An open letter to Duane Matthews regarding mega-hog farm

Dear Dee,

I am writing to ask you to reconsider your decision to enter into a 30-year lease of the land next to my mother Daltonna Craig-Crawford and stepfather Jerry Crawford’s property for the purpose of a 2,400 head hog farm. Yes, I understand that the Ohio Department of Agriculture deems 2,400 animals in one concentrated area not to be a mega farm, per the letter of the law. Indeed, ODA rules dictate that 2,500 animals constitute a mega farm, or what they call a “permitted facility.” Excuse my ignorance, but there doesn’t seem to be a discernible difference between 2,400 and 2,500 animals, except for the desire of the owner to fly under the radar when it comes to the state permitting processes that evaluate air, water, and soil quality, among other factors. Because the distinction seems a bit disingenuous, I’m going to refer to this pending operation as a mega farm for the remainder of my letter.

We spoke Saturday on the telephone, when I called you from Kenya, where I currently live and work. You see, even though I am far away, this decision does affect me. My mom and Jerry currently live in my grandparents’ old house, where my grandparents raised their four children, one of whom was my father. My plan for some time has been to move into that family home eventually, once I finish my journalistic assignments here in Africa. To find some peace. You see, I don’t have much peace right now. As a journalist who has worked both in the United States and now, here in East Africa, I am regularly called to cover events like civil unrest, protests (which almost always involve teargas, water cannons, and the occasional rubber bullet), riots, and many other natural and man-made tragedies. I mention this not to elicit sympathy or frighten my mother, but to share something quite personal. That house on Jones Road, where I spent much of my childhood with my grandparents, is the only place in this world where I find total peace. Sitting on the back porch and watching fireflies in the summer, having a glass of lemonade and hearing only the sounds of crickets from the nearby creek is an experience I crave when I’m so far away.

But as you know, my family home hasn’t always been a symbol of peace for my family. I’m sure you remember that terrible day in June 1994 when my father’s Cessna-150 crashed into the cornfield behind our house. I was 13 years old. My brother was 11. My mother became a widow. That single event has brought my family and me tremendous pain, and it shaped much of the person I am today, for better and for worse. And although some in my position would want to move as far away from that painful place as possible, I feel differently. That tragedy, in addition to all the wonderful memories I have from the house, and the land, make it a deeply personal place for me. It’s not just a piece of real estate. Not just land. It’s my land. My family’s land. And for some time, my plan has been to move back there eventually and buy the house once Mom and Jerry decide it’s time to move on. Your recent decisions have put that plan in jeopardy.

And I know you think this mega farm won’t affect us. You told me that Saturday when we talked, and I certainly appreciate you taking the time to hear me out. You could have hung up on me. Instead, you spoke several times of your desire to create a “safe food supply for the world” as being your primary motivation for inviting this mega farm facility to be built on your property. An admirable goal, and I commend you for your forward thinking. However, please consider that the land near our creek, and thus, near the 20 acre proposed building location, is highly susceptible to flooding. Just ask, and we can provide you with photographs and documentation, but I know you’re already aware of the problems near the creek. Now please take a moment to imagine what will happen once manure (if not from all 2,400 hogs, even just a percentage) and rain water mix. It’s not going to be pretty.

And our property values will go down, no question. No one wants to live next to a mega farm. No one. Even those people whose jobs dictate they advocate the safety and benefits of factory farming tell me that if given the choice, no, they also would not want such an operation next door. We are no different.

I know you’re going to say that everything you’re doing is legal. Guess what? You’re right. You own that land and have the full rights that accompany land ownership. ODA doesn’t permit a facility until it involves 2,500 animals. ODA says that the giant warehouse-like buildings that will take the place of my grandfather’s old barn will be run well under the ownership of John Surber. That remains to be seen, but let’s hope they’re correct. However, there will still be road infrastructure damage due to the increased truck-traffic on our little one-lane road, there will be at least four to five employees working there – people who will have only a professional interest in our neighborhood – and there will be two enormous warehouse-like buildings to house these animals (I know because ODA provided me the estimated dimensions when I called to inquire), where before, there was just the small barn my grandfather built on the land he previously owned, and which my family sold you several years ago. I may have forgotten to mention this to you during our phone conversation, but we sold this land to you instead of someone else because my grandma Theresa Craig wanted to repay the loyalty she felt you had given my grandpa Harry over the years you worked for him.

But here’s the thing. You must understand that the deal you’ve made is going to fundamentally damage our close-knit neighborhood. You see, Dee, community is more than just following the letter of the law. It’s about helping other people. People you’ve known and lived near for many, many years. I remember when my mom helped your grandmother Dora after she fell on the ice one winter. Mom was driving by, saw Dora lying there lifelessly and made sure she received proper medical attention. I also remember your grandma always having big candy bags ready for my brother Kevin and me when we were kids – much too big for my mother’s liking, by the way, but perfect for us! We loved Dora.

I remember when Roger LeBeau used to stop by our house after my dad died, just to make sure my mom was okay and wasn’t just being too proud to ask for help. His wife Linda and daughter Amy were, and still are, readily available to provide my mom, and me for that matter, some much-needed laughs during stressful times. Dee, I remember last summer when your own son Jerad fell sick and Jerry took it upon himself to mow the lawns Jerad mowed as a summer side job – and he didn’t ask for a cent in return. I was home at the time, preparing to go to Kenya, and I remember my mom, a retired nurse, making calls to the doctors in Columbus to check in on your son and see if she could help translate some of the medical jargon for you. I also called the hospital, to find out if there were DVD players in the rooms, so that we might add some movies to the care package Mom was rushing around preparing for Jerad. Jerry went to visit him in the hospital.

I’m mentioning these stories because I believe that sometimes in this hectic world, it’s easy to only look at the bottom line. It’s easy to forget that we all depend on each other. I realize that in addition to your primary motivation of securing a “safe food supply for the world,” you also saw dollar signs in this deal. And I understand that too. We live in a capitalistic society. We all need money to survive. However, there has to be a compromise. We are your neighbors. We are the people who will help you when you are sick, or your children or grandchildren need assistance. I know this because that’s what those of us on Jones Road have done for one another for generations. And selfishly, I want to fulfill my dream of coming home from Africa someday and living out the rest of my days at my family home, filled with peace and tranquility.

I believe that our little neighborhood on Jones Road is very special and I don’t want that destroyed. I love my neighbors. I pledge to you that when I do move back home, I will continue this tradition of helping others, including you, your children, and your grandchildren, whenever it is needed. And I know you, and they, would do the same for me. I’ve traveled the world, and I can assure you that it is very rare to have neighbors help each other the way that we do, and not expect anything in return.

I am begging you to reconsider. Please do not allow a commercial farm to ruin our neighborhood. Mr. Surber isn’t going to be picking up the phone to help you in your times of need. He’s not going to be mowing your son’s lawns if your son falls ill. He’s not going to be invested in our little neighborhood like we are. He wants to make a profit. That’s it. Simple as that.

We want to talk with you to find a better solution. Maybe that solution involves myself or fellow neighbor Dan Drake buying the land (in my case, buying back the land) currently scheduled for the mega farm. Maybe that involves the mega farm being relocated to a place where the neighbors aren’t so close, the roads are better equipped for heavy truck traffic, and the low-lying land isn’t so susceptible to flooding. Maybe that just involves you having a change of heart and realizing that some things are simply more important than money. Please, just talk to us.

Dee, I want to come home. Please help me do that.


Jill M. Craig

Former and future Jones Road neighbor