This morning marks the 2-year anniversary of the close of the criminal trial of Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger. Thankfully, he was acquitted on 3 of his 4 criminal charges related to food distribution. Vernon is a peaceful man feeding his community with a buying club. Like many others, I was outraged that he was charged criminally for his farming and peaceful food distribution actions.
Vernon’s steadfast conviction in producing nutrient dense foods for his community, despite the state’s aggression against him, is a constant reminder to me of H. L Mencken’s quote “Morality is doing what’s right regardless of what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told regardless of what is right.” Vernon’s adherence to peaceful farming and food distribution was a guiding light to others across the country, including me, that we must continue to feed our communities nutrient dense foods despite some of the egregious laws against it.
I watched what Vernon went through for years. I watched as the regulatory agencies brought charge after and charge and how that tore at his family. His family constantly tense through the stress of it. His children witnessed as agents took their family possessions in a self-congratulatory parade of smug arrogance that they were simply enforcing the law. True to the “obedience” of doing what they were told regardless of what was right.
Vernon ultimately won in court setting a new precedent for his buying club, others around the country, and effectively stopping the bombardment of armed officials trespassing on peaceful dairy farmers.
I run a buying club similar to that of Vernon’s. The day-to-day responsibilities and challenges keep me occupied in running the buying club, but it is always in the back of my mind that there are those who would like to shut down our buying club and even see my partner and I criminally prosecuted for making good food available to those who want and need it.
I find myself in a constant state of ambivalence between relief that the raids have slowed, and apprehension that the regulators are poised for a new crackdown. I want to see our group grow and serve others who seek the foods we offer, yet, I am reluctant to advertise or draw too much attention to what we are doing for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention. They are always there, those mixed feelings—the sigh of relief and the looking over my shoulder.
On this anniversary of a truly momentous court ruling, that constant ambivalence is what I am most aware of. That, and exponentially more, the gratitude that I feel to the farmers who nurture the earth to bring us the food we need to nourish our bodies even if it is in defiance of state or federal law. And I feel gratitude towards everyone who knows it is worth the effort it takes to support these farmers.
Sitting in the courtroom, late on the 5th day of Vernon’s trial, as we all waited in tense anticipation for the verdict, I witnessed something spectacular. One of the main agents who terrorized his family for years apologized to Vernon. It was a small gesture given the significance of what this agent did to his family in the name of following the law, but it was meaningful. For Vernon, it was momentous. It was an acknowledgement that doing what is right regardless of what we’re told is really all we’ve got. And that, no matter what he was told, he would continue to cultivate and honor the earth, his family and his community through his peaceful farming so that families could get the nutrient dense foods they needed.
It is only together, only through the relationship cultivated like the earth, that the farmer and the buyer create a direct nutritional nexus to freedom of choice, and through that, quality of life. It is a quality of life that goes beyond the self—yes, it is for them but it touches and reaches many others through the cultivation of the entire eco-system of community within which a farm thrives and through which the community thrives. While the farmer nourishes the soil, bringing balance to the microbial life within, the community nourishes the farmer in an intricate, beautiful, delicate dance of interdependence.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.