In a Wisconsin Courtroom, Forget Even Talking About Healthy Food

Vernon Hershberger with Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, who stopped in Thursday evening to speak in Baraboo on behalf of the Hershberger defense. There were times today in a Baraboo, WI, courtroom, when I wondered if I was still living in the United States of America.

It started first thing when one of the prosecutors in the Vernon Hershberger case, Eric DeFort, complained to the judge that the lead defense lawyer, Glenn Reynolds, was using the word "liberty" too often, as in "Vernon Hershberger's liberty is at stake in this trial" (because of that little detail that he could be sent to jail for two years or more). 

To which Glenn Reynolds responded: "I’ve been trying cases for 35 years and I’ve never had an objection to that. It’s inherent in criminal versus civil cases."

The prosecution was right, yet again, said the Judge, Guy Reynolds. "Objection sustained. No more reference by counsel to the threat to the defendant’s liberty." 

It ended with the questioning of a defense witness, one of Vernon Hershberger's food club members, Joseph Plasterer. He was asked by defense attorney Glenn Reynolds to explain why he sought out Hershberger's food back in 2004, when he joined the food club. 

Plasterer: "We asked if we could be part of the farm…"

Glenn Reynolds: "Did you have a reason?"

Plasterer: "My son was not thriving…"

Prosecutor Eric DeFort: "Objection!"

Judge: "Objections sustained."

Glenn Reynolds: "Explain why you sought out Hershberger's food."

Plasterer: "We wanted access to unprocessed food that was higher quality than would not be available from the stores."

Prosecutor: "Objection!"

Judge: "Objection sustained. Strike the answer. Jury is to ignore the answer." 

I know it's becoming increasingly difficult in certain places to access food privately. But illegal to speak of it? That was a new one. It was an apparent outgrowth of the judge's efforts over the last few months to restrict or eliminate any discussion of raw milk, legalities of private food, food safety, and other topics related to food and health. 

But in between, the jury got to hear from Vernon Hershberger's dad, Daniel Hershberger. A big man with a full gray beard, he explained in a deep voice how Vernon became adept at using a horse-drawn plow, and how the Amish philosophy the Hershbergers' community lived by was to "share food with the hungry." Food club members "didn't own the land, but shared in food." 

Members who didn't have enough money could earn their keep by raking manure and cleaning milk bottles. 

Needless to say, the prosecution didn't get very far in trying to make him look bad during cross examination. At one point, the elder Hershberger bemoaned, "I come from a generation where a handshake meant something. And I seem to be in a generation where it doesn’t, and where everything is technical." 

But even he ran afoul of the judge's censoring. When asked about his motivations for making good food widely available, he said, "From my teaching, I am very passionate about the health conditions of this country."

Prosecutor: "Objection!"

Judge: "Sustained. I am not going to permit any witness to get into this." 

But the point had been made, and hopefully the jury was listening.  The case could go to the jury by the end of Friday. 


The first copies of my book, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights", arrived in Baraboo today. I got my first look at the final version, complete with index and such. Pretty cool. Several dozen attendees snatched copies up, with inscriptions from Joel Salatin, who wrote the foreword, and from me. 

Ora Moose's picture

David, I applaud you for keeping us informed in this judicial process as it has huge implications for the future of our food choices. Thank you.

Btw, the link you posted above for your new book actually goes to your previous book, Raw Milk Revolution. The correct link is

David Gumpert's picture

Good catch. I changed the link. 

Deborah - Pacifica's picture

David - could you clarify for your book fully available as of now? I was curious why was saying that it will not be available until June 12th. Is this truly correct?

David Gumpert's picture

An early shipment justoff the press went to Baraboo, where it was sold as a fundraiser for Vernon Heeshberger. Amazon says it is beginning shipments June14. Sorry for the confusion.

Deborah - Pacifica's picture

Oh boo hoo, oh well, good things are worth waiting for. Thanks for the clarification, David. Wish I could have been up in Wisconsin this week.

How bizarre, to censor words like "liberty" and "health." Vernon Hershberger's very liberty is certainly at stake in this trial. The clutches of tyranny are throwing their weight around more and more. As Michael Schmidt always says, "Resist with love."

Thank you for your coverage of this trial and the whole food rights movement, David. The more people hear about what is happening, the more our movement can only grow.

Ken Conrad's picture

I would like to thank you as well David. Your contribution is beyond measure, for your insight has served to unite and motivate people from across North America in support of those who have the courage to stand against a system motivated by pure self-righteousness and greed.

If Mark is correct the jury aught to see through this ruse by the prosecution to manipulate the court in DATCP’s favour.


Thank you again for your reporting. I am very eager to hear the decision. I wish I could have been there in person.

ohioherdsharenetwork's picture

Your reporting gives occasion to think about the nature of our court system, particularly juries. Most of these kinds of cases seem to have gone before a single judge, who typically sides with the state. I guess it's much easier to "capture" one person than twelve, and maybe that's what was in mind when our justice system was created, providing for a jury of our peers. I still don't understand what the criteria is for a case to go before a jury instead of a judge. Judges seem to be peers mostly of the state, ergo, the corporate funders (Although Darke County Court Judge Hein deserves credit for establishing herd shares in Ohio by ruling against ODA in 2006).
It is intriguing to consider how narrowly the prosecution defined the rules for the Hershberger trial, as if the "letter of the law" is completely divorced from the content of the subjects it purports to regulate. How preposterous to instruct a jury that dairy regulations have nothing to do with the nutrition and safety of food (?!!). It reminds me of the Pharisees condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. So then who is the law protecting? (I think we all know the answer to that question).
Let us all hope and pray that the members of this jury still retain the capacity for critical thinking and recognize there is such a thing as an unjust law, and their duty to oppose it.
There is much dissension in the ranks of real food supporters about the advisability of dealing with the state at all-e.g. because of corruption and untrustworthy nature of all politicians, engaging with them in any capacity is not only a waste of our precious time and energy, but dangerous, lest we "wake the sleeping dogs". Excuse me, I refuse to become a cynic. You will have to pry my hope for righteousness from my cold, dead hands! But "when, not if" another raid comes down in Ohio - as some of our producers contend - then proactively addressing the issue now through solidarity and dialog with OUR elected representatives seems to me the only legitimate and courageous approach to the lurking threats to our right to choose what to eat. As inscribed at the steps of the National Archives in Washington: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." This is what it truly means to be a citizen in a democracy.

David Gumpert's picture

Our Bill of Rights guarantees a trial by jury in all criminal cases (misdemeanors and felonies). Vernon is charged with four criminal misdemeanors.  You are correct that the judge worked hard to narrow the issues, and wound up making them so narrow that even he didn't know what the rules were after a while. He wound up with many "objections" and seemed to contradict himself in what he determined was admissible and not admissible. 

Any time a persons rights are being violated by the state in a trial they always pull these same tricks of limiting evidence and lines of argument to tie the hands of the defendant's ability to defend himself. Its a corruption of the justice system but very common. Standard Operating Procedure.

The legal system looks down upon the common man and juries and despises the thought that juries have the right to nullify unjust laws. It's the citizens one last reproach against their captors. Thats why they do everything possible to limit the juries options and knowledge of their powers.

Not only does the state pay the judges salary, but he has a career to think about. If juries start overturning the regulatory complex its bad for his reputation. He's not likely to get lucrative appointments to higher benches.

Dave Milano's picture

Judge Reynolds has a tiger by the tail.

He is trying to manage this unmanageable legal/regulatory system by pushing out of view the bigger issues of human rights and the value of personal beliefs, attempting to narrow the court’s challenges into tiny, isolated pieces that its legal machinery can handle. He knows that the big questions, if not securely caged up, will grow in power and influence--maybe even to the point where they could swallow the legal/regulatory world whole. The judge knows that if he cannot reduce this trial into simple arithmetic, he will effectively hammer a nail into the system’s coffin.

Unfortunately for Judge Reynolds, regular folks don’t naturally make decisions about their daily lives based on technicalities. At some point the question will arise in the mind of even a well-indoctrinated juror, “Is it right to toss basic justice aside and punish a harmless person, for no other reason than to sustain a relatively puny system of rules and regulations?”

The prosecution cannot succeed without rearranging the jurors’ priorities, without making them believe that technicalities overrule natural life. They just might pull it off this time, with the judge’s help (in part by his refusal to instruct the jury in their right and responsibility to nullify unjust laws). But notably, if Hershberger loses and is punished even more than he has been, he will be more than repaid in kindness by his supporters--a far more valuable reward than money or power, and by all signs the sort of reward that Hershberger treasures. There will be no such succor for the other side. In fact, each time they swing their cudgel their power and glory is reduced. In the long run, Nature cannot be beaten.


And finally, allow me to join the ranks of those publicly thanking David Gumpert for being an informed, intelligent, and interested (interesting!) reporter.

Ora Moose's picture

Dave M, great comments.

David, it just occurred to me: What happens if the jury is deadlocked and cannot come to a unanimous decision? Would it be declared a mistrial, and if that were to happen what would come next?

David Gumpert's picture

This case is extremely threatening to the legal/regulatory system. The state of Wisconsin has four lawyers present to handle its case. Three sit at the prosecution table--two are from the WI Dept. of Justice and one from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The fourth, David Meany, is DATCP's chief counsel, and he sits in back of the prosecution table, as an observer, occasionally whispering advice. I asked him if he attended every such legal proceeding DATCP was involved in, on a full-time basis. He was vague, "sometimes I do." The case may wrap up late today and be handed over to the jury for a decision.

David, thank you for taking the time to report all the intricate details probably not even noticed by others. It's appreciated by those of us who don't have a lot of time to follow these things. I'm not sure the MSM (Znn, Faux, BSNBC, etc) is even taking the time to report on this case at all. Even if they were, they would be biased reports, I'm sure.

A lot of people following this case, to be sure. Thanks again for your time in sharing.

There was a poor peasant named Vernon
For safe, wholesome foods he was yearnin'
His family he fed,
His country he led,
And the haughty went down for a burnin'

God bless you and keep you, Vernon.

David Gumpert's picture

Great! Thanks for sharing. 

Shawna Barr's picture

Sounds like the jury will have the case soon. I'm wondering, is this a sequestered jury? It is my understanding that a jury can overrule an existing law if they believe the law to be unjust. Any idea if this jury has been made aware of that option?

twenty years ago - friends of mine were going to gaol in California for pamphleteering outside Courts, with literature about the "fully-informed jury" ... where were all the arm-chair civil libertarians, then?! When we were reviled and conveniently written-off as = "cranks / tax protesters / rightwing nutcases / racists / "haters" and all the rest of the epithets puked-out by the anti-christ ADL. Could it we were right then? Could it be we're right, now about other issues which go to the core of the controversy about "demob-cracy" versus the intent of those who framed the Republic? People go crazy in herds. They wake up one at a time = most often, when suddenly it's their own ox, being gored
recently deceased champion Douglas Christie used to say "Freedom of Speech IS the issue"

David Gumpert's picture

The jury just got the case this evening, Friday. The jury is not sequestered--members have been going home each evening, instructed not to discuss the case with family and friends. I think the defense made the jury aware that it was all in their hands, while the judge told them to strictly interpret the laws at hand.

rawmilkmike's picture

You know, it seems to me that we defeat the purpose of a jury when we first: allow the judge to determine what the jury sees and hears, then we allow him to tell the jury how to interpret the law, and finally we lock the jury in a room and let the bullies have their way. We also defeat the purpose of a regulation when we put the very people we want to regulate in charge of the regulating agency. Raw milk is showing the weakness of our court system the same way DNA evidence did when it first came out.

rawmilkmike's picture

It's hard to talk about the trial while waiting to hear the verdict.

mark mcafee's picture

Today the state of Nevada passed raw milk legislation that will allow state wide raw milk sales in stores. The bill goes to the governor for signature.

DATCP must ask themselves.... If pasteurized milk was so great and good for us all... Then why would anyone want raw milk??

I stand by my faith in 12 reasonable human beings in Baraboo.

If those 12 can not spell a stinking rat.... Then we are all farther and deeper in trouble than we can imagine. Jury will be hung or find innocent... The greatest gift would come with a finding of punitive damages for Vernon. Now I am dreaming.

Opdc has their annual "Camping with the Cows" event tomorrow. 300 have signed up and confirmed. We are all set. The weather is perfect. I want to celebrate a win for Vernon!!

mark mcafee's picture

At the great risk of being a Monday morning quarterback and with only the briefest of it goes. It is 1230 in the morning CA time, the moon is full and the damn dogs are barking...and I can not sleep after getting two texts messages: one from Liz Reitzig and the other from Ajna Wilson at what was about 0100 in the morning Baraboo time....

Vernon was found not guilty on 3 out of the 4 counts charged against him by DATCP and the state attorney generals office. The jury found him guilty on one count of " breaking a holding order tape".

What does this all mean.?...well, I am now getting into risky territory with limited information and limited knowledge of Wisconsin law... but here is my best guess from 2000 miles away.

The jury has found that Vernon did not operate a retail establishment and they find that his membership agreements have merit. The jury also has tipped its hat to authority and does concede that DATCP "does have authority to use duct tape with printing on it" but that DATCP screwed up on this case...and so did Vernon when he violated the authority vested in a piece of yellow duct tape with some BS printing on it.

Where does this go from here? I am hoping that the violation of breaking the holding order gets a $10 fine and 10 years to pay it.

I would hope that Vernon restarts his Amish Pantry with even more members than before.

God bless you have carried the stress of the raw milk consuming citizens of an entire state on your shoulders. Thank you for your nerve, resolve, your unwavering social consciousness and moral true north.

15 states are in the midst of changing raw milk laws....

This is a landmark time for America. The people want and demand raw milk!! or in the alternative, ....milk trees and produce almond milk....if you are a dairyman, that means either start milking clean milk or plant some trees and sell the cows. The PMO and the FDA dominance over fluid milk just got a whole lot weaker and the peoples rights just got a whole lot stronger!!!

Thank you you can sleep and may be me too.

Thank you Liz and thank you Ajna for the text at o-dark thirty, great things can not wait!!


Ora Moose's picture

Wow Mark that is great news and restores my faith in humanity as they say. Now maybe the prosecutors can look in the mirror and say to themselves "I was wrong and we all need to learn from this." No more false prosecutions please.

David Gumpert's picture

It's kind of a crazy contradiction...Vernon had to violate the holding order in order to be charge criminally and thus be entitled to a jury trial. The only people who would exonerate him on the licensing charges did that, but then found him guilty of violating the holding order that got him in front of a jury. Now, the judge who would have found him guilty of all charges will do the sentencing on the holding order violation. In a sense, Vernon "took one for the team." It's a great victory, when all is said and done. 

Sylvia Gibson's picture

There is some positive in this world. Thanks Mark for letting us know sooner than later!

Sleep is overrated when friends are in this vice called doa. A name like datcp might make us think that we don't need to think at all. Dept of trade and consumer protection? Protection from what, health? I'm a bit concerned that this jury didn't recognize that a hold order was not to protect consumers but rather to exclude their right of access to their real property. Apparently, that is what happens after a few days of mind numbing details about a somewhat efficient system of tracking food all the way from Vernon's barn to the coop pantry. Very definitive work indeed and the resulting test to prove that it was raw milk. OMG! What would our members do if they found otherwise! Anyway, good morning all! Time to go kick some monsanto arse. It's a national day of awakening, a great start with foodfreedom news! Be well, Alvin

Ken Conrad's picture

Speaking of Monsanto,“Hungary has taken a bold stand against biotech giant Monsanto and genetic modification by destroying 1000 acres of maize found to have been grown with genetically modified seeds”

Ora Moose's picture

"This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it's milk and an Amish farmer, rather than liquor and gangsters," Reynolds said.

It doesn't make sense that Vernon was found guilty of the 4th charge after being not guilty of the first 3. If he hadn't done anything wrong, it stands to reason the holding order was clearly an illegal infringement, and Vernon had every right to free himself from those shackles. I know he would never do this, but he should sue the state for harassment and get restoration ad punitive damages.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

That's a good point ora.

Ken Conrad's picture

I agree Ora, the judge aught to recognize the contradiction and drop the fourth charge as well.


Ora Moose's picture

And here's another: “I felt betrayed, because for 10 years I had tried to work with these people,” Hershberger said when asked how he felt when state officials ordered him to destroy raw milk from his bulk tank following the farm raid.

Sylvia Gibson's picture

Wow. I am speechless. They ask a question and object to the answer? Is it because the answer is not what they want to hear? How is this a fair trial? It sounds like a mockery of our court system.

Dave Milano's picture

Good for Vernon. But it seems to me this victory is very narrow, just as Judge Reynolds designed it. The jury obviously avoided the important question of whether they should convict a harmless person under authority of an unjust bureaucratic law. Instead, they did exactly as Judge Reynolds instructed, and considered only Hershberger's compliance. Mu guess is that they found Hershberger not guilty on three counts because the prosecution hadn't made the case, not because the law was bad. On the matter of the tape, Hershberger himself allowed during the trial that he violated the order--in effect broke the law--so the prosecution did not have to win that point. The jury heard a courtroom confession on it, and that was that.

Yes, thankfully, there is now more mud in the DATCP water concerning private food arrangements, but this trial did not come close to restoring the right to act privately and harmlessly, even in regard to the most basic needs of life, like food.

This is not a slam dunk, and the fight is long from over.

Exactly, Dave. This is only the thunder, the lightning is yet to come.

Shawna Barr's picture

My husband and I stayed up and watched the verdict read live. They got it right...all except the holding order part.... Interesting that judges and the state see things so differently than the "people." I'm thankful we have a jury system, and sometimes they actually get it right, despite the lack of a fair try and absence of important evidence.

The prosecution's comment that Mr. Hershberger should "just get a license. It's $265." was revoltingly deceptive. There is no license that would allow him to sell raw milk products. Additionally, if he were to get a dairy license, a processor license, and a retail license, though licensing fees may be rather nominal, how much would it cost him to upgrade his facilities to meet licensing requirements? How much trouble would his county give him because he is not zoned correctly? Would need use permits, site surveys, etc.? New insurance policies to cover his new "industry"?

The arguement that folks like Mr. Hershberger are lawbreakers who just don't want to play by the rules is so misleading. The rules are designed so that they cannot be followed by anyone outside of the industrial food paradigm.