Loganville dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger said he is willing to go to jail if necessary to defend the rights of his customers to have raw milk. Representing himself in court, he said he runs a private buyers club and the people are getting the unpasteurized milk from their own animals.
Photo By Jan Shepel
Group rallies to support raw milk farmer
As Vernon Hershberger prepared to go into court last week — accused of selling raw milk and operating a retail food establishment without a license — hundreds of raw milk proponents gathered to support him and sign a “declaration of food independence.”
With snow beginning to fall and blow around the group of an estimated 300 people (by Wisconsin State Farmer’s count) the protesters poured raw milk toasts and listened to several speakers.
Among them were members of the Loganville farmer’s “buyer’s club” who said they own the cows on his farm and therefore should be able to drink the raw milk if they choose to.
Middleton mom Kelly West said she has three young children and prefers to serve them unpasteurized milk from healthy cows. “The prosecution of Vernon is a national embarrassment and insult to our heritage as the dairy state,” she said from the Sauk County courthouse steps.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has spent a lot of time, she said, prosecuting a small Amish farmer.
Members of the small, private food club “pay him to board and care for our animals,” she said, and if a state license were available to sell raw milk, he would get one.
“We’re not asking that it be sold in grocery stores,” she said, adding that it’s ironic that state citizens can buy raw fish in restaurants but not raw milk from the farm. “The government is denying access to food people want.
“I can feed soda pop and candy bars all day long to my kids. Is it healthy? No. Is it legal? Yes.”
The members of Hershberger’s club know the milk is unpasteurized and are making that choice, she added.
“Who decides what you eat?” was the rallying cry of the crowd that gathered March 2 on the courthouse square in Baraboo before Hershberger went into court for another hearing on his case.
That theme was carried out by a number of signs carried by those in attendance. One sign said “Freedom is Food Choice” another said “Free People Choose What Goes in their Bodies.”
There was also a smattering of signs for presidential candidate Ron Paul, the Libertarian-leaning Republican who has stated his position that raw milk should be legalized.
Mom prefers raw milk
Jenny Delonay, another mother who is a member of Hershberger’s buying club, said she has contracted with him to take care of her animals so she and her family can drink raw milk. “Government regulations do not apply. The DATCP has no jurisdiction here,” she said.
“Hundreds of people depend on him. He’s broken no law,” the Madison woman added.
The debate isn’t just about Hershberger but about “fundamental human rights,” she said. “It’s about allowing people to choose what foods we want to eat.”
Other signs in the crowd said “Stop DATCP tyranny” and “Raw Milk — The New Moonshine.”
The rally was organized by Liz Reitzig, a Maryland woman who leads the Raw Milk Freedom Riders and the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. She said she wanted to be part of this because she has children and wants them to be able to have foods like raw milk.
Canadian farmer Michael Schmidt called Hershberger one of the very “courageous people who has challenged the system to its core.”
“We’re not asking the government to force people to drink raw milk,” he said.
Hershberger said he appreciated the support of all the people that were there and talked about “government agents terrorizing farmers at gunpoint” and “bringing suit against peaceful farmers.”
These agents, he added, have “invaded homes of customers and destroyed food” while “harassing and ridiculing farmers” for supporting the raw milk choice.
Raw milk available for members
Hershberger said he doesn’t sell raw milk but has it in a “big pantry” on the farm where his food club members can come and get their milk.
He’s not too interested in state legislation to remedy the raw milk question, he said. “These are the owners and the milk is theirs.”
Before the end of the rally, supporters were having raw milk toasts and signing a what they called a Declaration of Food Independence, with Hershberger’s signature being the first.
Court documents show that Hershberger was operating his dairy farm without a Grade B license and operating a retail food establishment without a license. He told supporters Friday he was willing to go to jail.
His defense has been that he is operating a food club system and as such he is exempt from licensing requirements. Hershberger has been representing himself in court.
The government has said the prosecutions date to a time before he started the food club.
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Guy Reynolds declined to put Hershberger in jail on Friday because the state would have had to file a separate motion last week, which it did not do.