Brave Dairy Farmer Takes a Stand for Personal Liberty and Private Contracts

Fresh pasture

Moving the Cows to Fresh Pasture

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.


Traditional Dairy Farms raise cows on open pasture. Cows fed on lush green fields produce delicious, creamy milk.

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.


Vernon Hershberger's Family Farm, Grazin Acres in Loganville, Wisconsin

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.


Pullets on Grazin Acres Farm

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 Hershberger and Family

Vernon loves raising his family off the land. He and his wife also homeschool their children.

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.

Click here to lend your support to: Help Vernon Hershberger Stand Up for Private Contract Rights and make a donation at !

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.

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Campaign for Real Milk, a project of nutrition education non-profit, The Weston A. Price Foundation.

This post is part of the Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. Digest more real food dish on


  1. Julia Anderson says:

    Go vernon!

    LOVELY family and congratulations on the new one coming in June!

    We are praying for you and standing with you on the freedom to raise and sell the
    healthiest milk around. The infringements of our privacy has got to end!
    So many other issues of importance, and yet, the gov’t has to find more regulations and punish the “good ” guys.

    With appreciation, Julia

  2. It is heartbreaking that this good man is being persecuted, and that his customers are in great danger of losing the good food their children need. No one has been harmed, many have been helped. Why is the government trying to stop this?

  3. Honor Burrows says:

    The government has lost sight of it’s citizens. Until money is removed from politics, this situation will not improve.
    This man has made every effort to comply with the law!
    How is it NOT ok for a man to sell a legal, in demand product……but it IS ok for the Government to come in and destroy a man’s livelihood with no recourse???
    Our priorities are seriously screwed up!
    Until the Government learns to care more about people than money I don’t see a change to these dreadful abuses of peoples rights and freedoms.
    Plutocracy at it’s finest.

  4. why is this happening? so many innocent, caring people being taken to court for wanting to do good in the world, to feed people food without toxic pesticides and chemicals, people who want to live and work in harmony with nature, and to appreciate what mother nature has given us, this amazing planet. why is that illegal and worthy of jail time and a $10,000 fine?!!

  5. Great going, Kim. The best answer people can give is to turn out and support Vernon on Friday in Baraboo, WI. The govt oppressors will be counting, and the more people they see, the more likely they’ll be to pull back.


  6. Although I don’t know the names, there are Christian law organizations who help people in situations like this. An internet search would likely provide names. My church has financially supported one of these organizations in the past so I would think the legal fees are subsidized to keep them affordable for people who need them. Perhaps they would be of help here.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful story on Vernon and his family. They are good people and we love working with them and drinking and eating the foods that come from the farm. I am looking forward to the speakers and the rally on Friday!

  8. You and Your Family are in My ALL of our PRAYERS…

    I grew up on Raw Milk..Raw Dairy…and there isn’t any reason for the Government to do this except that they WANT Us to Consume Bacteria Laden Pasteurized Milk so we can become ill and die..sorry to be so cynical but it’s called Eugenics.

    Vernon is the (2nd) Amish Farmer who has been shut down. This is becoming a pattern..sadly..but WE THE PEOPLE must Fight This! This is just the beginning of the
    Facism that is slowly encroaching on our Beautiful Republic.

    Vernon..GOD is on your Side..Stay Strong!

  9. Thanks for sharing this, Kimberly! This is ridiculous! Leave the poor guy alone, government! Let people buy, sell, and drink raw milk! It is easier to buy cigarettes than raw milk in this country! THAT is crazy!

  10. My grandmother was 104 yrs old.She raised everything she ate. Do ya think she past away from high cholestrol?

  11. The so-called government, which is not righteous, damaged you including property. You are entitled to compensation and you would be totally justified especially in God’s eyes to do so. You have been wronged and are continued to be persecuted upon. The so-called government does not have any right to do whatever they want. Although vengeance is strictly left for God, this shouldn’t imply that you should not be compensated for your loss.

  12. Bruce D. Henderson says:

    Our family has been blessed to have found Vernon’s farm. It’s always a great pleasure to visit and see the animals and to choose great tasting, rich food – everyone should be so lucky to have a ‘Vernon’ in their neck of the woods!

  13. I am in Baraboo, Wisconsin immersed in a real-life satirical trial droning with irony. The trial is the persecution of our dedicated and brave farmer Vernon Hershberger. This jury trial is about food-safety but the judge ruled that food-safety cannot be discussed in the trial. The charges are about contaminated RAW MILK but the judge ruled that raw milk cannot be discussed in the trial.

    Governments do not want a true and factual hearing on raw milk in this Hershberger-case because their raw-milk junk-science would not hold to rational jurors minds. Thankfully, we have four very good attorneys representing Vernon that are working diligently for him/us in the midst of outrageous and incoherent courtroom injustices. Of the first 2 days of trial, I estimate that the judge has illogically ruled 65% for the irrational requests of the State and 35% for rational requests of Vernon. Fair trial?

    We need people here to support Vernon Hershberger, his wife, 10 children and our food freedom. Farmer Vernon is one of the few who have completely disrupted his life to fight with and for our right to grow and have the healthy food of our choice. We need as many supporters as possible in person. You do not have to listen to the boring trial. Come sit on the grass with us in the courtyard but show. If you cannot show, please call a friend who might be able to come Wednesday, Thursday and/or Friday.

    Every time a government agency is allowed to charge and convict a farmer for growing and distributing healthy food, we come closer to losing our rights to choose healthy food. In favor of corporate agricultural and food-giants, governmental health agencies/departments have been driving family farmers out of business for about 100 years with regulations that are right for mass-production but not for family farms. We have to stop the governmental assaults on our farmers at every opportunity now. We must make opportunities wherever we can. This is one now.

    Baraboo Court House, 515 Oak St, Baraboo, WI 53913

    If you cannot show in person, call Wisconsin media and Wisconsin governor by calling 608-266-1212 or Faxing 608-267-8983 him, telling them:

    “Governor Scott Walker is wasting time and valuable tax dollars on trying our farmer Vernon Hershberger. I, through my membership with Right To Choose Healthy Food, Charitable Trust, own the animals at Vernon Hershberger’s farm. We are co-farmers. I chose this private-farm arrangement because governmental health departments were forcing me to consume chemically contaminated corporate food in the name of food safety. I would much rather take my risks with bacteria in food than disease-causing contaminants made or added in food-processing. The Constitution articulates my God given right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. For me, there is nothing that provides more for life, liberty and happiness than the health that my fresh, direct-from-the-farm food gives me. Governments have to stop persecuting family farmers and go after corporate and government criminals who harm people now.”

    The two judges, Evenson and Guy Reynolds who have over-lorded this case, have proven to be extremely favorable to the State (which pays them, and for whom they work) and great prejudice against farmer Hershberger. The deck is so stacked in favor of the State that the State has better chances of winning the case than casino houses have of beating their customers.

    After fighting the FDA, HHS, US Congress, states, counties and health departments for 45 years on the raw milk issue, I fear this is a government setup. With a win in this case, the corporate-owned governments will have legal precedence over private farms. Why do you think that government has spent millions on this case? Are we going to let them win? Are we going to sit, watch, do nothing and let them win and we loser our freedoms?

  14. Bonnie Sladek says:

    Why is the government trying to “protect” us from good nutritious food?


  1. […] From Kimberly Hartke, on her Hartke is Online blog: Moving the cows to fresh pasture on the Vernon Herschberger farm. […]

  2. […] Brave Dairy Farmer Takes a Stand for Personal Liberty and Private Contracts […]

  3. […] you can see in a previous story, Brave Dairy Farmer Stands Up for Private Contract Rights, a Wisconsin official made it clear at the time, that private direct sales were beyond the purview […]

  4. […] to do with the dairy industry’s monopoly and its connection to government officials. Take family farmer Vernon Hershberger for instance who faces up to three years in prison, and fines up to $10,000 simply for providing organic raw […]

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