Wisconsin’s Attorney General has signaled his willingness to go ahead with the possibly provocative step of throwing dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger into jail.
In a package of documents sent to Hershberger, the Wisconsin Department of Justice included a letter to Judge Guy D. Reynolds, in which Assistant Attorney General Eric D. Defort complains about “what the State believes are violations of the Court ordered conditions of release.” He adds: “In view of the apparent violation of the Court’s orders, the State respectfully asks this Court to address the issue of bail at the next hearing.” The next hearing is next Friday, March 2, at which a demonstration in support of Hershberger is scheduled to take place.
When Hershberger was charged with four misdemeanors, and released on $500 bail, he signed an agreement in which he committed to “no manufacturing or processing of dairy products” and “no sale or distribution of milk produced on his dairy farm” without appropriate licenses. Moreover, there was to be “no impeding, obstruction (including the provision of false information) or interference with any Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) inspection.”
The agreement warned, “If you violate any of these conditions, your bond may be revoked, you may be returned to jail…” The four misdemeanors Hershberger has been charged with could land Hershberger in jail for up to three years, with more than $10,000 in fines.
Within weeks of signing the agreement, Hershberger had second thoughts, and in a courtroom statement to Judge Reynolds said he “would much rather spend the rest of my life behind bars or even die than to be found guilty of such a gross sin” in withholding foods from “its owners’ families.”
Then, two weeks ago, two agents from DATCP, accompanied by a Sauk County sheriff’s deputy, visited Hershberger’s farm in Loganville, WI. When he refused their request to inspect the farm, they departed. In a report on the visit, included with the documents sent to Hershberger, DATCP details Hershberger’s refusal in its narrative about the visit. The report also says there were signs the farm was operating as a retail establishment.
The DATCP account of the visit, written by inspector Jackie Owens, states that, “I observed a retail store with display shelves containing bulk dry foods, freezers, and walk-in cooler containing refrigerated foods including milk and milk products.” The distinction leads into a Catch-22 situation. If Hershberger had a “retail license,” he would be prohibited from selling raw dairy products, under Wisconsin law. Hershberger has thus avoided the retailer approach, setting up a private club, with food available only to nearly 200 members who pay an annual membership agreement. Hershberger leases his animals to those members.
She said that when she eventually reached Hershberger by phone, he refused her request to inspect the farm “because he did not have any licenses from the state…” That’s because his farm’s food is only available to nearly 200 members.
The Wisconsin AG’s swift move on the bail issue suggests Wisconsin officials have little concern about protests in support of Hershberger. A protest has long been planned for the March 2 hearing, which previously had been expected to be a routine hearing following up on the state’s misdemeanor charges against him. Now, with Hershberger facing jail, the demonstration scheduled in Baraboo, WI at 11 a.m. takes on greater importance. For more information, go to the Raw Milk Freedom Riders site, or the Support Vernon Hershberger Facebook site.