Loganville farmer Vernon Hershberger went to court and beat criminal charges for selling unpasteurized, raw milk and other farm-fresh goods directly to customers without proper state licenses.
But he’s not in favor of a bill that would legalize raw milk sales in Wisconsin. If the bill passes, he would be turned into a criminal, Hershberger said Thursday.
“The jury in Baraboo acquitted me of the charges,” Hershberger said. “If I’m allowed to do it (sell unpasteurized diary without a permit), all other farmers should be allowed to do it as well. I will be another criminal because the jury freed me of having to have a license to do what I’m doing.”
Hershberger, who testified against the bill during a public hearing Wednesday, sells unpasteurized dairy and other food products from his farm through a program known as a buyer’s club.
A buyer’s club, known in other parts of the country as a cow-sharing or a herd-leasing program, allows farmers to enter into private contracts with consumers to essentially co-own animals on the farm. The consumer then has access to the milk or meat produced by the animal.
The raw milk bill, sponsored by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, would require farmers who sell raw milk to meet or exceed Grade A standards just like farmers who sell to dairy processing plants. Hershberger did not renew his Grade A license three years ago when he made the decision to quit selling his milk to a dairy processing plant and instead sell raw milk through a buyer’s club business model.
Hershberger said the jury made it clear it was his right to sell raw milk without a license, without having to register with the state and without having to meet standards.
“I’m allowed to do what I do without a license,” Hershberger said. “And those with a Grade A license are not allowed to do what I do.”
Another public hearing on the raw milk bill will be held in La Crosse on Monday. Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, will testify at that hearing. Another co-sponsor of the raw milk bill, Clark said he plans to speak about a separate bill that would remove any ambiguity over the legality of buyer’s clubs.
Because the charges against Hershberger were criminal and not civil, the not-guilty verdict applies only to him. That leaves a gray area over whether other farmers would be charged for operating buyer’s clubs.
“My bill is more narrowly crafted and would legalize buyer’s clubs,” Clark said at the Capitol, outside the raw milk hearing Wednesday.
In contrast, the raw milk bill would allow for farmers to sell directly to consumers if certain criteria are met. Clark’s bill legalizes an alternate business model for raw milk to be sold.
Under Clark’s draft bill, farmers who operate a buyer’s club would not need to get a Grade A license from the state, just a buyer’s club permit.
“We are replicating California standards for unpasteurized raw milk sales,” Clark said. “We are not letting (the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) write the rules.”
One difference is that California allows for the retail sale of raw milk. Clark’s bill would not.
The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had been promoting the creation of the buyer’s clubs as a means for farmers to earn additional income.
But that changed in May of 2010 when former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle abruptly changed course and vetoed a bill that would have legalized raw milk sales. A month later Hershberger’s farm was raided by DATCP officials accompanied by local law enforcement officers.
Hershberger said he and his attorney, Elizabeth Rich of Plymouth, have talked with Clark about his bill. Hershberger said Thursday that “depending on how things go, we might work with him some more.”
“What he is trying to do is get a statute into law that correlates to my trial,” Hershberger said, meaning no need for a permit or license to operate a buyer’s club that sells unpasteurized dairy products.
Rich said she appreciates Clark’s efforts to support farmers like Hershberger.
“I think the bill as proposed includes extensive involvement by DATCP in the buyers club. And that’s the area that needs some work,” Rich said. “Neither party wants extensive involvement by the state.”
Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to Persevere to Fully Vindicate Private Buying Club
Falls Church, VA, July 2, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The absolute right to private, unregulated, direct trade with a local raw milk producer is being fully tested in the heart of "America's Dairyland". The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund plans to appeal the jury verdict of farmer Vernon Hershberger in the recent case, State of Wisconsin (Plaintiff) vs. Vernon Hershberger (Defendant). The appeal will be presented in Wisconsin appellate court district IV. Likely, the case will be reviewed by a 3 judge panel.
Hershberger was found guilty on only one of four criminal counts, the violation of a hold order.
Hershberger owns and operates a privately held dairy farm, Grazin' Acres, in Loganville, Wisconsin. Over 200 investors in his farm enable Hershberger to operate a non-retail farm store for member investors only.
At issue in this case, was whether or not Hershberger needed retail license, dairy plant license, and milk producers license from the state to operate such a business. A jury of his peers found that Vernon was not breaking licensing laws, exonerating him of the three counts of operating without licenses.
The jury was also charged with determining whether or not a hold order was issued, and whether or not Hershberger had violated the order. The hold order was placed on Hershberger's dairy cases in the farm store in by the Wisconsin Department of Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) on June 2, 2010.
During his trial, a heavily redacted hold order was submitted to the jury for review. In court, Hershberger had admitted he opened the state seal on his dairy refrigerators to allow his members access to their property.
"For Vernon, this was an act of civil disobedience. He believed the state was exceeding its authority, and that, as owners, his members had every right to the dairy products from their own cows," explains Elizabeth Rich, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund attorney.
A team of attorneys hired by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is filing the appeal. Elizabeth Rich, Glenn Reynolds, Amy Salberg took the original case to court on May 20-24, 2012, and will stay on the case. They have 20 days from the June 13th sentencing to file their appeal, the deadline is July 3.
The law in the state of Wisconsin allows owners of cows to drink their cow's milk without licenses.
"Had the jury understood the totality of the circumstances, they wouldn't have convicted him of violating the holding order. Vernon's conviction was not consistent with the jury's finding that members of Grazin' Acres were owners of the dairy farm, this is why we are appealing," says Rich.
Attorneys handling the case also believe the jury would have cleared the owner of Grazin' Acres of all charges had they seen the full hold order. The redacted portion of the order said the food was "misbranded or adulterated." Attorneys believe Hershberger would have presented a convincing argument that the food was neither adulterated, nor misbranded.
For the one count Hershberger was found guilty of, the potential fine was in excess of $10,000. The judge showed leniency. Hershberger was given a sentence of no jail, no probation, just a $1000 fine, plus mandatory court assessments. The total damages of $1513.00 were paid by the members of Vernon's farm immediately after the sentencing.
Since the acquittals and fine resolved the criminal case, Vernon Hershberger and his Grazin' Acres members can continue to operate unimpeded.
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund defends the rights and broadens the freedoms of family farms and artisan food producers while protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient-dense foods. Those concerned can support the FTCLDF, a U.S. based 501(c)(4) nonprofit, by joining or donating online at www.farmtoconsumer.org or by calling 703-208-FARM (3276).
CONTACT: Kimberly Hartke, Publicist 703-860-2711 firstname.lastname@example.org
Episode 9 of the Food Rights Hour podcast is about the case of Amish dairy farmer, Vernon Hershberger. During this episode, host Kimberly Hartke talks to a few of Vernon’s club members, folks who know firsthand the value of the farm-to-consumer relationship. We also hear from FTCLDF President, Pete Kennedy, about the case and from Co-Founder of Farm Food Freedom Coalition, Liz Reitzig, about the events surrounding the upcoming trial that begins on May 20th.
Why is this court case significant for not only Grazin’ Acres but for all access to raw milk in all states around the country? What does Pete Kennedy think will happen if Wisconsin legalizes the sale of raw milk? Why are Grazin’ Acres club members such strong supporters of Vernon Hershberger and his food buying club? What events are planned to show support for Vernon Hershberger in Baraboo around the time of the trial?
Listen to the podcast to find out!
Kimberly Hartke interviews food club members Jennifer Morrison, Joy Martinson, and Pierre Pipper who were in varying degrees of poor health or disease before joining the Right to Choose Healthy Food buyers club.