Hershberger is free on a $500 signature bond. Hershberger filed a motion for the judge to reconsider closing down his operation, saying his family is financially dependent on the buyers club, and its members depend on the food it provides.
The Mennonite farmer has refused a court-appointed attorney and is now considering private counsel. He is due back in court March 2.
From the Feb. 1-7, 2012, issue