Although the impetus for the charges was the distribution of raw milk, the term “raw milk” is not to be mentioned during the trial.
After months of contentious wrangling between attorneys for the state and the defense, the trial of the Loganville dairy farmer for four criminal misdemeanor violations of the Wisconsin food and dairy code begins today at the Sauk County courthouse in Baraboo with the selection of the jury. Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds has summoned one hundred thirty potential jurors for the selection process, an incredible number for just a single trial. The charges are related to Hershberger leasing cows to a private buyers club and providing raw dairy and other nutrient-dense foods to the club members.
The size of the jury pool along with many other aspects of the case are indicative of the fact that this was never going to be an ordinary criminal trial; it has evolved into far more of an event than would be expected for someone being charged with only misdemeanors. More than anything, the Hershberger case is about control and whether the government can prevent informed individuals from putting into their bodies the foods they want from the source they want, regardless of whether or not that source is state approved.
The resources the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent on prosecuting the case is way out of proportion to the actual charges before the court. DOJ attorneys Eric Dufour and Phil Ferris have gone far further than expected in trying to limit the amount of evidence Hershberger can bring up in his defense; in most instances, Judge Reynolds has supported their efforts. The judge has ordered Hershberger’s attorneys, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund vice president Elizabeth Rich and veteran trial lawyer Glenn Reynolds, to exclude evidence on Hershberger’s lack of intent to violate the law, any arguments on why a private buyers club would be exempt from licensing laws, documents critical to the testimony of defense witnesses, expert testimony on raw milk safety; the judge has even prohibited mention of the term “raw milk” despite the fact that Hersberger is facing charges for not having a milk producer license and not having a dairy plant permit.
It appears that, thanks to Judge Reynolds’ rulings, the case the state puts on will be much shorter than originally intended. Very little of the matters raised at the pre-trial hearings went uncontested; because of the constant point-by-point fighting, Judge Reynolds held several more hearings than planned. The DOJ attorneys know that those attending the trial will be overwhelmingly supportive of Hershberger; they can reduce the crowd’s influence and otherwise increase their chances of winning by limiting the evidence to the question of whether Vernon had the permits the state is claiming he needs, nothing more.
|Al Ringling Theatre across from the Sauk County Courthouse will be the venue for “Grow Your Food Freedom Week” activities.
Photo Credit: Circus Anonymous
Beyond the support Hershberger is receiving in the court room, he will have much more backing in the town of Baraboo. Through the efforts of activists like Gayle Loiselle, Andy Mastrocola, Jennifer Delonay and other members of the buyers club in Wisconsin as well as Liz Reitzig of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition on the national level, Baraboo will be ground zero for food freedom this week. National figures in the food freedom movement such as Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia, Mark Baker from the swine ISO battle in Michigan, Deborah Evans in the forefront of food sovereignty efforts in Maine and Mountain Man Eustace Conway of North Carolina will be speaking at the Al Ringling Theatre across the street from the courthouse this week of the trial.
Supporters of Hershberger will be traveling in from around the region even though many of them will not be able to have a seat in the courtroom. The media has become increasingly interested in the trial, with significant state and national media covering the trial from Baraboo. The local business community has been receptive to the Hershberger supports and looks like it will be providing a friendly welcome to the food freedom movement.
More than any other case, the food freedom movement has made Vernon Hershberger’s fight their fight. It is not just Hershberger that is on trial, freedom of choice is as well. One reason is his courageous stand and principled, peaceful non-compliance against a department of agriculture that is bent on restricting raw dairy access. Another reason is the effective outreach his supporters have conducted on his behalf both at the state and national level. Another factor is the close relationship Vernon has with his club members and how the division between farmer and consumer has become blurred with the club members taking responsibility for some of the chores on the farm. The sense of community is strong, a model for other small farms to follow.
All of these factors put a sharper focus on the central issue in the case: the right of farmers and consumers entering into a private, arms-length bargain to be free from government control. The verdict in the Hershberger case, no matter what it is, will only increase the push for a food system in which people can obtain the foods of their choice from the source of their choice.
YOUR FUND AT WORK
Vernon Hershberger has been a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund almost since its inception. With the contentious nature of the case and the endless pre-trial hearings, the Fund’s expenses have been greater than first anticipated.
Attorneys Elizabeth Rich and Glenn Reynolds have worked long hours preparing Vernon’s defense. Thanks also to Attorney Amy Salberg who has provided many volunteer hours helping with the case.
Anyone wanting to make a contribution towards legal expenses can make a donation online or send a check to:
8116 Arlington Blvd, # 263
Falls Church, VA 22042
Prefer to make a tax-deductible donation? Click here for details
Thanks for your support.