We have been gathering information, and while there is much more left to gather, I wanted to update everyone on where things stand.
Jeff met with his neighbor, who already signed a contract to raise these chickens for Cobb-Vantress, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tyson. He will be raising two barns just 400 feet from Jeff’s property line. Each barn will hold 40,000 chickens, raise them for 22 weeks, ship them out, clean up, and start again. Just to be clear, that is 80,000 chickens twice a year!
Cobb-Vantress (Cobb for short) moved into Macon county in 2008 amidst controversy, but did set up operations and began recruiting farmers to raise their chickens. Since that time, the Mayor of Lafayette has defied his town’s ordinance prohibiting animal farms inside the city limits to accommodate them. A nuisance law passed in 2003 protects property owners in Macon County from neighbors who have “any substance or material deemed to be unhealthy, unsightly, unwholesome, or offensive to adjoining property owners.” It also disallows the “accumulation or creation of unwholesome and offensive matter or the breeding of flies, rodents, or other vermin on the premises to the menace of the public health or the annoyance of people residing within the vicinity.”
This very week, a bill was introduced in Macon County that would effectively abolish the nuisance law as it pertains to farming operations, a very clear indication of Cobb forwarding legislation that benefits them at the expense of the community. The bill has already passed one of the two required votes to make it law, and the second vote is scheduled for January 23rd, 2011. There has been no notification or public discussion of these changes to date.
Cobb held a meeting this morning to discuss the fast-growing controversy over Jeff’s farm- Cobb set the day, time (8am), and place for this meeting. With many rural people still iced in, with others having to work, and with the short notice, this was far from the best time for the community to both learn and comment about their own fate. Cobb is trying to decide for the community what should be decided by the community. These are classic tactics used by industrial food operations to usurp power from the community and dictate the terms of discussion and forward motion of their agenda.
Another ordinance that cites that the distance from a neighbor’s property be at least 1500 feet, yet somehow approval was given for these chicken houses to be only 400 feet from Jeff’s property. As a substantial investment of over 1 million dollars is required to build these structures, and with a chunk of that already having been invested in the work done to date to build an access road and clear the site, the neighbor is unwilling to consider another location. They are expert at this, having done the same in many other communities, usually poor and rural. They rarely neglect to dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s. They operate within the limits of the law, but don’t seem to respect the spirit of the law, the tranquility of the communities they choose, or the people who they run over in the pursuit of ever more money and power.
We are speaking to many people from many disciplines to begin to mount this fight. Attorneys, PR people, lobbyists, politicians, and everyday people are being organized to try and stop this project. A more obvious example of David vs Goliath is hard to find. We hope, with the visibility, notoriety, and repository of farming knowledge that is Jeff, to mount a PR campaign that is more unsavory than the thought and cost of moving these chicken houses. The fact that they chose to ignore someone with Jeff’s well-established farm, educational value to gardeners around TN and America, and his celebrity, may be their biggest mistake.
There will be opportunities for everyone to help, but not yet. Be patient and please don’t do too much without making sure it will benefit us in this battle, and not hurt us. If you intend to write letters, make sure you spell Jeff’s name right, it is Poppen. Thanks for the support and the enthusiastic responses, we will be mobilizing our troops soon enough. Stay tuned for more information and some instructions on how you can help.