Fair Farms joins Farm Aid for a tour of Factory Farms on the Lower Eastern Shore

    September 29, 2016

Last week, Fair Farms joined with Farm Aid to tour an area packed with industrial-sized chicken houses on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Still feeling the buzz and excitement of the Farm Aid concert – where individuals from all different walks of life joined together to support small-scale, local farmers in the region – we made our way to Princess Anne in Somerset County.

cafoprincessanneFor those unfamiliar with the area, it’s the part of the Eastern Shore you pass on your right as you make the turn toward Ocean City near Salisbury. For centuries, it has been a busy hub of farming and fisheries activities. It’s an area marked by stately farmhouses and thousands of tributaries that eventually feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

Fair Farms and Farm Aid were joined by concerned local residents, a local sustainable farmer, Liz Brightman of Brightman Farm, and Maria Payan of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, who hosted the tour.

We met on a beautiful piece of land in the Backbone corridor of Princess Anne. The property is exactly what you’d hope to see when you think of a picturesque farm – wide open fields of lush grass, a pond supporting wildlife, and a barn that houses all of the equipment you might need to sustainably work the land.

What I first noticed immediately when I stepped out of my car was the smell. The overwhelming stench of animal waste, mixed with a distinct waft of rot and death. Little did I know that this picturesque farm is situated downwind from at least four of the largest chicken houses or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the area. It sits among dozens of these chicken houses within a three-mile radius.

This is the Google Maps image of the area we drove through. While the map is outdated, lacking CAFOs that have since popped up in the area, you can see the size and scale of these structures (the long, grey, rectangular buildings). Until you see it, it is hard to comprehend the size and impact of one chicken house. But they don’t just come as singles. Properties house multiple large CAFOs. These oversized CAFOs can house at least 125,000 chickens at a time, where each bird may have roughly as much space to move as a single sheet of paper. Recently, six CAFOs, approximately 67 ft x 661 ft in size, were built in the Backbone corridor.

As we made our way through the windy back roads of Somerset County and got closer to the CAFOs, the stench grew stronger, even with closed car windows. The smell was certainly overpowering. One of the locals aptly commented that it was getting hard to breath and her skin began to itch. According to the local homeowners, the smell was a lot better during our visit than on hotter days.

The sign for the assisted living home is on the left, with the grouping of CAFOs right across the field.  If you zoom in, you’ll notice the trees on the right hand side partially hiding the length of the CAFO.

cafo2

This is the Google Maps image of the area we drove through. While the map is outdated, lacking CAFOs that have since popped up in the area, you can see the size and scale of these structures (the long, grey, rectangular buildings).

After assessing the view, and imagining what it would be like to live so close to an industrial-scale operation, we made our way to an assisted living community, located about 200 feet from a grouping of CAFOs.  According to local residents, the manure lagoons that accompany CAFOs are kept out of sight with trees and crops.

The trip was an eye-opener. I witnessed the CAFOs impact on close-by residents, including declining property values, passage of diseases through contaminated flies and pests, air pollution that can lead to asthma and bronchitis, and pollution of drinking water sources that can lead to liver, thyroid, and neurological problems. These are just a few of the community hazards facing residents.

We left more encouraged to continue our work.

Fair Farms Supports a Different Approach

We must support farmers who are doing things differently. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that we support small-scale farmers and family farms that not only grow sustainable food but also make great neighbors. We seek to support  farmers using savvy and resilient farming techniques and doing things like soaking up carbon in the air with healthy soil and ensuring clean waterways. These visionary farmers care not only about the health of the consumers who are eating their food, but the long-term health of our environment.

Right now, Somerset County is considering revising their planning on zoning ordinances for CAFOs.  Current setback restrictions require CAFOs to be at least 200 feet from the frontline property of a home and 75 feet from the rear line.  New proposals would double the setback restriction for CAFOs from 200 ft, to 400 ft. and add a few additional requirements, including a 1,000 ft. setback for the CAFOs ventilation fans, landscaping requirements, and public hearings for larger CAFOs.  The residents of Somerset County are vigorously pushing for more stringent setback requirements, but they need our help to elevate their concerns.

Over the next few months, Fair Farms will be closely watching the development of the new zoning ordinances for CAFOs in Somerset County.  Stay tuned for an opportunity to voice your opinion to the Somerset County Board of Commissioners.

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