Connecting Gate to Plate Blog

Do Activists Destroy Family Farms?


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.

Waterkeepers hurt family farmsOn 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 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?


  1. Billy Ivy on November 2, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Family farms like theirs feed the world, we need them and more like them as rainbows and daydreams do not a full belly make!

    Where the “activist” are coming from is the past environmental impact poultry has had on the Chesapeake region. This families situation is the direct result of what others have done in the past and the over zealous response of so called activist. We need to all remain calm and communicate.

    There are actions being taken to alleviate the problems there. Perdue Farms, mentioned in the story, is in fact currently doing a great job using poultry waste to make organic fertilizer. Modern Technology Methods is answering an RFP (Request for Proposal) from the state of Maryland to address poultry waste issues. MTM utilizes chicken litter as fuel for closed loop poultry anaerobic digester systems that create renewable electricity or RNG (renewable natural gas) to create heat. This process also creates a clean organic pathogen free fertilizer product These companies and others like them are working hard to solve the environmental issues of the region.

    It starts with education and communication, this entire nightmare started from assuming. Lets join together and be problem solvers, not problem starters!

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Billy and providing information on the technology utilized by poultry to improve manure management problems (I ran out of space in the post or would have included more). You’re correct that manure has had a significant impact on the Chesapeake region, which agriculture has been working on. I’d agree that communication would go a long ways, but unfortunately the Hudsons were not given that option. It serves a great reminder to other farmers to be diligent in taking the time to communicate before assumptions are made.

  2. Catskill Girl on November 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    I am gratefully only one generation away from a family farm that’s still in profitable operation in NE Missouri. As a child I spent summers on the farm (working, of course!) and so I know something of the deep love and respect for the land farmers have, as well as their continual, very hard work to keep the farm running right.

    You share an interesting story, and it’s very unfortunate that Waterkeeper Alliance seems to be persisting with litigation, and continuing to cause the Hudsons such expense and trouble. I support the Hudsons and wish them all the best.

    But it’s dangerously hyperbolic to cite this as proof that “Activists Destroy Family Farms” . There are many kinds of activists in the world, many different activist organizations, with different goals and different levels of knowledge and understanding.

    Also, the Hudsons are still farming so, though it is a great burden, this lawsuit has not destroyed their farm. And the Hudson farm is one family farm, not all family farms.

    I am an anti-fracking activist in New York State. We are fighting to protect family farms in NY from contamination from fracking that would risk the productivity and survival of their farms.

    I respectfully ask you to refrain from damaging hyperbole in your posts, and to speak directly to the facts. The fact is, it isn’t “Activists” who “destroy ” all family farms: it’s the Waterkeeper Alliance who is harassing the Hudsons with a (perhaps frivolous) lawsuit.

    Small family farms are under threat for other reasons, and life is very hard as a farmer, but please speak to the facts.

    When you engage in hyperbole, you impeach your own credibility.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 4, 2011 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your perspective as an activist and believe the title “Do Activists Destroy Family Farms” left room for the reader to make their own determination. I’m aware that there are some activists that are interested in working with farms, but Waterkeepers is clearly not one of those.

  3. Richard on November 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    As an agriculture professional in California I know a little something about activists and frivolous lawsuits. Yes, there are those environmental groups who do indeed crusade against pollution and abuses in agricultural methods and procedures. Their hearts are in the right spot. On the flip side of that, there are so-called environmental groups who exist solely to raise funds, obtain state and federal grant funds, and who have made filing bogus lawsuits against agricultural manufacturers, farmers and ranchers into a cottage industry here in California. These latter groups don’t give a damn about saving the environment and protecting planet Earth. They simply want to feather their own nests under the guise of protecting all of us from the abuses of Big Ag. Hogwash. There’s little doubt, especially here in California, that small farmers, ranchers and others working in agriculture are being victimized by activists who convince government regulators to draw up legislation that does little to protect food safety and the environment, but does a lot to make it harder for farmers to make a decent living.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 4, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      Hi Richard. It’s interesting to contrast your post with others here; I’d agree that this type of activity makes it much more difficult for farmers to do what they do best. After seeing what happened to the San Joaquin Valley, I know California has had its own share of struggles. Perhaps when food prices increase due to over-regulation, people will start to understand a bit more. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. @carabecca on November 3, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Thanks for publishing this Michele. I’m glad to see that the Hudsons are getting a grant. Unfortunately, I think they may be only the first of many in our region – Eastern Shore of MD – that will be unfairly targeted by the Waterkeepers.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. I’d agree that this case will be pivotal in the challenges farms are facing in your area.

  5. Dustin on November 3, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Let me start by saying that I’m an agricultural advocate, supporter of Ag Ed and the FFA.

    But this post, while almost certainly shared with the best of intentions, comes across as little more than fear mongering. Instead of thoughtfully discussing family farms, you’re pointing to activists and saying, “this is where our problems rest”.

    And you’re painting all activists with the same brush. There ARE activists who don’t care about facts and don’t care about learning about the industry that we’re passionate about. But there are also activists that help establish best practices and work with agriculturalists. It makes me utterly uncomfortable when individuals in our community insist on using “us vs. them” paradigms at every turn.

    I do hope you see that this is not a personal attack, merely a concerned ag enthusiast who thinks we need to spend more time educating the public than saying all the people in groups A, F and Q are bad and seeking to destroy us.

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 4, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Hi Dustin. I appreciate your perspective and agree that there are good activists that will work to solve problems. However, this post was about how Waterkeepers and related entities have personally impacted a family. The Hudsons are facing an extremely difficult situation; one that others in ag can learn from – which is why I posted this. As far as the public, I’d actually say we need to spend more time conversing with the public than educating them. Unfortunately, Hudsons didn’t have that opportunity in this case. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Jan on November 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    How do we differentiate activists who want to improve for all and activists who want to eliminate? Many claim it’s just against one type of agriculture but it affects all. When square feet per animal is addressed – there aren’t exceptions listed for certain farms, it’s across the board. No one who is following the law should be harassed and subjected to bullying and harassment tactics. The law is satisfied here but that’s not enough – so do we then call it terrorism? I mean really that’s what it is – but then that’s seen as extremes. There are no perfect phrases, but knowing what is wrong doesn’t need perfect phrases. This is wrong. Glad they got a grant. (And no anger in the tone here – just asking/discussing.)

    • Michele Payn-Knoper on November 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm

      Hi Jan. You raise a good point; and most who farm are interested in improvement, though change isn’t always easy. I draw the line at bullying and harassment; no family deserves to suffer because they choose to farm. The family doctor actually threw the terrorism label, which I thought was interesting from an outsider’s viewpoint. Thanks for stopping by, sorry for the delay in responding.

  7. Leah on December 6, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    The story doesn’t end there for this poor family. Per a November 29th article in the Baltimore Sun, “The Waterkeeper Alliance proceeded with its lawsuit even though the MDE considered the matter to be closed. To help its case, the Waterkeeper Alliance enlisted the assistance of the University Of Maryland School Of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic to represent it. The Hudsons and Perdue were not given the option of utilizing the services of this taxpayer-subsidized law clinic and have instead retained private counsel.” So now my tax dollars as a MD resident are going to support this lawsuit when I am 100% opposed to it. That is just not right. Read the whole article:

  8. Raylynne Lewis on February 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    This is a very sad story about farmers who get a bad rap only because people assume something. Assumptions are a terrible way for people to affect someone elses livlihoods. Most activits do not hink before reacting. They see something they deem “harmful to the environment/animal” and cry wolf on most things. Just as in this case. The farmers were within their regulations and they will not be compensated for their damages.

    A large part of the misunderstandings of the farm life is due to the fact that most people are three and four generations removed from it and do not understand what is necessary in order to run a farm. The lack of understanding does not fair wel on the farmers. It is almost like they are battling a beast of an unknown kind that will stop at nothing to shut down their farm.

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