U.S. Government is Out to Destroy this Family Farm
by Kimberly Hartke
Vernon Hershberger is one of 18 children of an organic dairy farmer. His father was organic in the 1970’s, before organic was cool. Vernon’s Dad tended 15-20 dairy cows on his small farm. It was not a profitable venture. Back then, you couldn’t get a fair price for organic milk. There were no certified organics, such as we have today. And, the public didn’t understand the value of organic practices, so were unwilling to pay extra.
Vernon grew up in Holmes County, Ohio, the largest Amish settlement in the world. As of ten years ago, over twelve thousand Amish families resided in Holmes County.
The Hershberger’s lived off the land. They ate whatever they produced on their own farm. Vernon and his 17 brothers and sisters were raised on raw milk and cod liver oil. His parents just believed that was the best for their children. Mother made her own cottage cheese, and the children helped make the butter from fresh cream. They would take turns shaking gallon jars of cream until they turned to butter. Later, the family acquired and used a wooden hand crank butter churn.
Their diet was not typical of the Amish. Most of the neighbors were buying conventional foods from the grocery store. His father’s organic ways were the laughing stock of the community. His Amish neighbors had long since adopted modern farming techniques such as, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Their traditional diet had its rewards, though. Vernon has never been to the dentist. He has never had a cavity. His siblings were also strong physically, and in good health.
Following in Father’s Footsteps
From age 15 to 26, Vernon worked in a furniture shop. In 1998, Vernon and his wife bought a farm in Loganville, Wisconsin, with the help of his father. It was a conventional farm, which they converted to organic. The process took several years. Vernon amended the pastures with soil microbes, and lots of organic matter. By 2001, Vernon was shipping certified organic milk to a processor.
He never intended to get into the raw milk business.
The raw milk business happened, naturally. Friends who lived in neighboring towns, Baraboo and Reedsburg, asked if they could have some fresh milk. Vernon gave them some milk from his bulk tank. From there, it just grew by word of mouth. When his friends sang the praises of his delicious milk, more and more in the community became interested.
In 2003, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection held a meeting with farmers who desired to sell raw dairy to local customers. Cheryl Daniels of DATCP met with 10 farmers, including Vernon Hershberger and Tim Wightman (Author of the Raw Milk Production Handbook, who now heads the Farm to Consumer Foundation). Daniels made an administrative ruling which enabled these farmers to provide raw milk to others by private contract.
It was clear at the time, that these private agreements would allow the farmers to operate legally.
Vernon started his club with a contract developed by another farmer. Over the years, he has changed his contract 3 or 4 times in order to stay in compliance with the law.
Just like his father, Vernon feeds his family the fruits of his farm labor. He says the biggest reward of his farm is being able to work at home with his family and share homeschooling responsibilities with his wife.
His farm club members share the work load on the farm. Almost every day, other members are there, preparing food and tending to their animals.
The Government Turns on the Farmers
In 2009, the regulatory climate changed dramatically. DATCP began to harass the farmers providing raw milk through private contracts. By January 2010, things got worse for farmers, the state regulators were going from farm to farm attempting to shut down the distribution of raw milk. The state was demanding farm records and club member’s names.
Because of the duress caused by the hostile regulatory climate, in May of 2010, Vernon changed his contract, again. He now was milking 35-40 cows twice daily, and had over 100 families in his club. A lot of people were depending on him for an important staple in their diet. So, he adopted the Right to Choose Healthy Food contract suggested by raw food advocate, Aajonus Vonderplanitz.
In this contract, the signers specifically reject government oversight and demand bacteria in their food. Numerous dairy farmers in Vernon’s situation have turned to this contract to try and avoid problems with regulators.
Some ask, “Why doesn’t he just get a license?” Vernon’s response: “There are no raw milk licenses available in Wisconsin.”
One month later, in June of 2010, DATCP inspectors raided his farm and poured blue dye into his bulk tank, ruining the milk. They placed an embargo on his products, sealed his coolers with tape and told him he was not allowed to remove anything from the coolers.
On Friday, March 2, 2012, Vernon goes to court where a judge may find him guilty of a number of ‘crimes’ against the state. He faces up to three years in prison, and fines up to $10,000. See press release: Wisconsin Claims Bail Violations –Could Arrest Peaceful Farmer.
Balancing Christian Ideals with Injustice
Vernon is torn about whether or not to hire an attorney. His Amish father taught him that according to God’s word in the Bible, Christians are not to fight the government, but rather to passively resist injustice. “For instance, I can’t in good conscience sue the government for putting blue dye in my milk,” he explains.
So, how did this devout Christian farmer respond last June after his farm was raided?
He removed the embargo tape and welcomed his club members to come pick up their milk, in defiance of the inspector’s orders. “Fully 50% of our club members desperately need this food. Their health conditions are such, that access to raw, organic food is a life and death matter. Our club members suffer from digestive issues, autism (we have had numerous autistic children turned completely around on our food), and others are on raw food diets because of serious health problems. I couldn’t deny them the right to this food and be right with God,” Vernon says.
Vernon and his family are no longer Amish, they now attend a non-denominational Christian church. However, his Anabaptist roots grow deep. Vernon explains, “The Anabaptists were Christians in the 1600’s who broke away from both the Protestant and Catholic Churches. They were subject to extreme persecutions. They were told to ‘deny your faith and you will go free.’ They refused and it cost them their lives. Anabaptists were concerned about freedom of conscience and obedience to God.”
As a father of 9 children, and his wife expecting another little one in June, Vernon is trying to provide a decent living in a decent way. “For our family, we would like to get our farm paid for, but that is not the main reason we are resisting government control. We are called by divine providence to share the food we have on our farm with our fellow man,” says Vernon.
When asked how he feels about all of this as an American, Vernon replied, “This country is getting to a place where things are getting so corrupt, and people have risen to power who want to control others.”
Hartke is Online! is proud to declare Vernon Hershberger as a Hero of Sustainable Agriculture, for taking a principled stand for liberty in the face of serious Orwellian government persecution.
What You Can Do to Help
Friends of Vernon’s Grazin Acres farm, have started an online fundraising effort to provide charitable relief and help with legal expenses for the Hershberger family. Please help us spread the word of this campaign, through social media, or by email. If you have a blog or website, consider running the Pledgie button on your sidebar. Click on the button, below for more details and to donate or get the button.
The Raw Milk Freedom Riders are staging a two day event, March 1 and 2 to support Vernon. See details on the Farm Food Freedom website.
This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. Digest more real food dish on KellytheKitchenKop.com.