A mother who had to go back to work to cover legal costs. A dad who never had health issues now has to visit the doctor for stress-induced illness. A little girl so worried about her family farm being taken away that she has panic attacks. This is the reality of what activists do to family farmers. Count it as a wake-up call for anyone who thinks it will never happen to them.
“Pray to God it doesn’t happen to you” is the single message Alan Hudson wants his fellow farmers to know about his experience with activists. “Go to meetings even when it doesn’t suit you and keep up on the regulatory front.” It’s not just about the $200,000+ in legal costs; it’s the embarrassment of being in the local paper more than a kidnapper who murdered a little girl. It’s the toll it’s taken on the entire Hudson family. And, it’s the invasion of privacy with planes circling their farm whenever they’re working cattle.
The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun calling for a comment alerted Alan and his wife, Kristin, about the pending lawsuit in December 2009. Rather than talking to the Hudsons about their concerns or contacting them through lawyers, Waterkeeper Alliance turned to the media. At question? A pile at the back of the Hudson farm.
On a flight over their farm on the Delmarva Peninsula, an activist saw a pile that she thought was chicken manure. Assateague Coastkeeper and Kathy Phillips posted aerial photographs of what they claim to be a chicken litter pile at Hudson, later determined to be Class A biosolids. In technical terms, Class A biosolids can be land applied without any pathogen-related restrictions at the site – and the pile in question had been pasteurized. In other words, it’s waste water solids that can also be bagged and marketed to the public for application to lawns and gardens. Yes, that would be “nutrient-rich organic materials” from humans – in this case, from Ocean City.
Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) investigated the mystery pile of poo, asked the Hudsons to move the pile to a different location on the farm. Alan obliged and spent most of the week of Christmas moving and covering the pile. MDE was happy and said the farm didn’t need to take any further action other than to spread the biosolid pile in the spring for the next crop growing season. They inspected the farm again in January 2010, noting “no animal manure piles were observed outside.”
Yet the federal lawsuit was still filed, first by Waterkeeper Alliance, Assateague Coastkeeper and Kathy Phillips alleging discharges in violation of the Clean Water Act, the latter of which were dismissed as plaintiffs. Hudson said their latest claim is that manure if flying out of fans, which he considers highly unlikely since urine and feces are mixed in the poultry species. I suspect the only manure flying around is that from people looking for trouble.
Alan and his 75 year-old dad run what activists call a “factory farm.” They have Cornish Hens in two barns and contract with Perdue Farms because it’s the best business decision for their family to have a stable income. They produce around 500,000 servings of Cornish Hens a year in their barns; composting the manure so that it only needs to be removed once/year (minimizing environmental impact). The Hudsons also have 45 head of beef cattle and farm 200 acres of corn, soybeans and hay. Alan and Kristin are the fourth generation on their farm and have not had any problems with their neighbors in the the past until this one paid activist – who lives in a resort town, but regularly conducts ditch tests without any regard to record rainfall or other conditions.
None of us in agriculture will say that we’re in a perfect business; it’s dirty, exhausting and can be smelly. Technology has improved our ability to deal with manure – both animal and human (as shown with the info on biosolids above), but it’s still manure. Farms like the Hudsons use a nutrient management plan to ensure they’re protecting the land, air and water as much as possible. They live on that land, drink the water there and send their kids out to play – it’s not logical that they’d be poisoning their home. Unfortunately, there is no plan for how to deal with well-funded activists that are getting free legal counsel from the state’s land grant institution.
Alan points out that people don’t understand farms like they did when more people were farming. And with lawsuits like this, I have to wonder how many family farmers will be around in the future. If you’re one of them, please use this as a reason to talk to people. If you’re not on a farm, perhaps this is a wake up call to the very real struggles faced by farmers because of activists in today’s litigious society
Note from Michele: After receiving the link to https://savefarmfamilies.org on Facebook and verifying the story through Maryland ag organizations, I really wondered what was wrong with our society. It saddens me when activists destroy the lives of farm families. It angers me that this farm may never see a fifth generation. And it reminds me that more people have to stand up for what’s right. The Hudsons don’t know it yet, but will be receiving one of the 10x Connect grants to help, in a small way, with their legal costs (you can give at the website). I reached out to Alan & Kristin to help tell their story. What can you do to ensure this doesn’t happen to more farms?