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Downwind, Downstream, and Downhill

November 2, 2011

By Karen Davis-Brown

©Long Hungry Creek Farm

Imagine that you live in a paradise. Long Hungry Creek Farm is located outside the town of Red Boiling Springs, in Macon County, in the hills of north central Tennessee. It is one of the oldest (established in 1974) and largest (250 acres) organic farms in the state, and is home to beautiful woodlands and unlogged forests, flower and perennial gardens interspersed with rock terraces and natural stone outcroppings. Long Hungry Creek, designated by the State of Tennessee as “exceptional waters” due to its “good water quality, important ecological values, valuable recreational uses, and outstanding scenery,” winds its way past bluffs and a cave, providing a natural riparian area for the farm. About 113 acres of rolling meadows and hay fields feed a herd of 50 cattle that in turn helps sustain soil fertility.

Part of what contributes to the natural beauty and fragility of Macon County, and much of Tennessee, is created by “Karst” terrain. As described by the United States Geological Survey (USGS):

Karst is a terrain with distinctive landforms and hydrology created from the dissolution of soluble rocks, principally limestone and dolomite. Karst terrain is characterized by springs, caves, sinkholes, and a unique hydrogeology that results in aquifers that are highly productive but extremely vulnerable to contamination. (See Tennessee Ground Water Monitoring and Management Drinking Water/Source Water Protection Groundwater 305b.)

Long Hungry Creek Farm lies atop a stretch of Karst terrain, which has created the beautiful rock formations and the cave where farmer Jeff Poppen stores produce to keep it cool and protected.

Children with chickens on the farm (©Mark Trela)

Imagine that you have spent almost 40 years supporting and contributing to the surrounding community where this paradise is located. The goal of the Long Hungry Creek Farm is to grow the highest quality farm products possible, while enjoyably developing an economically viable, aesthetically pleasing,and humus-rich farm which remains relatively independent regarding its own feed and fertilizer needs — and to help others do the same. Jeff and his staff have consistently striven for greater local outreach over the years, and have a tradition of giving away produce to neighbors in exchange for rhubarb pies and harvesting help. Long Hungry Creek Farm has become known as a place where the community gathers for work and fun.

Melons for CSA share (©Long Hungry Creek Farm)

The farm supplies a 150-member CSA (community supported agriculture) out of Nashville. CSA members are encouraged to bring their families to the farm for a picnic, to see the animals and gardens, for hiking, swimming, and camping, and to help with farm work. Long Hungry Creek Farm also provides produce to select Nashville restaurants.

As part of the educational aspect of Long Hungry Creek Farm, Jeff writes a weekly column for a local newspaper, produces an organic gardening program for a nearby PBS station, and will soon publish the sequel to his book, The Barefoot Farmer. Long Hungry Creek Farm hosts farm field days and conferences about holistic living (alternative healing, organic gardening, biodynamic agriculture, and more) as part of its social and financial contribution to the local community. Among these conferences is the annual Harvest Festival and Biodynamic Conference, which this year was attended by almost 200 people. In addition to the annual conference, Long Hungry Creek Farm is a regional and national center for biodynamic education throughout the year, including the hosting of multiple interns, and sponsoring classes and workshops taught by Jeff and other leaders and mentors of the biodynamic community.

Now, imagine that your neighbor has contracted with the subsidiary of a large corporation and is building a chicken Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) next to your shared property line. This CAFO is a breeding operation that will see 40,000 chickens go in and out every five months, and is only 500 feet upwind, upstream, and uphill from this fragile, pristine waterway and the farm that has been Jeff’s livelihood for almost 40 years. On one level, Cobb-Vantress, the wholly owned subsidiary of Tyson Foods with whom Jeff’s neighbor is contracting to build the facilities and to raise the chickens, understands the potential health and environmental hazards that such an operation will inevitably generate, and proposes to address them through extensive bio-security measures and a “closed system” for water. These measures include the elimination of household chicken flocks within one mile of the facility — and inspire more fear than confidence in the level of toxicity that the CAFO will generate. However, even their extreme and supposedly preventive measures, do not sufficiently address the 60 inches of annual rainfall and the interweaving of surface and ground earth and water of the Karst terrain below, as can be seen from a mudslide that destroyed part of the Long Hungry Creek Farm gardens after a recent rain.

Mud from CAFO site discharged downhill to farm

This massive amount of soil and gravel slid off the hill from the CAFO construction site onto Jeff’s land, and the results are shown at left. It doesn’t take much to imagine that this mud is an equally massive amount of drug-laced chicken shit sitting around in the rain while it is waiting to be picked up. Approximately 200 tons of waste from the CAFO is expected to be cleaned out two times a year, which is over 11,000 cubic feet in volume. (See “Storing Poultry Litter.”) Layered a foot deep, how many football fields is that?

What healthy alternative can possibly be pursued with the antibiotic-laden waste from such a vast amount of animals in such a small space, so that it will have no negative impact on air, water, or soil? How safe can a place be when people have to change clothes and take 5-minute showers when they enter and leave? How can they expect neighbors to believe, after decades observing the damage and disintegration of supposedly “closed systems” around the country, that their short-term measures will be sufficient against freezing, flooding, trees falling, or other acts of nature? How long could such a system protect future generations who live in the area? In fact, many other communities in Tennessee and around the country have paid a terrible environmental and social price when such CAFOS have been built where their residents live and work.

The negative impacts of just this one CAFO extend far beyond the here and now. When one does the math, these 40,000 breeder chickens will be shipped elsewhere to produce 75 laying hens each, which in turn will each produce approximately 200 broilers. That is 60 million broilers total, which are primarily for export. So, in the end, the meat goes overseas, the salaries to out-of-state laborers, the money to a multinational corporation based in Arkansas, and after 15 years or so the facility shuts down, leaving tons of toxic waste and a destroyed local social and economic structure.

Here is what Jeff and his neighbors are doing to stop this impending degradation of his business and their homes and land. Jeff, his neighbors, and many other local and regional supporters, have formed a not-for-profit group called The Friends of Long Hungry. This group has met monthly since January to track, discuss, and plan how to address Tyson’s plans for Macon County. At one point, their plan was for 12 facilities in the county; at this point, no existing farmers have submitted requests for new permits to the state for subsequent CAFOs, but the company is talking to local realtors and may be in the market to buy their own farms on which to establish these operations.

The Friends of Long Hungry are mounting a comprehensive public relations campaign to inform their neighbors about both the short and long-term negative impacts of the presence of CAFOs in rural communities, and the specific damage that this proposed operation has done, and will do, to the natural beauty, environmental quality,and economic base of both Long Hungry Creek Farm and the Red Boiling Springs community. A Nashville lawyer, among others, has offered the group pro bono legal services, and many other supporters from far and wide are gathering around the group’s work.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Donate to The Friends of Long Hungry. Friends of Long Hungry have set up a secure website for contributions through the Tennessee Clean Water Network. Your contributions will be used to support public outreach and informational efforts, and to cover potential legal costs:
  • Write a letter to Cobb-Vantress. Friends of Long Hungry have also begun a letter writing campaign to Cobb-Vantress. The address and other contact information for Cobb-Vantress (based in Arkansas),  as well as guidelines and a template for writing a letter, are on Jeff’s website:

Cobb-Vantress has recently notified Jeff that they do not consider Long Hungry Creek Farm to be a “business” and therefore do not have to follow their own guidelines requiring the building of such facilities at least 1,500 feet away from a school, business, or public place. So, in addition to the points in the letter template on the website, testimonials to having purchased merchandise, attended conferences, etc., and other personal experience about “doing business” with Jeff and Long Hungry Creek Farm are also needed at this time.

Both donations and letters from all parts of the country and world, are helpful and welcome.

It is imperative that we all understand that this type of co-opting of rural communities by large “agricultural” corporations with no commitment, investment, or connection to those who live in them will have serious and permanent repercussions for the nutritional, social, and cultural wellbeing of us all. Please do what you can to support these courageous colleagues.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Lori Viar permalink
    November 2, 2011 4:29 pm

    I wrote to Cobb-Vantress on behalf of Jeff and the farm. Their reply to me included their position that the farm is not a business and is therefore not entitled to the 1,500 ft distance from his farm. How obscene on their part to take advantage of this provision in their own guidelines to destroy his hard work. Even if it is not incorporated, they know it is a thriving business and think that we are stupid enough to believe that they have considered and are doing the right thing.

  2. scherryvalentine permalink
    November 2, 2011 10:05 pm

    I will do my part. Please keep us updated.

  3. November 3, 2011 1:42 pm

    Can Jeff incorporate? If they’re going by the position that the farm/CSA are not a ‘real’ business, this may help.

    • scherryvalentine permalink
      November 3, 2011 7:53 pm

      Or be a non-profit if you don’t like the sound of business…..? Would that work? Love to you all!!!!!

  4. David permalink
    December 19, 2011 9:58 am

    Following is an email text I sent to our good friends at Cobb Vantress:

    I am deeply concerned about your business model, which is to produce a cheap chicken while exploiting the grower and trashing the environment; costs that are not considered in your analysis, I’m sure.

    The fact that you are creating an unnatural environment wherein these birds have to be kept on life support because of the crowding and filth they live in will, I think, ultimately lead to a collapse of your stock that no amount of chemicals and antibiotics will fix.

    Further, the toxic, noxious effluvia from these facilities pollutes air, water and soil, and your firm should be made to pay for environmental cleanup, which should definitely be one of the expenses of your operation.

    There are a lot of people, such as Jeff Poppin and his many friends, who are mad as hell about your insensitivity and crass pursuit of profits at any cost to human health and the environment. When enough people start complaining to their elected reps, legislation will send you back into the hole from which you emerged. Nuisance lawsuits are not out of the question either.

    While I am sure you are convinced that you have rights and justifications for your current polluting activities, I think you will soon find that you will have to make considerable changes before you will be able to continue business as usual. The people rule in this country, and the people are not going to stand for having their lives ruined for the sake of your profits.


  1. The Barefoot Farmer | Downwind, Downstream, and Downhill
  2. Tyson Pushes Organic Farmer Off His Property | Food Renegade

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