Farmers on Trial
Speakers include a veritable who's-who of what's being called the "food freedom movement."
What could prove to be one of the most important trials of the decade begins in Baraboo on Monday, May 20. Sauk County dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger is charged with illegally selling raw milk.
The trial will set precedent for whether individuals can enter into private food exchanges with each other, choosing for themselves what food they purchase, or whether such exchanges will be regulated -- or even forbidden -- by the state.
Hershberger's farm was raided in June of 2010. At the time he was selling raw milk through a private store. He then changed his business model to "cow shares." Since raw milk cannot be sold, but can be consumed legally only by the dairy farmers themselves, in this arrangement, customers buy part of a cow, and thereby, theoretically, have legal right to its products.
But even the legality of this setup continued to be in question in May 2010, when then-Governor James Doyle vetoed a bill that would have allowed some limited sales of raw milk in Wisconsin. The veto capped an active spring of campaigning over the issue, which included a symposium at Monona Terrace and a rally at the Capitol.
A subsequent ruling in 2011 decided that Hershberger was effectively running a dairy, and thus subject to state regulation.
The trial this coming week is receiving national attention, with supporters flying in from as far as Maine and California. The huge expected turnout has prompted supporters to rent the Al Ringling Theatre across from the courthouse in which to live-stream the trial, as well as host speakers.
Food rights attorney Anja Sharma-Wilson will provide a recap of the trial each evening. Madison-area businesses including the Underground Food Collective, Ruegsegger Farms (owner of Paoli Local Foods), 608 Community Supported Kitchen, and the Willy Street Co-op will each take a turn offering dinner during the week at the Theater; remarkably, national burrito chain Chipotle will be catering lunches each weekday. (All food sales are fundraisers for Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, FairShare CSA Coalition, and the Vernon Hershberger fire fund.)
Evenings will conclude with a food rights-related movie.
Speakers include a veritable who's-who of what's being called the "food freedom movement": constitutional scholar Michael Badnarik, Cornucopia Institute founder Mark Kastel, food sovereignty ordinance advocate Deborah Evans and raw milk activist David Gumpert, as well as farmer advocate Joel Salatin.