Our heritage, too
Hogs pose no danger to Buffalo
BY JASON HENSON
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
No one loves the Buffalo River more than my 7-year-old daughter. She swims, fishes and enjoys that national river. It is one of the great benefits of living and raising a family in Newton County.
So imagine my surprise when our efforts to farm are being called by some an all-out assault on the water quality of the Buffalo River.
Yes, I am the hog farmer whose proposal was reviewed and approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in compliance with standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That decision seems to have set off a firestorm in some people’s minds.
Simply mentioning “hog farm” and “Buffalo River” in the same sentence has people assuming some catastrophic event.
What most don’t realize is the extensive safeguards we have in place to avoid such an event. The hog farm, which I own with my cousins Richard and Phillip Campbell, was designed by a licensed engineering firm. It includes the latest technologies and efficiencies. In fact, our farm exceeds several of the Department of Environmental Quality and EPA standards, not because we are required to do that, but because of our interest in protecting this watershed, the Buffalo River and the visitors to this great treasure.
My cousins and I are environmentalists. That’s our heritage. I learned to swim in Big Creek, which runs through our farm and feeds into the Buffalo River about five miles from our property. To say that we would do anything to contaminate those waters is ludicrous.
We are a small family-owned farm, not the “corporate farm” others have portrayed us to be. We are honored as a past winner of the Newton County Farm Family of the Year award. We were born and raised in this county, and eight generations of our family have called this area home. Eight generations.
My family’s roots run deep in our rocky soil, and we hope to be here for generations to come.
Yet some question our motives and sensibilities when it comes to the way we make our living. Frankly, they are barking up the wrong tree.
My cousins have operated a hog farm in this area for the past 12 years, with no violations or issues. We intend to keep it that way. The process to meet the standards set forth by the Department of Environmental Quality and EPA were extensive and took two years to complete. It was only after that was completed that we were allowed to secure the loans necessary for the farm at this location.
Yet some act like we will be dumping hog manure straight into the Buffalo River. I realize that is a sensational and attention-grabbing thought. But the fact is we are engineered for that not to happen, but that’s not nearly as dramatic, inflammatory or attention-grabbing.
Some discount our track record of success and our history of stewardship while they react with raw emotion. They ignore common sense, without realizing we are actually on the same side of environmental stewardship.
Newton County is one of the poorer counties in the state, and our school district, Mount Judea, is one of the smallest. While our family farm will only employ eight to 12 people, it brings much-needed jobs and tax dollars to the county and school district. Officials with the school district, the Newton County Judge and the Newton County Quorum Court, along with many of the people of Newton County, support our efforts and see the benefits this brings to our area.
We are a small community. We see our neighbors every day. I want to be able to look at my neighbors in the eye and say I am doing what I am supposed to be doing to protect my farm, my family, our land and the Buffalo River.
The Buffalo River watershed means a lot to us. We live here. I’m not some government official who gets paid to look after these waters.
We do it because we love where we live.
I want my daughter to carry on this legacy of stewardship and farming. Hopefully, when she has children, they will enjoy farming as much as we do, and pass that on for many generations to come.
What everyone needs to know is that we will continue our work to protect all of our natural resources, not because someone clamors for it, but rather for our children and future generations. That’s the farmers’ way.
Jason Henson is one of the owners of C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea.
Court battle looms over hogs
It was inevitable that forces intent on preserving the ecology of the pristine Buffalo River would challenge the government’s approval of that industrial hog farm at Mount Judea.
I predict the announcement this week of a pending lawsuit against the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the beginning of what could be a lengthy court fight to protect our nation’s first national river.
And as lawyers likely begin their discovery process, many like me are hoping the cherished river will emerge victorious.
The plaintiffs: a coalition that includes the National Parks Conservation Association, the Ozark Society and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. The suit is to be pursued by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice.
Among other revelations, I’m hoping the depositions from this suit can also help explain the questionable omissions in the environmental assessment report and explore the relationship between the official who oversaw it and his wife’s relationship to the farm’s owners.
“This factory farm will produce massive quantities of waste just six miles from the Buffalo River, and that waste will be spread on land that is right next to one of the Buffalo’s major tributaries,” said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We are talking about one of the most beautiful areas in the country. To think that our government would allow this hog factory in the watershed without examining its impacts is unconscionable.”
I have nothing against these veteran farmers who’ve contracted with Cargill to feed and raise thousands of that international corporation’s hogs. I feel certain they care about the environment and how well they manage their business.
Ordinarily I’d argue we live in a society where each citizen can freely pursue a livelihood within reason. But the potential here for affecting thousands of other lives definitely exists. Ask those in states such as North Carolina and Iowa where contaminants and odor from overflowing hog waste have choked once-clean and beautiful streams. It got so bad in North Carolina that the state was forced to declare a moratorium on the polluting hog factories.
To my knowledge, the C&H hog farmers have yet to undertake such a CAFO with thousands of these animals generating millions of gallons of waste so close to Big Creek, a primary tributary of the Buffalo River.
The issue for me is a matter of snouts and tails. The snout is the farmers’ conceded abilities and concern. The tail is placing this farm in such a sensitive area where accidents, human error and a fractured substructure just beneath the topsoil create an untenable risk. It’s this tail that disturbs so many. Arkansans and others don’t want this national river’s purity needlessly put at potential riskundefinedperiod, exclamation point.
Irecently asked Mike Martin, a public relations and communications spokesperson for Cargill, if his corporation had met with people from the Mount Judea area specifically to discuss starting this CAFO there. Where did this idea even begin?
He told me there had been numerous meetings between Cargill and the farmers leading up to the farmers’ calling a neighborhood meeting and presentation about the farm plan held at the Mount Judea fire station in January 2012. I was awaiting Martin’s response at deadline as to whether it was Cargill’s original idea to locate this CAFO where it is.
In announcing their intended suit, Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society, called this CAFO the greatest threat to the Buffalo River since a dam proposal by the Corps of Engineers that was thwarted 50 years ago. “The porous limestone and karst that underlies all of the soil in the Mount Judea region provides a direct passageway for leakage from the waste holding ponds and for untreated recharge from the waste application fields to reach the groundwater and thus Big Creek and the Buffalo River,” he said. “The risk for contamination of the Buffalo River is unacceptably high.”
The Farm Service Agency’s loan approval (backed by taxpayers) and guarantee were issued during the summer and fall of 2012. The suit also will contend that, because of a failure to notify local residents, the community did not find out about the farm’s construction until this year. Inadequate public notice is one of several egregious failures on the part of the government to ensure that the facility would not have detrimental affects on the Buffalo River watershed, the coalition said. So why weren’t public meetings held where they mattered most: Jasper and Harrison?
“The letter we are sending today is a notice to the Department of Agriculture that its Farm Service Agency failed to undertake the consultation that is required to ensure that endangered species are not harmed as a result of the agency’s action,” said Hannah Chang, an attorney with Earthjustice.
Jack Stewart of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance said the aim of the intended suit is to prevent the farm from going forward without thoroughly examining the potential irreversible damage to one of America’s most cherished places.
Amen, Mr. Stewart.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.