It’s not often that someone found guilty of a crime throws a party for the jurors who convicted him, but that’s exactly what Sauk County dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger did last weekend.
Hershberger was convicted in May of a misdemeanor related to violating a holding order on products in his on-farm store after a 2010 raid of his Grazin’ Acres farm by state government officials.
He was fined $1,000 plus court costs of about $500.
He also was acquitted of three other criminal charges in the case for producing, processing and selling milk without proper state licenses.
Hershberger was found not guilty of operating a retail store, not guilty of operating a dairy plant and not guilty of not having a valid milk producer license.
Show of support
About 100 of Hershberger’s supporters, including national and local food-freedom activists, attended the “victory celebration” Aug. 17 at Hershberger’s Loganville farm.
“It was nice to see how many people truly supported Vernon,” said Michele Hopp of Merrimac — one of three jurors out of the dozen from Hershberger’s trial who attended.
“They gave us an opportunity at the very beginning to speak, which I wasn’t expecting,” Hopp said.
She said they answered several questions about the trial and its aftermath.
“There were a lot of questions about procedure and how deliberations went,” Hopp said. “One of the best questions was ‘How has this changed you?’ My answer was it made me realize that everybody can make a difference. I encouraged people to write letters and open their mouths and speak about every topic of importance to them.”
She said she and her husband brought three of their grandchildren to see a working dairy farm and bought a couple of baby rabbits.
Hopp said she had expected the social to be a more joyous event, but it seemed a bit subdued because of last week’s guilty verdict in central Minnesota, where farmer Alvin Schlangen was charged with improperly handling and illegally selling food without a license.
Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, who tried to shut down Hershberger’s operation, also were invited to the social, which featured vanilla ice cream from Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo.
The main purpose of the day, which included music, hayrides and children’s games, was to raise money to help Hershberger rebuild a machine shed destroyed in a fire shortly before the trial this spring.
All proceeds from the day’s auction were expected to go toward the rebuilding effort.
Since the trial, some jurors, including Hopp, have visited Hershberger’s farm and signed up for his buying club, which includes about 200 members who invest in the cows from which they receive their milk.
A Chicago native, Hopp said consuming unpasteurized dairy products has taken some getting used to, but she believes in its health benefits.
“I have raw milk products in my refrigerator. … It still freaks me out a bit,” she said.
However, she said she’s confident in its safety because she knows the farmer who produced it.
“Vernon is clearly a very conscientious farmer,” she said.
Hopp said she hopes Hershberger is successful in his appeal to overturn the guilty ruling that he violated a hold order state ag officials had placed on his products.
“It has finally hit (Hershberger) that he’s labeled a criminal due to the misdemeanor charge. It doesn’t sit well with him,” she said.
A team of attorneys retained by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund filed the appeal July 2.
Raw milk debate imminent
The Hershberger verdict seemed to energize Wisconsin’s raw milk supporters, and there have been several attempts in the state