Channel 5 Airs Story about Jeff

by Mark Bellinger

RED BOILING SPRINGS, Tenn.- The man known as the “Barefoot Farmer” is fighting to keep chicken houses away from his organic farm.

Jeff Poppen may have already lost the first battle. Construction has already started just a few hundred feet from his back door and he fears the houses could kill his business.

Poppen is well known to people who buy organic produce in the Berry Hill area. He comes down to Nashville once a week on Mondays to sell his produce. Now he says that business is in jeopardy.

He got the pen name Barefoot Farmer from an editor of a newspaper.

In a visit to his farm Poppen told News Channel 5, “I was just one of those kids who was always kicking my shoes off.”

For more than 15 years he’s been growing organic produce on his farm in Macon County. The Barefoot Farmer makes regular appearances on PBS television series “The Volunteer Farmer” where he teaches students how to grow vegetables without the use of commercial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

“I’ve done about 50 or more segments from this garden here,” he said.

Now, Poppen fears his business is in trouble

Just up the hill he says just 400 feet from his back door a neighbor is building chicken houses to raise breeder chickens for a subsidiary company of Tyson called Cobb Vantress Incorporated.

“This has a lot of people concerned because bringing in a major business like Tyson’s chickens in other places has affected the ground water and we’re concerned about that,” Poppen said.

Cobb Vantress Incorporated sent News Channel 5 a statement saying property owner Lundy Russell is complying with the law:

“There are two farmers involved in this story, not just one. You’ve heard from Mr. Poppen. However, Lundy Russell is also a farmer who has been raising tobacco on this property. He wanted to add value to his land and approached Cobb-Vantress about using part of it to raise young breeder chickens, also known as pullets.

We believe Mr. Russell’s project is not only complying with the law and the company’s own setback standards, he’s also proceeding with consideration for his neighbor. He changed his original plans for the location of the chicken houses, moving them farther away from Mr. Poppen’s home. In addition, he angled the position of the buildings and its fans away from Mr. Poppen’s farm.

We became aware of Mr. Poppen’s farm in our discussions with Mr. Russell; however, we were not concerned because we have had contract family farmers build chicken houses near other farms without problems and because of the design of the houses. These are not traditional egg or broiler houses, nor are they “chicken coops.” They will be self-contained buildings with cement floors and a system to collect any inside drainage.

Mr. Russell is complying with state laws that regulate drainage from his property. In fact, there is a barrier around the entire site designed to prevent dirt or silt from flowing onto neighboring property. During construction the site is routinely inspected by state-approved inspectors. While Cobb-Vantress does not own the property involved, our representatives have personally visited the site and found all barriers in good working condition, with added reinforcement in many areas.

We at Cobb-Vantress are serious about our responsibility to operate with integrity. In fact, we’ve been working with other family farmers in the region who have already built and are operating similar chicken houses and they have received no complaints from their neighbors. This includes no odor complaints.

We’ve had conversations with Mr. Poppen about Mr. Russell’s project and continue to be available to answer his questions.”

Poppen said that he is still worried about the potential for pollution.

“My customers have told me they don’t want my organic produce if there’s dust and stuff coming out of these fans of a big chicken house,” said Poppen

News Channel 5 was unable to contact property owner Lundy Russell.


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