Wisconsin farmer Mark ZinnikerAn NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released a couple days ago showed that more than 70% of Americans feel the country is “headed in the wrong direction.” 


Now, “headed in the wrong direction” can mean different things to different people—failure to deal with immigration problems, education system deficiencies, rising prices in the face of stagnant and declining wages, health system screwups— but certainly the ongoing worries about  the poisoning of the food system have to be up there as well. We’ve seen the worries expressed via heavy citizen opposition to genetically modified (GMO) food. So I’d put judicial opposition to privately-distributed food in the “wrong direction” category as well. Especially when that opposition comes in the face of growing public preferences to be able to access good wholesome food, and buy it privately. 


This is all prelude to the latest court decision against privately-distributed food to come out of Wisconsin—an appeals court decision against two farm families (Kay and Wayne Craig and Petra and Mark Zinniker). The cases were similar to that involving Vernon Hershberger last year.   


In all these cases, Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection argued that the farmers required dairy and retail licenses to sell food to private groups of consumers. You can’t just have one.  And if per chance the farmer obtained both licenses, and tried to include raw milk among the items being sold to food club members? Why, the sales aren’t allowed, since sales of raw milk except on an incidental basis (whatever that means) are illegal.  A classic Catch-22.


The original state judges together with the appeals court judges have now all ruled against the Craigs and Zinnikers. In the Hershberger case, the judge overseeing the case, Guy Reynolds, made no effort to hide his desire to see the farmer convicted of similar offenses of selling food to members of a food club without what DATCP said were required dairy and retail licenses. 


Except in the Hershberger case, the judge didn’t get to rule. The people ruled, in the form of a 12-person jury, which 15 months ago acquitted Hershberger of all the licensing charges. 


So now you have a situation where Hershberger is free to farm and serve his member community, and the Craigs and Zinnikers are prohibited from doing the same thing….unless… Unless they insist on having the same rights as Hershberger. To do that, they are presumably going to have to take the same action Hershberger did—just go and do it. Challenge the state to stop them. Let a jury of 12 ordinary citizens decide if they are criminals for serving a private community with good food. 


I say this appreciating that it’s much easier for me to give advice than for them to carry it out. But I also say it knowing that the Zinniker family has been carrying out biodynamic farming in Wisconsin since 1943. And that the Craigs have been fighting DATCP since 2002. They’ve all had to be very persistent to have gotten to where they have gotten. They have a lot to lose, and the people of Wisconsin have a lot to lose if either or both families decide to fold up the tent. 

It’s become obvious, in rulings from Maine to Wisconsin to Missouri and elsewhere that there isn’t a single judge willing to rule against the insistence by America’s food oligarchy that the centuries-old practice of farmers selling food to members of their community is now illegal. At the same time, it’s become obvious that if Americans want to preserve that right, they are going to have to band together as communities and back their farmers in taking and preserving that right. People know things are going in the wrong direction—they need to come to the realization that they are the only ones who can fix it on the food front. 


Vernon Hershberger’s community is coming together yet again–on August 26, for a fund-raising dinner in Milwaukee to help the farmer re-build a shed that was destroyed by fire just prior to his trial last year. I’ll be there, together with Joel Salatin, Elizabeth Rich, Max Kane, and others.