If Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger goes to jail Friday, he can take comfort that his farm will be well tended to.
First, there is his family, including his wife and nine children. “I would not do what I am doing without having my family behind me,” he told about 60 supporters crowded into a “Rights Workshop” organized by his food club members and the Raw Milk Freedom Riders.
Then there are his members, and indications are that many of the 150 or so members would be willing to pitch in to help the Hershberger family. “There are a lot of farmers here who can help Vernon milk his cows,” one member told the attendees at the workshop.
“You may have to compete with my sons,” said Hershberger, who seemed very upbeat, considering he is going before a judge Friday who could send him to jail for violating the terms of his bail, established in early January. The bail terms include provisions that he not provide his members with raw milk, or have other people run the farm for him.
Perhaps because of the uncertainty surrounding what might happen to Hershberger and to members of his food club committed to helping run the farm if he goes to jail, a number of the half-dozen speakers at the workshop focused on the challenge of countering fear.
“A big part of freedom is getting beyond fear,” said John Moody, the manager of a Kentucky food club, who last year successfully organized his club to resist the efforts of local public health officials to condemn raw milk being distributed to members. If farmers and consumers seek to resolve issues only out of fear, then the authorities have an advantage. “They get bigger and we get smaller.”
Max Kane, who has been fighting the efforts of Wisconson authorities seeking to force him to provide information about farmers who supply his food club, said, “I had to go through a lot of fear,” to resist the temptation to give in to Wisconsin’s orders that he provide information. “I am proud to be where I am…I moved through the fear to get to the place I am now.”
Michael Schmidt told the workshop attendees that Hershberger’s decision to face the judge without a lawyer at his side may strengthen his position. “When you are in front of a judge…it is very intimidating. You don’t even know how to address him.”
The solution, said Schmidt, “You have to address the judge on a very human level…You have to bring this to a human level. You want your voice to be heard by the judge. We are dealing with judges who have children at home, have a wife. But when the truth is there, we don’t have to have complicated legal agreements.”
The big challenge for anyone going before a judge is the difficulty of separating out the legal issues. He pointed out, using boxes, that the constitution is a very slender document, like a tiny house. Criminal laws are more involved, but manageable. Civil laws are yet more complex, but still manageable. “Then you have regulatory law, which is like a high rise,” and way beyond the capabilities of most individuals who might represent themselves.
He tried to prepare the attendees for the fear they may well encounter when Hershberger is possibly taken away. “The greatest betrayal comes if we don’t act when they take Vernon away to jail.”
Liz Reitzig explained that civil disobedience has played an important role in America’s history. “We live in a strong and proud history of non-compliance,” she told the attendees. “We can use these individuals from our history to draw inspiration.”