Farmers are Hiding the Truth: 5 Reasons Why That’s Wrong

If you have nothing to hide, then why do you have Ag-Gag laws?

If you have nothing to hide, then let the public in to inspect your farm?

If you have nothing to hide….

The thing is, farmers have nothing to hide.

In today’s world farming looks different. We have a lot more technology and things don’t look quite the same as when grandpa did it. One example of this is how we raise animals like pigs and poultry. They are kept in large enclosed barns. The purpose of these enclosed barns is to protect the animals from weather, predators, and diseases. It also allows farmers to provide better care to these animals.

It also tends to “hide” the animals from the public, and many are outraged by this fact. It isn’t that farmers are wanting to hide practices, treatment, or the animals, rather they want to protect them. Unfortunately, many don’t see it like this. There are many statements I have heard over the years by outraged individuals who think farmers have something to hide, but they are wrong. Why? I’m so glad you asked. Here are 5 common statements, and why they are wrong.

1. Biosecurity is just an excuse to prevent the public from seeing the inside of your operation.

It isn’t an excuse. It’s serious business. Ignoring biosecurity will kill hundreds of animals. Biosecurity is the process of preventing diseases from entering a farm. There are many steps taken regarding biosecurity practices. For example, disposable coveralls, hairnets, and boots are often required when visiting a farm. On some farms (those with babies), you even have to shower in and out. Let me tell you, this isn’t done because I think it’s fun,  I do it because I care about the health of the animals. That’s why I will gladly strip all my clothes, hop in a farm shower, and put on oversized coveralls with sopping wet hair to check on and care for those pigs. When a farmer says you can’t come visit because of biosecurity reasons, they are not making excuses. They are protecting their animals. One or two people may not hurt, but if you open the gates it could make a lot of animals sick. If you have a baby, you don’t let everyone and their mother hold it, do you? No. You are careful because you want to protect your child. It is no different on the farm.

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Don’t you just love my marshmallow suit? It is so very fashionable.

2.Ag-Gag laws were created to keep people out and hide things.

Ag-gag laws encourage honesty in employees and protect businesses. These laws are not only poorly named, but they get a bad rap. First of all, the law (in NC at least) covers more than agricultural entities. Nursing homes, daycares, and other businesses are also included. So take out the Ag part. Secondly, they aren’t really gagging anyone. They were put in place to prevent individuals from seeking employment under false pretenses. In other words, you can’t say “hey, I want a job at your turkey farm. I need a job to support myself.” When in reality your motive is “hey I want to get inside your turkey farm, film for months, and then leave.” The law prevents that from happening. It also prevents employees from filming or photographing without the employer’s consent. The thing is, there has been a lot of shady business regarding photos and videos. So many times footage has been edited to make a situation look heinous. The law just helps folks be more honest. So… what if there is abuse on a farm? You report it. As an employee or employer, you need to report immediately. Most larger farms have hotlines available, and employees are trained and encouraged to alert about any abuse. Any good farmer is just as outraged about the abuse of animals as the next person.

3.The public has a right to know what’s going on in those barns.

You’re right. You do have a right to know how your food is raised. We have a duty as farmers to let you know what is going on too. What you do NOT have a right to is waltzing in to a barn and checking it out. You have a right to know how your food is being prepared in a McDonalds, but you don’t just walk to the back and go to inspecting. The same principle applies to a farm. It matters even more on a farm because a lot of times, farm families live right there. You see, a barn is an extension of a home. You don’t go peeping in people’s windows and taking photos without permission at their house, so you shouldn’t do it at their home away from home either. Plain and simple. Finally, a farm is not a petting zoo. So, no you do not have the right to come inspect or pet or play with the animals on a farm. You do have the right to know what is going on though….which brings me to my next point.

4.If what you say is true, then show me a picture or video that isn’t some pretty PR piece.

I’m never sure how to react to this one. Typically, that pretty PR piece referred to is the truth. If you won’t believe the truth, then I don’t know what to tell you. There are so many farmers and organizations that are so transparent with day to day life on the farm because they know farms can’t really have physical visitors, but they can have virtual visitors. What is so frustrating, though are those that refuse to believe what is right in front of them. They only want to look at the negative pictures taken from who knows where. Does abuse happen? Yes, and that makes me sick, but know that most farmers are not that way. Those “PR pieces” are the real deal and are not staged. If I lead you to the water, please drink it.

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5.If you aren’t hiding anything, then why put the farm way down a dirt path and put the animals in confinement?

The simple answer to this, is we like to be neighborly and to protect our animals. No matter what type of farm it is, it can smell. Farms just smell like, well farms. So, every effort is made to put farms away from people. As for the confinement bit, as has already been stated, the animals need protecting. The larger barns they stay in are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. They are cleaner, encourage better biosecurity, and allow for more individualized care to the animals. It’s not hiding, it’s protecting.

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Farmers have good reasons for not letting just anyone into their barns. They are not in the entertainment or tourist business. If you have concerns or are just curious, then find a farmer and talk to them. Be respectful and listen to what they have to say. Do farm tours happen? Yes, but a farm’s purpose is to raise animals well…not to give guided tours. Beyond that, there are serious reasons why farmers do not allow the public to come into the farm. Primary reason is to protect the animals. I wish with all my heart the world could experience the life of a farmer, but alas, it cannot be. I promise, though, farmers aren’t hiding. They love their work, and want to share it. Open dialogue coupled with faith and trust goes a long way.

When Did Farmers Become Villains?

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The picture of that little girl is me. I was about 9 years old and had just shown my first goat. I enjoyed playing dress-up, creating adventures with my Barbies, and watching Disney movies. In all my days as a child, I imagined many things for myself, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

In a world of princesses, I was Belle and Cinderella, but never the Beast or the evil queen. I was the Wendy, soaring with Peter Pan, but never was I Captain Hook. As a young girl, I imagined so many scenarios and plots that took me to distant lands and allowed me to be a princess, heroine, adventurer, explorer, or president, but never did I imagine becoming a villain.

Yet, here I am at 23, and somehow, I with so many others that I hold dear, have become villains. Why? It wasn’t because of the want of power or greed. No, it was because I…we are farmers.

As a little girl, I LOVED living on a farm. For me there was no better life. I learned values like hard work, honesty, good sportsmanship, responsibility, compassion, grit, and dedication. When I looked to the other farmers I knew, I saw that in them too. So, it would come as a shock when I, along with other farmers, were grouped together and villianized.

As I grew older, I began to hear the ripples of people who condemned the farmer. And so, I decided to share with others what I knew about farming. I decided to share my passion, and my love for it. I had no idea how HARD it would be.

I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I don’t think I expected people to attack me and farming with such awful accusations. All of a sudden, I was a murderer for eating bacon. I was a rapist for allowing animals to be bred. I tortured animals, had no heart, and was even a cannibal. I was compared to Hitler, told I was participating in slavery, and destroying the environment without a care. I was a villain.

But the truth was, I was just a farmer. I was a girl who had dreamed of flying with Peter Pan, and had become a farmer. Somewhere in there, though, activist groups, individuals, and the media deemed me and so many others as the villain.

When did the farmer become a villain?

How could the farmer become a villain?

Perhaps it is because only 2% of the population are farmers, and many no longer understand agriculture. Or maybe, it is because media coverage of farming drastically diminished at the same time people were becoming farther removed from farms. So, when the media did turn their attention back to farmers, they looked much different than Old McDonald. Perhaps farmers are villains simply because social media allows people to be more bold and say horrible things.

Whatever the reason, the farmer is a villain.

But, are they truly  villains?

No.

How do I know? Because I am a farmer, and I know my heart. This is not the heart of a villain. This heart has mourned the loss of an animal, broken for the ruined crop, and toiled day in and day out, all while being told it was a murderer.

More than a farmer, though, I am a person. The other farmers–they are people too. And those names that we are called and the accusations thrown our way do not fall on deaf ears. They hurt. Because farming is not just a job or career. Farming is a way of life, and if people took the time to understand and get to know us farmers, they’d find out we are far from villains. They’d find that they have us all wrong. We are so much more.

When did farmers become villains?

They didn’t. They have always been a resilient community with large hearts and a passion for the land, food, animals, people, and their families.

So, I will hold my head high. I am not a villain or even a princess or a girl who flies with pixie dust. I will hold my head high because I am a farmer.

Does FFA Impact Lives…Just Ask

Recently an article was released from PETA that was beyond negative about the FFA. While I will not be linking the article here (I have no desire to increase its views and I do my best to only include truthful things in my blog), I can tell you it was not a fun read.

According to this article, FFA only promotes youth to murder, abuse, and unethical principles towards animals. My first thought was “goodness gracious! Way to turn the colors of National Blue and Corn Gold into a horror movie.”

My second thought was, “how sad is it that with all of the negativity in this world, with all of the negative influences affecting our youth, with all of the school shootings, bullying, and drugs, someone would attack an organization that makes a positive impact in our youth? How does this happen?”

While I have a thousand arguments that I could throw out there about how wrong the article was, I don’t want to go down that road. You see, this goes beyond a typical agriculture versus animal activist argument. This is about youth…our future. The author of the PETA article, well, they missed it. They ran into the situation, guns of assaults blazing like a bull in a china shop, but they missed it. While trying to make some sort of impact of their own, they missed the impact that FFA has on thousands of youth –629, 327 students to be exact, and that does not include alumni.

What kind of impact does FFA make on youth? All you have to do is ask, and that is what I did. I asked several FFA members how FFA had impacted their lives and to share their favorite photo. This is what I got:

“The FFA has impacted me in so many ways! It has given me a way to connect with people all over the nation as well  develop my leadership and personal skills. It has given me a deeper understanding of agriculture and its importance, not only to me, but to every single person on the earth. Without FFA, I can truly say that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.” -Shelby Bireley, 2015-2016 NC FFA State President

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Shelby’s favorite picture is the very first one taken as the NC State Officer team.

FFA has not only impacted my life, but it’s truly changed it forever. FFA has inspired me to devote my life to service and become an agricultural education teacher. FFA is far from your average club; I’ve been in quite a few clubs, and while they are great, none have influenced my life like FFA has and will continue to do. I have been in FFA since I have been in the 7th grade. Since then I have served in multiple offices (Treasurer, Vice-president, and Tobacco Federation President) and competed in several career development events including Parliamentary Procedure, Extemporaneous speaking, Agricultural Sales, Livestock judging and many more events. But nothing has meant more than the friends I’ve made through this amazing experience and the mentors I’ve had established through this life changing experience. FFA is the best experience you can have as a high-schooler, because it not only builds you as a leader, it gives you opportunity to influence and change people’s lives. That is what FFA has done for me and millions of people that have been in it. It has been one of the biggest blessings God has so greatly blessed me with.” -Alan Johnson, Spring Creek Chapter Vice President and Tobacco Federation President.

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Washington Leadership Conference selfie is one of Alan’s favorite photos

“FFA opened doors that I never thought possible. The Blue Jacket provided a network of friends and family that has accelerated my life and passion for agriculture. FFA gave me a place to belong and instilled in me a love of life and passion for service. I am forever grateful to FFA, my adviser and my fellow members for their impact on me.”- John Stewart, 2011-2012 NC State FFA President

 

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John’s favorite picture exudes joy!

 

 

FFA has shaped me into the person I am today! When I was no longer able to play contact sports because of concussions, FFA provided me everything contact sports did plus more. It gave me the chance to take the drive and passion I put into my sports and put them into FFA. I plan to run for a State FFA officer position, to attend an agriculture college, to pursue a career in agriculture, and give back to the organization that has shaped me into who I am today and aspire to be in the future! I have learned from FFA through the Classroom, Career Development Events, and my Supervised Agricultural Experiment.” -Trey Palmer, Orange FFA Chapter President

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Trey, second from left receiving his state degree.
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National Convention

“Long story short, FFA made me who I am today. There were about six years where FFA was a majority of my life. To me, it’s more than a club. It is family, passion, faith, and tradition. I have met a lot of my closest friends through my experiences with FFA. I also explain to people that this organization took a young, (for the most part) shy, young boy and made me into a young leader in the agricultural industry who strives to do his best and encourages others to do the same. FFA has taken me to South Africa and Costa Rica, not to mention all over the United States. I have made friends all across the nation through FFA and feel like I could call a good majority of them up if I ever needed anything. We say that the three pillars of FFA are premier leadership, personal growth, and career success. Yes, that is why we do what we do: to develop young people into leaders who have a passion and purpose in life. However, to me, FFA is something I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. Some of my greatest triumphs, as well as greatest defeats have been through experiences in FFA.” -Bradley Glover, 2013-2014 NC State FFA Vice President

 

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Bradley was able to meet a lot of people through FFA including NC Secretary of Agriculture, Steve Troxler

Bradley went on to express his thoughts on the article from PETA…

“In response to the article written by PETA, if the writer was once an FFA member, they never got the idea of it fully. They missed the whole purpose. Those CDE’s and other opportunities mentioned do not exist to promote unethical treatment of any living being. Instead, they are aspects of the agricultural industry. The National FFA Organization has set out to make its members successful in agriculture, or any industry in which they choose to work, as well as promoting that they grow as a person each and every day to make this world a better place. A major aspect of this organization that many people often forget is service. FFA members are constantly giving back to their communities. I am proud to be an FFA Alumni and will always stand with the agriculture industry. We are not perfect, but we are always trying to be better.” -BG

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Of course, these testimonies of how the FFA has made an impact are just a drop in the bucket. FFA is something positive for our youth. Agriculture aside, it develops skills, connections, and life lessons that can be used in any scenario. I’ve seen it make an impact time and time again. Unfortunately, some people don’t see that, but that is where you come in. PETA told an FFA story, and it was dead wrong (no pun intended). Now it’s your turn. How has FFA impacted your life? Share your story, and let your voice be heard in the comments section. Let’s fill it up with all of the ways that FFA helps build our future…our youth.

So, my challenge to you is, A) don’t share the PETA article. It only gives them more attention and traction. B) Try not to get too angry. Anger shuts people down. C) share your excitement and passion! Let your voice be heard. You can start now, by commenting how FFA has impacted your life. Ready, set, go!

 

 

When it Rains: Weather Causes Challenges for Hog Farmers

For many in the world, rain is simply an inconvenience. Umbrellas go up, feet get wet, traffic gets worse, plans get ruined. It is just plain gross.

For some though, rain devastates. We all know that a lack of rain can ruin crops. We have all heard of farmers praying for rain, but there are also the days where farmers are praying for it to stop.

Recently, it rained, and rained…and rained some more. I had two flooded pastures, and the sheep had to wade puddles that were more like rivers to get to a dry pen. I was beyond ankle deep in mud. It frustrated me, but there wasn’t a thing to be done… well except transfer the sheep. I realized that for us, though, the rain and muck was an inconvenience. It was a bigger inconvenience than someone who doesn’t live on a farm, but compared to what my dad was dealing with, it was just an inconvenience.

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An example of the standing water we had on the farm

Dad is an environmental manager for several hog farms. His job is to oversee the management of the land on the farms, the lagoons (containing area for hog waste), and all waste treatment from the pigs. In short he manages dirt, poop, and crops…with people.

Examples of some of his duties include managing innovative growing and harvesting bio-mass (e.g. miscanthis, sorghum, etc.) for bio-fuels. He oversees how land renters are managing that piece of land. He also monitors lagoon levels at multiple hog farms. Lagoons cannot rise to a certain level. This is why the waste (aka manure) is pumped out and used as fertilizer on crops. It is a great way farms use resources. They can’t pump this waste on the land flippantly, though. They follow strict guidelines and regulations set forth by the state. Dad makes sure they follow these regulations.

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Pumping on hay fields for fertilizer

One of his biggest enemies, is rain. I remember as a little girl seeing how stressed he was because of a heavy rain. Why is it a stresser? Well, rain can fill up lagoons and make them rise over acceptable levels if not managed. Managing the levels take place with proactive measures by pumping when it is sunny and the crops can soak it all up. They also occur in the midst of the rain. Sometimes, no matter how proactive farmers are, Mother Nature will not cooperate. She just keeps on pounding the rain.

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A low level lagoon

Can they just pump in the rain on the wet ground? Absolutely not! Can they throw up their hands and say oh well? Nope! They work overtime. They haul in tankers to haul the waste away to keep the lagoon level down. This is expensive, costing thousands of dollars. Add this stress onto the fact that if they ever hit a high level, they have to report it to the state. If they have a spill, they get fined. There is major stress trying to protect the environment, abide by regulations, and fighting Mother Nature.

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During Christmas, it rained. My dad was on the phone a lot, making calls, making decisions, and making the drive to the farm that was 45 minutes away to monitor it. There was the potential that he was going to have to call his guys and say you have to work on Christmas. Is pig poop so important that he would have to take men away from their families on Christmas? It is when it rains. It is when they are looking at rising levels, fines, and damages. It is important because if they ignore it, they fail, and they hurt their community. So, like the majority of individuals who farm, they go out in the rain, and on Christmas if needed.

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Pumping on sunny days is a proactive way to manage for rainy days.

Takeaway: Lagoons are in the news a lot as a pollutant and farmers are portrayed as the polluters who willfully ruin the environment. The truth, though is they work very hard to protect it. My dad has been an environmental manager for more than 15 years. He is the kind of guy who when given too much change, he returns it. If he returns a couple of dollars, don’t you think he would follow regulations, and safeguard the environment even at the expense of blowing his budget and working on holidays? I do. I’ve seen it for almost two decades.

This post is Dad approved.

Farm Family Hits Rough Waters with Activist Groups

Family: An Anchor during rough waters

There are bad things in life that happen to good people, and it is completely unfair. Yet out of the depths of bad and unfairness, strength and grace arise to the surface.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of getting to know the Taylor family. After several e-mails, they invited me to come to their home and talk with them about their story. It was the youngest Taylor’s first birthday, and it was a privilege to be able to take a peek into this special family’s life.

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Front, L to R:  Brooke, Ivy, Halle, Kinsleigh, Chase, and Mrs. Annie Back, L to R:  Kevin, Jason, Angie, Johnnie, Tara, Sheila, Preston, and Mr. Donnie

Donnie and Annie Taylor live in Pink Hill, North Carolina. Married in June of 1968, the couple began their life on the family farm. Donnie graduated from North Carolina State University Agriculture Institute (Go Wolfpack!!).

They had three children– Johnnie, Sheila, and Jason– who are now married and have children of their own. Johnnie, and his wife Tara, have a 5-year old daughter named Halle. Sheila married Preston Sutton, and they have a 9-year old son, Chase and a daughter, Kinsleigh, who is 6. Jason and his wife, Angie, have two daughters, Ivy who is 9, and 6-year old Brooke . They also have a son named Kevin who just turned 1. Johnnie and Jason both work on the family farm with their dad, Donnie, and Sheila works in oncology clinical trials. The whole family spends a lot of time together. They all go to the same church, cook out together, and are big fans of Jenga. They constantly work together as a team, whether they are working on the farm, or tag-teaming to get all the cousins to their many activities. It doesn’t take long to see the bond they share between each other, poking fun at each other, and even finishing one another’s sentences. If they don’t sound great enough already (I mean, NC State alumni, food lovers, and super nice…you can’t go wrong), they are also a farm family.

Donnie and Annie have been farming for 47 years. Throughout that time, they have worked hard to create a farm for their family’s future. They started off with row crops, and in the 90’s, they built three hog finishing houses, later adding 8 chicken houses in the 2000’s. Their oldest son Johnnie manages this farm. In 2010, they made the decision to expand their farm by purchasing a hog farm about 25 miles away that included 14 finishing houses, 6 nursery houses, and over 200 acres. Apart from being a good deal, they chose to buy this farm in an effort to provide the opportunity for their youngest son Jason to come back home to farm. Even though the farm needed cleaning up, they were excited for this chance. Donnie could wind down and retire, while his two sons took over their respective farms.

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Mrs. Annie and Mr. Donnie have farmed all of their life.

I wish with all my heart I could stop their story there. I wish I could tell you they did a “farm flip” that everyone loved. I wish I could say they are looking forward to many more great years of farming. I wish I could, but I can’t. You see, behind this smiling family that loves Jenga and cookouts, is something devastating and heartbreaking. I suppose every good story has a villain or some sort of tragedy that must be conquered, and I suppose this is one of those stories.

Just 29 days after closing on the farm in 2010 and a few days before Christmas, Mrs. Annie received a phone call. It was a reporter asking what her response was about the intent to sue she had from the Waterkeeper Alliance, Neuse River Keepers, and North Carolina Environmental Justice Network . In this way, the Taylors discovered that environmental activist groups had filed an intent to sue against the farm the Taylors had just purchased less than a month before.

Being told you are being sued is something I can only imagine. When I think lawsuit, I think of the lady who burned herself on the McDonald’s coffee– not this, and yet here it is. The Taylors were sued for violating the Clean Water Act because of accusations of being irresponsible with the hog waste from the farm.

*For those who do not know, most hog farms house their pigs in large barns. The floors of the barns have small slats in them so the pig poop can fall through and be flushed into a pit called a lagoon. These lagoons are lined and have to meet special regulations. Part of those regulations are to keep them at certain levels. This is done through pumping. Special machinery pumps the hog waste, a.k.a. fertilizer, onto crops. This also involves regulations. No pumping is allowed if it has just rained as this will cause run-off into ditches and waterways. While it may sound super gross to have a “poop pond” it provides crucial fertilizer for plants.

If you remember, this suit happened within 29 days of buying the farm. The Taylors had to do a lot wrong in such a short amount of time, but the thing was, they hadn’t. They had not even pumped yet when the lawsuit was announced. They knew the farm needed some work, but they were willing to do that themselves. They decided to sit down with the groups who had filed the intent to sue and find out 1) what they had done and 2)what the groups wanted them to do. At the mediation, they were told to get a lawyer. The groups stated they had enough evidence to bring them to court that day.

The Taylors were taken aback, but still shared with the environmental groups the 5-year plan they had set up that showed how they planned to fix the farm; however, it didn’t matter. The lawsuit persisted.

Fast forward to today… 5 years later. Since the day they found out about the lawsuit, it has seemed that the family has been in a constant state of rough waters, but they have continued to plow through their daily life (no pun intended).

a3They have cleaned up the farm by mowing around the hog houses, hired someone to haul 5 tractor trailer loads of trash from an open dump that the previous owners left, and repaired parts of the farm that had become run down. Many have noticed the improvements on the farm to the point that neighboring farms have gotten the family to include their land (a total of 500 additional acres) in their waste management plan (a plan that maps out where they will apply the hog waste). Neighbors have told them what a good job they are doing.

“Everyone wants cheap food, and I think we do a really outstanding job of that here,” said Mr. Donnie.

a5I visited the farm and was impressed myself with how pretty it was. The farm is down a dead end road. If you can imagine over 200 acres surrounded by trees, planted with tall corn, hog barns on a hill, and a dirt path to reach it all, it sounds pretty picturesque.

a1Apart from making the farm pretty, they have also had many officials test their facilities to make sure there was not any environmental damage occurring. The farm has been inspected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Division of Water Quality (DWQ), and Carl Dunn, a state engineer; all have found the farm to be in great working order, with no violations occurring. The Waterkeeper Alliance was even allowed on the farm by a judge on four separate occasions to take soil, water, and lagoon samples. They were even allowed to enter the hog barns. I’d like to stop here, and express how upsetting this is. Farms are an extension of a person’s home. They are where they work day in and day out. It is where memories and lessons are learned. Can you imagine people coming onto your property (after accusing you of something), taking “evidence” and then actually going into your house when the supposed “crime” happened outside? It is tough. Compound that with the fact that the hog industry is facing a lot of disease right now, and introducing people is a bio-security hazard that may spread even more disease. I, for one, would be turning 50 shades of red, having to watch it occur. Not only that, but the activist groups fly over the farm multiple times a week, often flying very low. They also go up to the gate of the farm to take pictures. A family lives at the gate entrance of the farm (they also work on the farm), and they have to endure the constant cameras and planes at their home, and there is nothing that the families can do about it.

“You think you have a lot of rights. You think you can keep them off your property. You cannot,” said Mr. Donnie.

I should note here that despite being on the farm 4 separate times and being inspected more times than that, there has yet to be any evidence that shows the Taylors have violated any regulations. This is perhaps the most frustrating part of it all. While the activist groups are searching for evidence against the Taylors, the family is having to pay 5 year’s worth of legal fees plus deal with the emotional stress of it all. As Jason put it, “We are guilty until proven innocent.” To show just how much the activist groups are searching for any kind of evidence, the Environmental Justice League backed out of the lawsuit because they felt there was a lack of evidence.

The Waterkeeper Alliance won’t tell the family what they want. They won’t say what they want changed.

“They’ve given us nothing that they really want. There is no way to fix it. You’re just in limbo,” said Mrs. Annie.

Mr. Donnie added, “They won’t give you an answer back. They won’t meet with you or talk to you.”

It is terribly frustrating to want to mediate and want to put it behind them, but are not allowed to. The Taylors would love to mediate and fix anything that is wrong, but they first have to be presented with that.

“The thing that bothers me most, is where are the facts? Give me the facts. Show me that I’m ruining the environment. You know?” said Johnnie.

a8More than this, if there was something wrong that was causing environmental damage, would it not make sense to go ahead and fix it rather than drag a lawsuit out for years? The Waterkeeper Alliance had been watching and investigating this farm 3 years prior to the Taylors buying it. For a total of 8 years, these so-called environmentalists have been making plenty of accusations but doing nothing to make a difference. Would it not make more sense to work with farmers, rather than tear them down? I understand that there should be consequences for violators, but I also think a helping hand goes a lot farther than a slap in the face. It makes it worse that the Taylors haven’t done anything–insult to injury. In my opinion, the real environmentalists are the Taylors. They are the ones who have fixed anything wrong with the farm with their hard-earned money. They invited people to inspect them. They have a passion for the environment. When I was visiting with them, they showed me countless photos of bear, turkeys, and deer on their farm. They are avid fishermen, hunters, and outdoorsmen.

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IMG_20130405_163453_288Get this…. at little Kevin’s party (which the Taylors so graciously invited me to) his cake was a fish cake! Do they seem like big bad polluters to you? I didn’t think so.

a12The lawsuit is not the only thing (I know give these folks a break for Pete’s sake!). Hurricane Irene blew through 10 months after buying the farm. This took some of the barn roofs with it. It, along with all the other wet summers did nothing for the efforts in keeping the lagoons at a low level. There were times where they had to hire honey wagons (trucks that haul the waste away) to keep the levels low. This cost over $100,000. In addition, Mr. Donnie has had to have a pacemaker. The stress has not helped his health.

The last five years have been extraordinarily hard.

“We are just small, simple-minded people that have worked all of our life to try to have something. You know, right or wrong, that’s all we’ve done. We’ve worked hard for it. No one has given it to us, and for them to come along and if they would just say ‘hey this is what we want you to do, we would have done it,” Mrs. Annie said through tears.

They live with it every day, working harder than ever, even though they still may lose the farm.

“You still have to go to work. You still have to do everything you always did, knowing, that hey, you worked all your life for this to try and support your family and help everyone along and now it comes to this,” Mr. Donnie said.

a6More than costing them sleep, it has also cost them major bucks. Legal fees have cost them over $600,000 on top of the costs it took for them to repair the farm. The family has now had to file bankruptcy, and the lawsuit continues. They aren’t sure if they will have a home next year and may even lose the entire farm. This weight is evident:

“We filed bankruptcy. We still can’t get away from it. We still might have to fight this case, and it is going to take everything we got. We’ve been married 47 years, and it is going to take everything we got, and it’s just not right. I feel like I have pulled a 5 year sentence…for nothing. I feel like I’ve been in prison, and every day I get up I feel like I am bound. I can’t get released from it. It’s just not fair, and I know life isn’t supposed to be fair all the time, you know?” said Mrs. Annie.

They have recently started a Go Fund Me account to help them cover the legal costs. If you would be gracious enough, I know they would love any help you could give them. You can go here to donate:

http://www.gofundme.com/saveabaconfarm

In addition to donating, you can also become aware and spread this story. Unfortunately, the Taylors are not the first to endure such troubles with the activist groups.

The Taylors are a family, much like yours or mine. Mrs. Annie loves being a Nana to all of the grandkids.

grandsThe whole family is involved in their local church, as well as their community. Despite this lawsuit, they manage to laugh and find reasons to smile.

“We do all we can for as long as we can. It doesn’t cost much to get together as a family, so that is what we do. We will be fine. We have three kids we can rotate living between if we have to,” joked Mrs. Annie.

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a7

This storm will pass, but in the meantime, family is what anchors them during these rough waters.

What You Aren’t Being Told About “Hog Farm Pollution”

If you drive down many Eastern North Carolina roads, you may see a billboard that looks like this:

Raise A Stink

They are doing just what they say–raising a stink, but it is a stench much worse than any pig poop could possibly smell. These billboards are part of a campaign started by the Waterkeeper Alliance organization to blame hog farmers for polluting local waterways. Although their aim is to make a positive difference in the community, this organization is causing harm, defaming an industry, and do not have their facts straight.

It is important that not just the other side of the story is told, but that facts are put out there, so that the public can be informed. Pollution is a serious issue that should not be taken lightly; however, there are a few things that the Waterkeeper Alliance isn’t telling you–things you should know to get the whole picture.

Who is the Waterkeeper Alliance?

The Waterkeeper Alliance organization is an international group represented by 240 local groups on 6 continents. They are environmentalists who focus on maintaining and promoting clean waterways. They have been active in campaigns against dairy farmers in New York and hog farmers in North Carolina along with various other campaigns. Last year (2014), they, along with their local subsidiary, The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation filed an intent to sue against a NC farm, that gave the farm 90 days to complete a list of demands or else the organization would file suit against the farm. Although the farm worked with the organization to meet demands, the Waterkeeper Alliance has launched the billboard campaign against all NC hog farmers.

What claims have been made by the Waterkeper Alliance?

The Waterkeeper Alliance makes many claims that can be found on their website. Here are a few to note:

  • Waterkeeper Alliance seeks to expose the fact that foreign-owned corporations are reaping the profits made possible by the antiquated lagoon and sprayfield system of hog waste disposal, while placing an unfair burden on local contract growers.
  • Many people “are unaware of how much environmental damage and human pain and suffering these industrial swine operations are inflicting on people and their environment,” Rick Dove, North Carolina CAFO manager for Waterkeeper Alliance
  • “For too long, factory farms in North Carolina have been disproportionately located in minority communities where residents are forced to endure the smell, water quality impacts and the embarrassment associated with the facilities operating near their homes. Through this campaign and multiple other fronts, we’re working toward the day when people living near these operations are granted their right to swimmable, drinkable and fishable waterways,” Marc Yaggi, executive director at Waterkeeper Alliance
  • “Using so-called lagoons and sprayfields to dispose of hog waste is an outhouse method that must be replaced. A number of systems that will do away with lagoons and sprayfields have been tested and approved for implementation. It is time to put an end to this problem and the best place to start is by educating the public about what is happening to their water, air and communities.” Rick Dove,North Carolina CAFO manager for Waterkeeper Alliance

There is a lot packed into these claims, so let’s dissect them and look at what the hog farm scene looks like.

Hog Farm Fast Facts:

  • First, let’s make sure we don’t call large hog farms factories. Even though they are on a much larger scale, they are still a farm, and should be called as such. The majority of these farms are still family operated too.
  • The hog farming chain can be a little confusing with its many parts. Here is a chart that will hopefully help.pig integrator
  • North Carolina is the second largest producer of hogs in the U.S. and contributes $2.9 billion to the economy
  • Large hog farms keep pig waste in large pits called lagoons.
  • No new lagoons are allowed to be built
  • Hog waste is used as fertilizer for crops.

What are the Waterkeeper Alliance not telling you?

The Waterkeeper Alliance makes it sound like pig farmers have absolutely no concern for the environment, and they are irresponsible with the waste from the farms. This is the farthest from the truth. Farmers are some of the most avid hunters and fishermen out there. Why would they want to pollute the very waters that provide that recreation? In addition, many of their families live within the vicinity of these farms. Would farmers purposely pollute and cause damage to their own family? I don’t think so.

Even if farmers didn’t care (which they most certainly do) they are required by law to adhere to strict regulations as to when, where, and how they can deposit and manage the waste in the hog lagoons. These regulations are put in place by the Department of Water Quality and are monitored throughout the year. Hog waste is never allowed to be dumped into waterways; however, human waste is permitted to be dumped in the rivers once it has been treated. Although the majority of pollutants have been removed from the waste, the volume put in streams is still high and the pollutant mass can still be high in streams (NCSU).

The Waterkeeper Alliance demands a waste water treatment facility to deal with the hog waste in a more environmentally friendly way; however, human waste water treatment facilities are not perfect either. According to the EPA, there are over 22,000- 75,000 sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s) that occur each year due to blockages, line breaks, sewer defects that allow storm water and groundwater to overload the system, lapses in sewer system operation and maintenance, power failures, inadequate sewer design and vandalism. The only thing a hog waste water treatment facility is going to do is cost the pork industry millions of dollars, driving the cost of bacon and porkchops through the roof. According to Feeding America, North Carolina is ranked in the top 10 states for food insecurity, and higher pork prices will only drive food insecurity up.

The Waterkeeper Alliance draws on various studies that show the effect of hog farms and hog waste on the surrounding community; however, these studies often show inconclusive data and rely on speculation. Yet, the Waterkeeper Alliance states them as fact. Beyond any of this, though, are the facts that they are hiding about the regulations that hog farmers have to abide by:

  • Lagoons are required to have substantial grass planted around its banks to prevent erosion.
  • Crops meant for direct human consumption, are not allowed to have hog waste sprayed on them as fertilizer.
  • Lagoons must be kept under a certain level at all times to prevent overflows into waterways.
  • Rain is stressful to a hog farmer as it increases the levels of the lagoons and soaks the fields to where they cannot be sprayed on. With no where for the rising lagoon water to be sprayed, hog farmers often times have to hire tanks to haul it away. They have even flown men in from other states to help in the effort of managing the lagoons during a heavy rain season.
  • Hog farmers have to take lagoon samples of the waste to make sure the nitrogen and phosphorus levels are appropriate within 30 days of spraying on fields.
  • If hog farmers know a neighbor is having a party or an outdoor function, they try not to spray as to disturb them.
  • The majority of farms are off of a dirt path away from most homes. By law, they must be 1,500 feet from a residence and 2,500 feet from a school, church, hospital, or park.
  • Farms are inspected twice a year by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). According to the NC Pork Council, during 2000, 98% of the 6,000 inspections of NC’s 2,500 hog farms were found to have no direct discharges of organic waste water to the surface waters of the state and 94% found no signs of over-application to fields.
  • If there happens to be a hog waste spill in the rivers, the farm is required to report it and could be fined.
  • Spills are typically caused by equipment malfunctions.

The organization claims that there are better innovative ways to deal with hog waste out there, but hog farms are stuck on the antiquated ways of spraying on fields. Many hog farms are collaborating with scientists and innovators on various ways to improve hog waste management. Many of these innovations are in a trial period or are so expensive that the cost outweighs any benefit. The goal is to provide affordable pork to the public and  do so in an ethical manner. Farmers are being ethical and careful in how they manage hog waste.

The Waterkeeper Alliance may also tell you that the Neuse is one of the most polluted rivers and fish are at an all time low; however, the Neuse River basin does not boast the most amount of hog farms. The Caper Fear River Basin has the most hog farms. If hog farms were the cause of the river pollution, then why is the river basin with the most concentrated hog farms, not the most polluted? It doesn’t add up.

Cape Fear
http://scorecard.goodguide.com/env-releases/aw/nc-riverbasin.tcl?image_id=030300&huc6=030300

What Now?

While the Waterkeeper Alliance is not calling for an end to large pig farms, they are saying some nasty things that does not tell the whole story by any means. It is ok for them or anyone to ask questions and even challenge certain practices. It is important that hog farmers look at ways to constantly improve, but the current billboard campaign does not ask questions and challenges in an unhealthy manner. The Waterkeepr Alliance is suggesting that hog farmers are unethical in their environmental practices, but the Waterkeepr Alliance is not being ethical in their efforts by defaming an industry, causing the potential for increased pork prices, and not telling the whole story.

If you see these billboards remember that there is another side to those signs. They look something like this:

billboars

We shouldn’t have to have Ag Awareness Weeks–Living in an ag illiterate society

This week was Ag Awareness Week at school (NC State University). In the common area of the brickyard, where a lot of students congregate, were booths and displays set up spreading awareness about agriculture. There were live animals, tractors, and ag students available to answer questions. It thrills me that this event takes place. What a great way to educate and advocate for agriculture!

Photo by Terri Leith http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/news-center/perspectives/panelists-talk-sustainable-agriculture-at-ag-awareness-week-forum/

 

But, I have an issue with Ag Awareness Week. There shouldn’t be a need for awareness about ag. Let me say that again. There should NOT be a need for ag awareness. Sure, less than 2 % of the population are farmers, but those are not the only ones who should know about ag.

Why is it that in today’s society, school systems require kids to take mandatory classes in English, math, science, art, and history, but not agriculture when they partake in it 3 times a day at the table? Elementary and beyond, even in universities, agriculture is not among the forefront subjects of education. This is truly bizarre to me if you consider the prevalence that agriculture plays in our day to day lives, community, and economy. Think about this:

  • Food, regardless of type, is needed for human survival. That food comes from some type of agriculture (large or small).
  • America’s net farm income for last year, 2014, was $108 billion. (source)
  • 22 million people work in agriculture related fields. (source)
  • There are over 200 available careers in the agriculture industry. (source)

Aside from the fact that food comes into play in our day to day lives, the influence that agriculture has on our economy and the job market is pretty astounding, and yet, we are not doing a sufficient job in our education system of educating our kids about these opportunities nor its impact. We are failing our kids in the ag literacy front. They may be able to read, but they can’t read ag.

Yeah, sure, schools have classes available for students to take about agriculture. We have ag teachers in schools and whole ag degrees in college, but it is optional for kids. English, math, history, art, and science all have special teachers for their respective subjects, and you can major in them in college, but they are also mandatory at some level in our kids’ education. The previous subjects like math and English are so valuable to a child’s proper education because they will utilize most of it on a day to day basis. So, why, if agriculture is enjoyed at least 3 times a day, is it not mandatory for a child to learn about where their food comes from and how it is made? In my opinion, this is a serious oversight and tragedy that our society is experiencing.

kids

Because so many students go through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even college without gaining much of an understanding about the agriculture industry, they are missing out on valuable job opportunities, career paths, and the foundations of making educated decisions about what they eat. They never go through life appreciating what farmers do to feed a growing population. People grow up either not thinking about where the food they are consuming comes from, or developing misconceptions about farming in their heads. If and when they are finally exposed to real agriculture and farming, they are often shocked, and this has led to a lot of controversy.

Even worse, is that it is a cycle. Adults are ag illiterate and do not understand it, and then go and pass that on to their children a lot of the time. I have helped with Farm Animal Days in the past and observed mothers tell their kids to look at the puppy I was holding. In reality, I was holding a baby goat. The sad truth was they didn’t know the difference even with a college degree. Potentially more heartbreaking, was watching parents snatch their children’s hands from touching some animals or even dirt, to prevent germs. Animals can get pretty gross sometimes, but they aren’t toxic. I have had an individual in a restaurant ask what I had in the trailer in the parking lot. When we told her it was a pig, she wanted to know if it was big or small. We said it was a smaller pig, weighing around 230 pounds or so. This was a shock to her. People don’t realize pigs get twice that size.

My point in all this is that our society is generally illiterate. I’m not talking about the kind where you can’t read. I’m talking about the kind where you can’t read an anti-farming article and be able to pick out some of the discrepancies. I’m talking about the kind of illiterate that cannot distinguish a goat from a puppy or know how big a pig can get. An illiteracy that does not realize what contributions agriculture makes on the economy and the job market, and that there are opportunities besides being a farmer that are available in the agriculture industry. Beyond even that, many kids are missing out on valuable character building that farming provides such as responsibility, hard work, and ethics. This isn’t to say they don’t receive these character building traits from other places, but farming provides another avenue for it.

Because of this illiteracy, we are forced to hold Ag Awareness Week and recognize Ag Day that promotes more ag literacy. Guys, we shouldn’t have to have these special weeks and days to create awareness. It should already be there. Education should recognize agriculture as a subject that holds equal importance to art, math, science, and English. After all, everyone needs food. Until that happens, though, I say rock on to Ag Awareness Week. Keep up the good fight in educating, and maybe one day, we will live in an ag literate society.

ag literacy

Why do we dock lamb’s tails?

If you have not met Grover, here is our little Southdown/Leicester cross lamb.

grov

Isn’t he just the cutest? I thought so too 🙂

Today Grover, like any lamb on our farm, got his tail docked. Docking a sheep’s tail is not simply for aesthetic reasons, it has health reasons too. It isn’t cruel, but rather, it is beneficial to the animal.

Why do we dock?

It isn’t because the tail looks a little funny, although, I must say, it does look funny.tail

If the tail was not docked, the wool that grows on the tail would become caked with feces and urine. This isn’t just gross when it comes to shearing time, but it also is unsanitary for the sheep and can cause irritation. In addition, docking also reduces the chances of fly strike, a painful condition caused by blowflies laying eggs in the fleece and the maggots burrow into the sheep’s flesh. The sheep often dies within a few days of fly strike occurring. Some studies have also shown that docking tails increases growth rates. For these reasons, we dock the lambs’ tails within the first week of life. Some sheep do not necessarily need to have their tails docked. Hair sheep, do not have the thick wool, and it does not pose as much of a problem.

How do we dock?

There are different ways  to dock a lamb’s tail. We use an elastrator (we also use this to castrate).

elastrator

The elastrator tool puts a thick rubber ring or band on the tail, cutting off blood circulation. Around 10 days later the tail falls off. It is inhumane to use the elastrator on older lambs, which is why it should be done after 24 hours old but not after 1 week. Another tool to dock is an electric docker.Electric docker

This tool cuts and cauterizes the tail simultaneously. It can be done in older lambs, but it is still best to do it on young lambs.

Are there negatives of docking?

Yes, if done incorrectly. It is important when docking lambs to not make the tail too short. If the tail is too short, it increases the chances of a rectal prolapse.

I'm making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.
I’m making sure to leave a certain amount of tail.

Does it hurt?

A little. The younger the lamb, the less stress it causes, though. When we put the band on Grover’s tail, he did a little butt wiggle, and went straight back to mom. He acted like nothing was wrong. We have had some lambs be a little more sensitive, and act like there is something on their butt, which there is. They are always fine within the hour, though.

A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs
A quick drink from mom is all Grover needs

Is docking tails inhumane?

No, it is not. I have read where some people think that farmers have bred sheep to be unnatural in their wool production, and that is the only reason that we have to dock tails. While there are different breeds that have various kinds of wool, sheep naturally have wool. Farmers did not breed sheep to have an excess of wool. Those in the wild, do not have the same type of fiber as a domestic sheep, and do not even need to be sheared. For thousands of years, sheep have needed to been shorn for their fleece. It isn’t a new phenomenon caused by selective breeding. Farmers breed for quality of wool and quantity, but regardless of the quantity, any amount of wool on the tail will cause unsanitary conditions. While docking may cause some discomfort, it is often no more uncomfortable than getting a vaccination shot.

Docking is beneficial to the lamb. It is not just for the farmer’s sake, but also the animals. Grover did not seem to mind one bit about his procedure. He didn’t cry or really squirm. I think he was more concerned that his mom was calling for him and we were touching his butt. He was just dandy.


Further Reading:

http://www.sheep101.info/201/dockcastrate.html

http://www.sheep101.info/tails.html

https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Documents/lamb_tail_docking_bgnd.pdf

 

PETA says #WoolFreeWinter, but really it should be #WearMoreWool

With the start of cold weather, PETA and company have started a campaign against wool. The following photo and the hashtag #WoolFreeWinter has gone viral.

peta sheepThe photo is quite gruesome, I must say, BUT it isn’t really true. How can it not be true when it is staring you in the face? I cannot deny that the photo happened somewhere; however, the statement “you can’t have one without the other” is NOT true. It is plain and simple. That is not how wool is taken from sheep. If it was, I wouldn’t have many sheep left on my farm.

Wool is sheared from a sheep much the same as your hair can be buzzed from your head. The animal may yell a bit because they aren’t thrilled about being confined, but ultimately, the sheep runs away a few pounds lighter, much cooler, and very alive. I don’t know where this photo came from; however, it is more likely that what you are seeing is the beginnings of a pelt. Pelts include the wool and hide from a sheep, and no, sheep are not skinned alive. Pelting a sheep is all part of the process of utilizing as much of the sheep (meat, organs, pelts, bones, etc.) as possible once harvested.

Sheep need to be sheared on an annual basis. They do not naturally shed their wool and by shearing season, it can weigh around 15 pounds. When you use wool, you are not only helping the sheep out, but are utilizing natural resources.

“You can’t have one without the other” is so very true; however, these words are not properly paired with the correct photo. A proper portrayal can be seen in the following photo:cant have one without the other

I promise I have worn wool from my sheep, and they are still enjoying the life of a sheep at this very moment (In the above picture, I’m wearing a 100% wool sweater).  The entire wool industry does not need to be boycotted because of this misinformation. It is completely ethical and fine to wear wool. In fact, it would be greatly beneficial to have a little more wool in your closet. Wool is an amazing fiber that has some fantastic qualities.

Did you know?

  • Wool is flame retardant. If you set it on fire, it will extinguish itself.
  • It is comparatively stronger than steel.
  • Wool can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture and not feel wet or clammy.
  • It has great durability and can fold back on itself 20,000 times without breaking, while cotton can only be folded back 3,000 times and silk 2,000 times.
  • Wool fibers can be stretched 50% when wet and 30% when dry and still bounce back to its original form, giving it an A+ in the flexibility category.

If those qualities aren’t awesome enough, wool is also an extremely versatile fiber, making it wearable all year round. “Hold up!” I hear you say, “Wool is hot and itchy and not for summer.” That is stereotyping. Wool can be thin and lacy. It can be super soft and also itchy. It all depends on the type of wool (check back on Friday for an explanation of the different types). Think of wool like a cooler or thermos. Because of its makeup, wool keeps warmth in during the cold, and cool in during the heat. It isn’t just for winter; it is for everyday of the year.

PETA wants a #WoolFreeWinter, but I say #WearMoreWool. Post those pictures of you and your wooliness. Wool is too fantastic not to wear. It isn’t cruel. It helps sheep. Besides, mimicking is the highest form of flattery. So mimic the sheep and #WearMoreWool. See just what it is to be in sheep’s clothing.

wear more wool

Sources: American Sheep Industry Association