Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” Wastes Three Years of Vernon Hershberger’s Heroic Life

…For dealing in the highest quality dairy in the state

I feel compelled to blog this in order to close the loop. I first posted of this a month short of three years ago. Heroism: A Uniquely Human Trait; the Story of Vernon Hershberger. It’s time to take an accounting of my very original assertion. Vernon Hershberger is a hero in the civilly disobedient spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

…It’s why I harp on moral righteousness vs. pragmatic consequentialism, stupids. The post began thusly.

The simplest way I’ve ever been able to reconcile a distinction between wanton self-sacrifice and heroism exists in the realm of values. To sacrifice yourself means, by definition, that you’re giving up a higher value (to you) for a lower value. Heroism involves values that you hold so dear that they may even outweigh your immediate safety, security, or your very life.

So for example, if you deny yourself or your loved ones basic security, shelter, or nutrition in order to help those far less worthy or valuable (to you), you’re engaging in sacrifice. On the other hand, you may find it utterly loathsome to even live in a world where certain things can persist unchecked, such as a woman, child, elderly person — or anyone clearly outmatched — being assaulted by some thug in front of your very eyes, but where to intervene might risk your life. I would consider such intervention to be heroic, not sacrificial.

Do you understand the distinction? [Italics below denote embedded quotes from the original post quoting this alert in Natural Food and Health.]

So there’s the philosophical/social underpinnings and now to the story. I’ve seen a few of these, lately, but for one reason or another, didn’t engage them. This is different. And I think it’s because of Vernon Hershberger’s actions in the immediate and his demeanor over them. He’s an Amish subsistence farmer in Wisconsin. That is, he derives all of his subsistence values for himself, his wife, and nine children from his family farm, trading that which he produces by means of his hands & body, intellect, and leadership with other family members, friends, and close acquaintances which appear to number about 100 in total.


And now here, in particular, we come to Mr. Hershberger’s uncommon courage & heroism. Is it because he defied the law? In part, yes, but there’s way, way more to it than that — something I might refer to as a “golden helmet of moral righteousness.”

I asked Vernon if it would be OK to report his crime in the Journal for all to see: that he defied the orders of the State by BREAKING THE SEALS of state evidence—so that they could get to their food needed to live. “No problem, go right ahead and tell”, he told me. “We have no other choice but to break the seals and take our food”.

This is the heart of a concept I’ll address in a minute, but note: he has no intention of not fully facing up to the legal consequences of his actions. In fact, he’s giving the green light to be reported.

The raid team also demanded computers and customer lists and business records. Between the time the health department showed up and when the deputies came with the warrant to search and seize, Vernon and his family took the computer drive and records and hid them in an undisclosed off-site location. I made doubly sure it would be OK to report this here and to the DATCP and county officials who will be reading this—and Vernon said it would be OK to report this. (It is as if it is an invitation to the State to come and play hide and seek. The customer and supplier lists are then used to interrogate and request surveys of them as to further widen the witch hunt—as in Minnesota).

Well so far, I’d say that an ambitious prosecutor might be able to get another notch towards a career promotion by putting Mr. Hershberger in a locked-away status from his nine children for an awfully long time. These are “serious crimes” — not to mention: selling raw milk from his own family farm.

And now, turning to the local news story previously linked…

…Now that the law is not on his side, he doesn’t know what to do.

“Entering into a form of civil disobedience or going out of business,” he said. “This is all we do. This is to support our family. This is to support our farm. We have a debt to pay off and everything that goes with it.”

If you ever get a chance to study Civil Disobedience, you of course begin with Henry David Thoreau, who held that there are three choices with respect to laws: obey them, amend them, or transgress them.

“Under a government that imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.”

So he was charged with four crimes against the state (“The People vs.”—that’s YOU, and how presumptuous).

Baraboo — Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on three of four criminal charges early Saturday morning in a trial that drew national attention from supporters of the raw, unpasteurized milk movement.

Jurors in Sauk County Circuit Court deliberated about four hours, until nearly 1 a.m. Saturday, before returning a verdict of guilty on one charge of violating a holding order placed on products on the Hershberger farm following a raid there in the summer of 2010.

The 41-year-old farmer faces up to a year in jail and $10,000 in fines on that conviction. A sentencing date will be announced later, Judge Guy Reynolds said.

Hershberger was found innocent of three charges that included operating an unlicensed retail store that sold raw milk and other products; and operating a dairy farm and dairy processing facility without licenses.

This is being heralded as a victory partout for raw milk farmers and their customers. But the conviction on the one count leaves a raw taste in my mouth. Here’s the logic.

  1. According to a unanimous jury verdict, he’s not guilty of the charges surrounding his raw milk and derivative products operation and selling those products to his customers…his community.
  2. Thus, it was simply wrong to prosecute him.
  3. Thus, it was wrong to seal off his operation and order him to leave the seals in place and not access his own food.
  4. …And yet the same jury convicts him for ignoring that order.

It’s reminiscent of cases where investigators lie to a person of interest in oder to scare the shit out of them; which works, so they lie. And then, when they ultimately can’t get a conviction surrounding whatever actions and deeds were under investigation, they prosecute them for lying.

It’s wrong. And, just another day in “The Land of the Free.”

The jury ought to have morally repudiated the whole damn circus by immediately returning not guilty-verdicts on all four charges within about 5 minutes of commencing deliberations. Know your rights as a juror. Start with the Fully Informed Jury Association. Then, consider an oath to yourself that no matter what or how long a jury is at an impasse, never, ever vote to convict in any criminal prosecution when there is no clear victim (such as an individual or group murdered, raped, battered, kidnapped, burgled, defrauded, etc.).

There is no such thing, morally, non-despotically, as a “crime against the state,” and The People vs. is a presumptuous load of caca. Be smart. When the hung jury (when not unanimously not-guilty) is polled and you get a chance to speak, tell them that you have passed judgment on the law, found it guilty of being immoral and thus, consider the defendant not only innocent, but a victim of the state and its machinery of injustice.

And as for Vernon Hershberger? “I can continue to feed my community,” he said. What an abysmally evil injustice taking three years of his life that was. Some way, somehow, I hope justice and chickens come home to roost upon every single person involved in this prosecution.

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  1. […] The Animal / Posted on: May 28, 2013 Free The Animal – …For dealing in the highest quality dairy in the state I feel compelled to blog this […]

  2. Dan Linehan on May 28, 2013 at 21:19

    >…And yet the same jury convicts him for ignoring that order.

    Agreed, super frustrating verdict. If any case was in need of some decent jury nullification it was this one.

  3. tt on May 29, 2013 at 02:12

    I had an uncle that rented espionage equipment (bugging devices, cameras etc.) back in the 80’s (when that stuff cost an arm and a leg). To avoid legal liability (he didn’t want to get involved with customers that wanted this sort of stuff), he would sell the equipment to them in full and agree to buy it back at a discount. The difference being equivalent to the rental fee. Whatever they did with the equipment while they owned it was their business, not his.

    I wonder if one way around government regulations about the sale of food/dairy licencing could use a similar approach. For example, instead of selling milk, a farmer could sell you shares in a cow and agree to buy it back off you sometime in the future. Any time you want milk from “your” cow you could pay the farmer a “fee” for milking the cow (ie: not for the milk – no money changes hands for the exchange of milk). I have no idea if this will work but hey, who knows?

  4. Natasha on May 29, 2013 at 07:57

    tt, farmers where I live in Indiana are bypassing idiotic regulation exactly how you describe: they sell herd shares, and they even deliver your milk to a number of drop-off points in town.

  5. Merr on May 29, 2013 at 09:47

    tt said: “Any time you want milk from “your” cow you could pay the farmer a “fee” for milking the cow (ie: not for the milk – no money changes hands for the exchange of milk). I have no idea if this will work but hey, who knows?”

    That’s close to the arrangement I have at the moment. I bought a “share” of a cow. I pay the farm a monthly service fee for milking, storing and bottling. I can sell the share back at any time. I can buy a larger share at any time if I want more than my bi-weekly delivery amount. I am very happy with the arrangement.

  6. Paul C on May 29, 2013 at 10:14

    tt, that was once legal in Wisconsin but made illegal. Currently all of the workarounds for selling raw milk are illegal here. That is why on the books I am buying “maple syrup” from my farmer.

  7. Dr. Curmudgeon Gee on May 29, 2013 at 13:29

    “people” in the political context, it always sounds communist to me.
    ditto “Public Safety Bureau”

  8. […] charges, instead of pleading guilty and asking to be sentenced to the maximum penalty immediately. And he got mostly off. It was quasi jury nullification. Had the jury been "better informed"—which is euphemism for the […]

  9. Jeff on September 13, 2013 at 13:18

    There’s some positive movement in WI on the raw milk debacle…er, I mean debate….:

  10. […] about Vernon Hershberger’s big win, but here’s another post you may want to read:  Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” Wastes Three Years of Vernon Hershberger’s……  Vernon Hershberger is a hero in the civilly disobedient spirit of Henry David […]

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