Vernon Hershberger (center) flanked by (from left) alternate juror Sandy Lutas, juror Michele Hopp, defense lawyer Elizabeth Rich, and jury foreman Paul FreitagThe foreman of the jury that acquitted Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger of all licensing charges is wondering if state lawyers who prosecuted the case should be sanctioned by a bar association for their conduct during the trial last May.  

He is especially upset about the contention by state prosecutor Eric Defort, made several times during the trial, including in his closing statement, that all Vernon Hershberger needed to do was pay the nominal licensing fee (about $250), and he’d have been in compliance, making unnecessary all the brutal enforcement actions the state took against the farmer, including four raids of his farm, confiscation of his computers and business records, and the placement of a hold order on all his food. 

“That really wasn’t true,” the jury foreman, Paul Freitag, told 200 or so attendees at a thank-you social put on by Hershberger at his farm in Loganville on Saturday. Of course, if he had had a retail license, Hershberger would have been prohibited under Wisconsin law from making available raw dairy products to his 200 food club members. 

Freitag, the jury foreman, joined another member of the jury, Michele Hopp, and alternate juror Sandy Lutas, in a press briefing at the start of the social. 

Hopp recalled that prosecutor Defort’s statement about the licensing fee convinced a number of jurors to side with the prosecution, at least during initial deliberations. “That closing argument affected one of the jurors who said he would pay the $250 for a retail license” if it would solve Hershberger’s legal problems. 

Hopp also recounted how badly she felt after the trial, when she learned that the state’s June 2010 hold order on Hershberger’s food would have been invalid, based on the jury’s decision that Hershberger didn’t require retail and dairy licenses. “I felt sick,” she told attendees, especially since Hershberger could have been sentenced to a year in jail and fined $10,000 for ignoring the hold order the day after it was imposed. (Hershberger has already filed an appeal of the single hold-order conviction, for which he was fined $1,000, plus court costs.)

Hershberger, for his part, told attendees Saturday that he has no desire to see state prosecutors sanctioned for unethical or illegal behavior. “We as a family have forgiven them,” he said. “If they can live with their consciences….” 

After the press session, both Freitag and Hopp joined Hershberger’s food club, and made their initial purchases of dairy products. They were among 14 new members the food club picked up on Saturday, and dozens of others who have joined since the trial concluded. 

He will no doubt attract more members, thanks to the ongoing publicity the case continues to attract, such as this report from a local television station. It’s an unusual way for a state to help market its farmers, but it seems to be the farmer-promotion vehicle of choice in Wisconsin. 

P.S. The auction at Hershberger’s farm was entertainment in its own rite. For a taste, click on the video at Hershberger’s web site


Alvin Schlangen explains his conviction by a jury on five misdemeanor counts last week as the outgrowth of his efforts to help out a local food coop, Taditional Foods Minnesota, obtain various foods during 2010. “This case was not about our food club, but about me, the organic farmer, that was helping our local food coop source Minnesota-grown food efficiently,” he wrote on Facebook. “No laws were broken, nobody harmed, just another stupid commercial rule (in the land of 10,000 new statutes per year) that disallows an experienced food handler the right to serve the local organic consumer, and a court system that orders the jury to disregard the Constitution….” (Traditional Foods Minnesota was permanently shuttered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture back in June 2010.)

He added that if he had obtained a food handler’s license back in 2010, his food club “would not be a reality today, hundreds of families would have no option for local wholesome food. I would not think twice about doing the same again. These thugs have no fear control over me.” 

Here’s a great analysis from food rights lawyer Amy Salberg on what went wrong in the Schlangen legal defense. In short, complacency and lack of community support may have undermined Schlangen.