A response to the Ohio Farm Bureau

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the Aug. 9 piece by Steven Berk, organization director at the Ohio Farm Bureau. I certainly appreciate his willingness to respond to us – the neighbors and former landowners of the proposed Surber/Matthews hog factory site. Until that letter was published, we had received zero substantial communication from the opposing side, and I am grateful to have an opportunity to respond.

With that said, the lack of research put into the letter is reflective of the overall lack of research put into John Surber and Duane Matthews’ decision to install 2,400 hogs about a quarter of a mile from my family home, where we have warned that frequent flooding will have consequences. Mr. Berk alleges that my family and neighbors do not “value or understand food production,” and that our relationship with food “starts and stops in the aisles of the local supermarket.” He scolds us, “farmland is not for your viewing pleasure.” And, he claims we feel “the fine men and women of Fayette County” are “bothering” us in “their quest to put food on our tables and earn a living.”

So I’d like to set the record straight for Mr. Berk. I hope this information will assist him when he sends similarly-crafted letters to “educate” pesky neighbors in Clinton, Madison, Delaware and Franklin counties, which he also represents.

My family proudly hails from the ranks of those fine men and women of Fayette County Mr. Berk so eloquently describes who put food on our tables. My paternal grandparents, whose farmland we sold to Mr. Matthews in good faith several years ago, were long-time Fayette County hog farmers. My maternal grandparents were also hog farmers. Both of my parents grew up baling hay and doing chores. My stepfather grew up on a farm with hogs, dairy cattle, and chickens. All were and are members of the Ohio Farm Bureau – for a very long time.

As for myself, I hold both an American and a State FFA degree. I was in 4-H from the age of 9 and in FFA from the time I was a freshman in high school, showing sheep, hogs, rabbits, and chickens. I was Miami Trace FFA president. I have participated in and won many FFA competitions – dairy foods, extemporaneous speaking, parliamentary procedure, etc. I worked on camp staff for two years at FFA Camp Muskingum when I attended Ohio State. I was the Ohio State Fair Queen. I worked on both the Fayette County and Ohio State junior fair boards.

I provide my extensive family agricultural resume to attempt to insulate against the all-too-common refrain from our opposition – “Do you eat bacon?” It seems that any time my family, neighbors, or I share a credible study from the CDC, or news articles from other parts of the country describing the desecration of someone’s quality of life due to a hog factory moving in next door, we automatically brace for that next inevitable question.

With these folks, the argument starts and stops there. They are unable to discuss the science or the ethics. They provide no tangible refute when you tell them that you are concerned about water contamination, air pollution, or decreasing property values, since you will be living a quarter of a mile from a 2,400 head hog factory. No, they believe that you the Bacon Martyr should alone, and happily, shoulder the costs.

And because Mr. Berk also accuses my family and neighbors of not understanding food production, I shall henceforth refer to this particular segment of our opposition that he represents as the “Do You Eat Bacons?” or “DYEBs.”

If a DYEB asks you if you eat bacon, and you say yes, they then feel entitled to lambaste you for your hypocrisy since you don’t want the factory, with all of its environmental hazards, in your backyard. So instead, how about we attempt to spread the suffering of the Bacon Martyrs equally among all bacon consumers?

I would therefore like to challenge the DYEBs of our community with this proposed scenario. The next time you go to the grocery store and purchase that package of bacon, there will be an additional set of conditions. Before you get your receipt, you’ll be sprayed with L’Eau de Porcine, a new fragrance that will allow you to the decision of whether to go out in public that day because the odor is so pungent. Also, as a condition of your solidarity with the Bacon Martyrs, whose homes often smell like a septic tank due to the fumes of 2,400 nearby hogs, you will need to keep your doors and windows closed at least one or two days a week during the summer months. You’ll need to donate to a clean water fund, which will help those in the immediate vicinity of the hog factory have their water supplies regularly tested. And finally, you’ll be required to put a percentage of your income into a special piggy bank – yes, that’s right – to help the Bacon Martyrs when they try to sell their homes and realize their property values have plummeted. But if I’m wrong, then the DYEBs get their money back. If the hog factory doesn’t affect the Bacon Martyrs, as the DYEBs so often proclaim, then why not put their money where their mouths are? What better way to equitably share in the joy of bacon consumption? And then no one can be accused of hypocrisy! Full disclosure: the smell of 2,400 hogs will still linger. Can’t get rid of that.

But let’s be honest. The majority of DYEBs, barring the one leasing his land to Mr. Surber and those supplying the hog factory with supplies and services, are not going to personally profit from this operation. So let’s not forget the “Those Who Will Profit’s” or “TWWPs.” These guys stand to make a lot of money from this operation, and are able to manipulate the DYEBs into doing their outreach work. Almost every TWWP is a DYEB, but relatively few DYEBs are TWWPs.

The TWWP protagonist in this saga, Mr. Surber, from Clinton County, recently stated at the recent Paint Township meeting that he will no longer be housing sows for farrowing purposes; instead, he will build a hog finishing facility. I suppose he made this statement as an attempt to sound more reasonable. Do not be fooled: 2,400 hogs is 2,400 hogs. This is a man whose usual business approach involves silence until he starts construction. He does not inform neighbors about his intentions. He would have done the same in our case had our keen-eyed neighbor not seen the survey stakes by the site. If Mr. Surber was doing everything above-board, why not alert and inform everyone from the start? Why not assure them, with proper legal documentation, that he will pay for any damage he causes to communal or private resources in the surrounding area? Let me tell you why: He knows he is harming us. And he doesn’t care.

A Clinton County resident recently sent us a letter. She lives half a mile from a Surber hog finishing facility – the exact operation that is now being proposed next door to my family home. She warns that our qualities of life will be altered due to the fumes. Some days, she says she wants to exercise but can’t because she doesn’t want the odor of 2,400 hogs to “permeate” her body for the day. Here’s what she says about Mr. Surber’s choice of locations: “Regardless of the fact he has enough acreage surrounding his home to build one of these ‘out houses’, he would rather not have the stench in his own back yard, but in that of others.”

A Bacon Martyr he is not.

Newton’s third law tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For those not looking at the long-term, besides those who see dollar signs in this deal, allow me to read that crystal ball for you.

People will start moving away. We have lived on Jones Road forever. But should we watch as our homes deteriorate and we can’t enjoy the outdoors any longer? No, we should not. I will repeat what I’ve said before, but this time with more urgency. We are good neighbors. We help one another. We will not, however, live out the rest of our days with a diminished quality of life, next to untrustworthy actors.

They have already torn down my grandfather’s old barn and silo – it seems our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If this facility goes in, I hope the people to whom we sell our family home are good neighbors like we consider ourselves to have been over the many years. Unfortunately, history shows that my family doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to selling land to loyal people.

I love Fayette County. Let there be no mistake. We are not against normal livestock farming. We are against factory farming that has the potential to do immeasurable and irreversible environmental damage to our homes and community. The difference between 2,400 hogs (what is proposed) and 2,500 hogs (the minimum number for state permitting to be required) is negligible; any reasonable person understands that. The real-world repercussions of these semantics, however, are not inconsequential.

To Mr. Berk and the Ohio Farm Bureau: I would not be spending this enormous amount of time and resources on our cause, while working a demanding, full-time job, if I wasn’t willing to fight for my family and my neighbors. I can thank my strong agricultural background for my work ethic, which I’m now calling upon in order to fight with everything I have to save my home.


Jill M. Craig