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Keep ‘Em Makin’ Bacon: North Carolina Farmers Fight for Their Farms

By: Kristen Traugh, Growing America, with northcarolina.growingamerica. com

Statistics say that the average person is three generations removed from the farm. That fact is plainly evident in North Carolina right now.

HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, an operation that finishes hogs for Smithfield Foods, is the third farm to be taken to court and accused of being a nuisance due to the presence of the hogs. The two prior defendants’ farms have already lost their respective court cases. HD3 is busy taking proactive steps to educate the public, care for the environment, and, of course, produce safe pork.

Travis Brown is the Division Manager of the operation, and I spoke with him about these court cases. After graduating from North Carolina State University, he began working in poultry and then moved on to hogs. He, like many of us, didn’t know a lot about hog production, but he learned quickly. “I have a soft spot in my heart for those little twelve-pound weaned pigs,” he admits.

Because of biosecurity concerns, hog producers gained a reputation of being somewhat secretive, but Travis says, “that definitely wasn’t intentional.” The farm endeavors to properly steward the land and be a good neighbor by implementing Best Management Practices (BMP) among their farms. This includes using a vegetative bumper, like pine trees and hedgerows, to block lingering odors. Inside the actual hog houses, various techniques are used to minimize the smell. With hog farms, comes hog waste. Travis describes the process of collecting and distributing the waste as a science. The lagoon is sampled and analyzed with a soil sample. If the soil is saturated, they do not spread, knowing the soil won’t absorb the waste. Travis has a packed three-ring binder of instructions for this process as well as a Pumping Certification. Receiving this certification involves classroom instruction and passing a state test. He plans on working through the tiers of this certification process to receive his technician specialist license.

The irrigation systems used to spread the waste require surveillance every 120 minutes to ensure proper operation. The farm also has an Aerway implement, which directly inserts the waste into the soil of the hay fields. These methods minimize drift and odor.

Every year, the Department of Environmental Quality comes to study the hog farms’ paperwork and participate in on-site visits. Complaints against HD3 Farms of the Carolinas are extremely rare. “On the latest complaint”, Travis states, “The Department of Environmental Quality came to the farm, made an assessment, and the farm passed.”

Still, the situation of being in a court case is stressful for anyone. Farms are opened to public scrutiny and, sometimes, the public isn’t so kind. They sometimes take to the Internet to post poor reviews of a farm or commenting harshly on farm pictures. An out-of-state law firm is also involved in these cases. Neighbors who have not complained in twenty years suddenly became plaintiffs. Two of these neighbors moved away, and then returned to the area to live. Travis says he doesn’t have hard feelings though, even waving at and greeting a plaintiff in their case. “Dean, the owner of HD3, leads by example. He has a Christlike attitude and he’s not hateful or spiteful through this.” Travis says.

Travis and his wife have two young children. I asked if he thinks they will grow up to be farmers. “Absolutely! They love it! My little girl especially loves holding the baby chicks. My wife loves it too.” He says.

For this way of life to overcome public perception, changes should be made. “One of the biggest things we need is to raise awareness. My mother, who lives 180 miles away, did not know about these court cases. People need to know.” Travis says.

HD3 Farms of the Carolinas recently purchased a farm with the goal of creating an educational facility. The public would be able to attend and learn about hog production. The operation is also using social media to inform the public about their practices. Even a hashtag phrase can get a point across, like HD3’s #keepemmakinbacon.

Likewise, Travis also encourages education. “Don’t assume too much,” he says. “Ask a farmer about what they do. Two percent of people feed 100%. We care for these animals, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

In North Carolina, about 1 in 5 jobs relate to agriculture. The two previous hog operations taken to court have closed down. Farm employees aren’t the only ones affected. The jobs of nearly everyone, from hardware store owners to truck drivers, are at stake in these court cases. Negativity from consumers can have far-reaching effects. As Erik Wilson, of My Job Depends on AG, put it: “Never before in human history has a society actively sought to end its own food supply.”

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