With Appeal Underway, Hershberger Rallies Supporters
Aug. 14, 2013 12:20 p.m.
But on Saturday, raw milk dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger is throwing a party to thank his friends and to raise money to rebuild two of his farm buildings, and he says five jurors from his trial last spring are likely to be there, along with about 100 other supporters.
Hershberger was convicted in May of one misdemeanor related to the sale of raw milk products in his farm store. He was acquitted of three other criminal charges in the case, which stemmed from a June 2010 government raid on his Grazin' Acres farm in Sauk County.
He plans to appeal the conviction for violating a hold order placed on the products in his store. He'll hold a news conference about the appeal at Saturday's social.
Some of the jurors have since become friends with the Loganville dairy farmer and have joined his buyers club, which sells raw, unpasteurized milk and other products to members.
After the trial, four jurors asked Sauk County Circuit Judge Guy Reynolds to be lenient. Reynolds fined the farmer $1,500, including court costs.
Hershberger also has sent ice cream social invitations to officials from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection who tried to shut down his operation and send him to jail for operating a retail store, dairy farm and dairy processing facility without licenses.
"I would like to improve our communication with DATCP. This might be a good way to start," Hershberger said.
State officials say they're not likely to attend.
For the most part, raw milk sales to the public are illegal in Wisconsin.
During the trial, which put Wisconsin in the center of the national raw milk controversy, officials alleged that Hershberger used the farm's buyers club as a way to run an unlicensed retail operation. They did not accuse him specifically of violating raw milk regulations.
But the farmer's attorneys, paid from the national Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, have said he was unfairly targeted for prosecution because he sold unpasteurized milk to members of the buyers club.
The raw milk issue has pitted people who believe unpasteurized milk straight from the farm has beneficial properties against state agriculture and public health officials who say it can cause food-borne illnesses.
Hershberger's supporters say his case could set a precedent for other farmers wanting to establish private buyers clubs as a way to sell unpasteurized dairy products.
Since the trial, there's been more interest in the buyers clubs, said Hershberger's attorney, Elizabeth Rich, who has asked for a three-judge panel to hear the appeal because she says it has statewide importance.
"The Legal Defense Fund is putting together documents to help set up a club that would conform with the Hershberger verdict and, we believe, would conform with Wisconsin law," Rich said.
State Department of Justice officials say they don't see the acquittals from the Hershberger case, or any outcome from the appeal, as setting a statewide precedent.
"This appeal involves a specific set of facts and a specific individual. We believe it can be, and should be, decided on that basis," said Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck.
Rich said there will be raw milk and raw-milk ice cream available at Saturday's gathering, but it will be for members of the farm's buyers club. Everyone else gets pasteurized dairy products.
The event is not meant to annoy state officials, according to Rich. "We have always said the door is open to have a dialogue," she said.
The primary purpose of the ice cream social is to raise money for Hershberger to rebuild a barn and machine shed destroyed by a fire sparked by heating lamps in the barn in April. "That is where the proceeds are going," Rich said.
Legislative effort revivedThere have been several attempts in the state Legislature to legalize the sale of raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products direct from the farm, including a recent bill from Sen. Glenn Grothman.
The West Bend Republican's proposal would allow limited continue reading