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Major Victory as Jury Rules in Favor of Private Food Rights

vernon-hershberger-acquitted

I am doing my happy dance. Vernon Hershberger, the Amish dairy farmer recently on trial in Wisconsin for providing raw milk to his community, was acquitted last week by a jury on three of the four charges against him.

The state of Wisconsin charged Hersbherger with operating a farm store without a retail food establishment permit, operating a dairy farm without a milk producer license, operating a dairy plant facility without a license, and violating a hold order that the state’s department of agriculture placed on food on his farm during a 2010 raid. Hershberger was acquitted of the first three charges and found guilty of the fourth.

His acquittal marks a huge step forward in the food rights movement because it upholds private contracts between individuals and counters overbearing government regulations.

In the state of Wisconsin, it is illegal to sell raw milk. So Hershberger created a private arrangement whereby members of his community could become leaseholders on his farm, entitling them to a share of the farm’s produce — including raw milk.

In essence, they did not “buy” milk, but a share in the farm.

If leaseholders couldn’t contribute to the farm financially, then they contributed in other ways by mucking out stalls and doing various chores around the farm.

Hershberger was represented by lawyers with the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. Pete Kennedy, president of the fund, writes:

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).
(source)

The prosecution spent days arguing that Hershberger was operating a retail operation. He had a farm store, a cash register, order slips, receipts. Yet the jury remained unconvinced. The state attempted to argue that Hershberger’s arrangement was no different than any other membership-based retail buying club like Sam’s or Costco.

Yet the defense’s lead attorney, Glen Reynolds, argued that Hershberger operated according to Amish principles. If members fell on hard times and couldn’t afford the food, then they could get it for free.

“None of us would go into a Kwik Trip and walk out with a bottle of milk if we couldn’t afford it,” Reynolds said.

State officials spent three years investigating Hershberger, producing thousands of documents but not once speaking with any of the members of the buying club who wanted to tell their story, according to Reynolds.

“This is one of the most incomprehensible abuses of power I have ever seen,” he said, adding that the investigation was biased and mean-spirited.

“It was a pathetic waste of government resources to try and convict a man who had never been in trouble with the law in his entire life and is a hero for coming up with a new way” to connect urban consumers with a family farm, Reynolds said.
(source)

With their hands tied…

The state did virtually everything they could to cripple the defense before the trial even started.

From David Gumpert’s account of the trial, we read:

The State insisted on having the entire case tilted in its favor, and it got nearly everything it wanted from a compliant and biased judge. No discussion of the health benefits of food. No discussion of raw milk. No discussion of food safety. No discussion of criminal intent. No discussion of the merits of the holding order. The State thought it could sanitize the courtroom and the messages relayed to the jury as well as it oversees the sanitizing of our nation’s food supply.
(source)

Yes. You read right. In a trial about raw milk, the words “raw milk” were not even allowed to be used.

In fact, every time the words “raw milk” are about to come up during the proceedings, the jury is ushered out of the room. It happened Monday morning and again Tuesday afternoon. It would be funny if conviction for Hershberger didn’t mean jail time — for a father of ten children.
(source)

For a taste of just how ridiculously these prohibitions played out in court, David Gumpert gives us this account of the testimony by a defense witness, Joseph Plasterer:

He was asked by defense attorney Glenn Reynolds to explain why he sought out Hershberger’s food back in 2004, when he joined the food club.

Plasterer: “We asked if we could be part of the farm…”

Glenn Reynolds: “Did you have a reason?”

Plasterer: “My son was not thriving…”

Prosecutor Eric DeFort: “Objection!”

Judge: “Objections sustained.”

Glenn Reynolds: “Explain why you sought out Hershberger’s food.”

Plasterer: “We wanted access to unprocessed food that was higher quality than would not be available from the stores.”

Prosecutor: “Objection!”

Judge: “Objection sustained. Strike the answer. Jury is to ignore the answer.”

I know it’s becoming increasingly difficult in certain places to access food privately. But illegal to speak of it? That was a new one.

(source)

This constant stream of objections? This is what happened at almost every turn, for hours on end, during the trial.

Thankfully, the jury was listening and saw through the prosecution’s shenanigans.

What does this tell me?

That jury trials are the way to go! Our founding fathers knew what they were doing.

It was a jury that upheld private food rights and acquitted Alvin Schlangen last year.

It was a jury that upheld private food rights and acquitted Vernon Hershberger last week.

It also tells me that we need to support the work of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund. If not for their valiant efforts in both cases, who knows how these trials would have ended?

(photo by AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Kyle McDaniel)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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26 Responses to Major Victory as Jury Rules in Favor of Private Food Rights
  1. Mitch Aki
    May 28, 2013 | 12:43 pm

    Another way to help the FCLDF. Using Goodsearch, you can choose to have a penny for every search donated to the fund. It’s not much money per search, but it adds up over time, especially if you search for things often like I do.

    http://www.goodsearch.com/nonprofit/farm-to-consumer-legal-defense-fund.aspx

  2. Big Poop
    May 28, 2013 | 6:03 pm

    I grew up on raw milk and so did my own kids, were all healthy !!!

  3. Vanessa
    May 28, 2013 | 7:47 pm

    Serious bias against raw milk here in the courts. What is this all about? It is so strange that certain terms were not allowed. They basically didn’t want the jurors to think that raw milk was better quality food, obviously. If the truth came out, then more people may want raw milk over that dead, pasteurized stuff!

  4. Dana
    May 28, 2013 | 8:07 pm

    Great news! I grew up on raw milk, too, and love it to this day!

  5. Carol Guenzel
    May 28, 2013 | 9:15 pm

    I have been consuming raw milk products for a few years now and have not died from it yet. As a matter of a fact the arthritis in my hands is gone. Go figure. ;)

  6. Marilyn
    May 29, 2013 | 6:07 am

    Oh, this makes me soooo happy!!!

  7. Deborah
    May 29, 2013 | 1:04 pm

    Thank goodness for a jury smart enough to see through the fog of disinformation! A few more victories like this might convince state government that they have more important work to do than dictate what people can and cannot consume.

  8. Liz oke
    May 29, 2013 | 1:14 pm

    Bloody brilliant!!!! I am so happy, congratulations from across the pond to my American brothers and sisters, hooray for the common sense of the common man xxx

  9. Hannah J
    May 29, 2013 | 1:57 pm

    This is amazing! I am so happy, I feel like doing a dance too! I hope that my family can join our local herd share soon… most of their goats were killed by coyotes. But, it should be up and running again soon. A small victory, but a good one. We should keep praying about it, God can win us a few more.

    Check out my blog at:
    dreamingofperfect.weebly.com

    I recently did a post on GMOs.

  10. Dave
    May 29, 2013 | 7:03 pm

    Raw milk is so fulfilling in so many ways and I remember getting from our neighbours dairy. Then when I left school, my first job was working for our neighbours and every day before I started milking in the morning I would drink a jug of cooled milk that had been gathered the night before. Damn, it was good. While we were still kids, we would leave the milk until the cream would separate from the milk and then carefully pour the cream off for our breakfast cereal. Dang, those were the days. I have never had or heard of any complaint or medicinal problems from the practice. We need more of it.

  11. Bert
    May 29, 2013 | 9:39 pm

    Good for the farmers! Sometimes, more regulation might be well-intended, but does not actually help people.

  12. Adriana Gutierrez
    May 30, 2013 | 8:21 am

    Thank you to a very wise jury!

  13. Vera Shaver
    May 30, 2013 | 8:31 am

    I grew up on a farm and we had our own milk and it was so good I loved the cream on top my Grandmother would make butter I loved watching her make it, I always say those great days are gone.
    Vera,

  14. Allison
    May 30, 2013 | 8:42 am

    Yay!!! I hope this sets a precedent and allows people and farmers the freedom to make healthy food choices independent of pressure from corporate greed. Happy dance…even if I’m sitting at the computer.

  15. Mahatma Muhjesbude
    May 30, 2013 | 9:44 am

    Great victory for the preservation of our freedoms from corrupt and greedy regimes. This was essentially the real truth behind the universal gun background check. Not safety or health, but a back door approach to taxing and controlling and monitoring by ‘universal data base’ all private sales and personal transactions.

    Business licences, permits, and such were created for entities in the pursuit of profit from an occupational commerce choice in the general public market.

    The problem is the government wants IT ALL. This was a great victory for the people and our rights to personal privacy. The government cannot declare itself the boss of everything we do and be the ultimate authority of our health by using the excuse of protecting the ‘general public’ in terms of health issues. If they wanted to do that they should start with sanctioning corporatocracies like Monsanto or somehow preventing doctors from creating more drug addicts than the Mexican Cartels do.

    The Amish were picked on for self schooling while Catholic, and now Islamic Centers, have more than their share of proprietary schools.

    The Amish in Wisconsin should thing seriously about starting their own political block here. Remain on the offensive while we have the high ground!

  16. Anne
    June 9, 2013 | 10:20 pm

    I just bought a t-shirt from the Farm to Consumer people at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup last weekend! *warm fuzzies* It says “FDA Step Away From My Plate” :)

  17. TMC
    January 12, 2014 | 8:12 pm

    This is great news!!!

  18. Lyn Soeder via Facebook
    January 12, 2014 | 9:01 pm

    This makes me very, very happy!

  19. Sam Hatt via Facebook
    January 12, 2014 | 9:13 pm

    awesomeness….shared

  20. Cindy Johnson Sampey via Facebook
    January 12, 2014 | 9:21 pm

    That is so sad

  21. Gretchen Gibb
    January 12, 2014 | 9:51 pm

    Way to go! What we eat/ drink shouldn’t be dictated by government. That was a big win for everyone!

  22. Ann Fk via Facebook
    January 12, 2014 | 9:58 pm

    Why is this sad?

  23. Don Prohaska via Facebook
    January 13, 2014 | 2:06 am

    Thanks for sharing

  24. Celeste
    January 13, 2014 | 9:12 am

    I’m almost speechless after reading the account of the testimony by a defense witness, Joseph Plasterer. All the objections to him telling the truth about why he wanted the raw milk.

    How in the world did if ever become illegal to drink raw, unprocessed milk straight from the cow?

    Cheering over here for this victory! Thanks for sharing!

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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