Summer vacations are usually fun and entertaining. Recently an area family went to Southeast Iowa on an educational and fact-finding vacation. The focus of the trip was to find out the facts about the operation of a factory farm, housing 5 million chickens, owned by Fremont Farms of Iowa. This trip was to see what the future may hold for Neosho, Crowder College, Southwest Missouri and the surrounding region. The egg factory visited is near Malcom, Iowa and uses the same technology that MOARK/Land O’Lakes is proposing to use to build and operate their facility south of Neosho near Crowder College. MOARK/Land O’Lakes have repeatedly claimed the new technology, using battery cages and blowing air on the manure, will be low on odor and flies. This “new technology” was in use 20 years ago in Europe and is not new. In fact the European Union will ban these types of battery cages completely by 2012. In Europe, MacDonald’s, which uses further processed eggs, is going completely cage-free. However, in the United Stats 95 percent of eggs come from chickens that are caged. The family's report follows.
Fremont Farms started in Fremont, Iowa, population 600, and now has 900,000 chickens on a farm there. The company was unable to buy surrounding land to expand due to the reluctance of the area landowners to sell any more to Fremont Farms. Fremont Farms, about 6 years ago, acquired 160 acres, near Malcom, Iowa, population 150, and now have 5 million chickens on site. The notes from this non-traditional vacation are presented here.
Even though Fremont Farms is supposed to use the latest technology when it comes to chicken houses, they still have the same problems.
Sarah Jones has a restaurant in Malcom, Iowa. Malcolm is located one to two miles from Fremont Farms, where both their chick operation and their egg operation is located. Sarah Jones says that, although Fremont Farms has said they have worked at cutting down the problems with flies and odor, the problems still exist. The flies aren't as bad as they were the first three years but they are still a problem. Sarah says at times her customers get out of their cars and the smell is so bad they get back in their cars and drive off.
We learned several of the local residents brought a lawsuit against Fremont Farms because of the flies and the odor. We were told that Fremont Farms, after dragging their feet and delaying the case for awhile, finally settled with the homeowners out of court. The details cannot be disclosed. We discovered that besides the homeowners in the lawsuit, Fremont Farms had purchased other properties nearby thus eliminating any more lawsuits.
Stephen Heck, the mayor of Malcom told us, when Fremont Farms first started building in this area, he joined in with many townspeople and neighboring farmers to try and stop them. We had lengthy discussions with Mr. Heck. He feels that Fremont Farms is very adept at hiding what he believes is actually going on in their facility. They sub out hauling the litter so that when there is a violation it doesn't come under the commercial code but under less stringent agricultural codes. Mr. Heck states that the wildlife population has decreased drastically in the area. He says the fly situation still exists, although at a lesser extent, but that the smell is still horrible and the truck traffic through their town has increased tenfold -- with little increased revenue to the town. He says that no local residents that he knows of are hired by Fremont Farms. Mr. Heck has put his home up for sale because he can no longer tolerate the flies and the smell. He is a 33 year military veteran who had retired to his hometownhich he is now leaving because he is tired of fighting.
Mr. and Mrs. Swanson owned a farm one-half mile north of the facility. They use their farm as a religious retreat for hundreds of people in the summer of each year. Mrs. Swanson said that when Fremont Farms started their operation, it made their life unbearable. The flies were so thick that the ceiling in her kitchen was black with flies. She was afraid that her guests would get a terrible disease from the flies. She said they do not believe in suing so they did not join the other homeowners in the lawsuit. Fremont Farms did come out and spray. But for three years now the situation has remained intolerable. Today, while at her farm, we noticed a large amount of flies. She said that she is trying to learn to live with the flies and the odor. This is a family farm and they feel that they could never sell. She said that last year, or year before last, Fremont Farms tried composting. The smell was so horrendous and the complaints were so numerous that they shut the operation down and have said that they willnot reopen it.
We were told by numerous people that Fremont Farms hauls and spreads litter all year-round (even though it is thought to be understood that the Iowa DNR has mandated the litter is to be spread only after the fall harvest). They said this litter is at times not incorporated into the soil but left exposed to the elements.
Joe Fuller, the Fremont Farms plant manager, took Lee and Dawn on a tour of a new building. This particular Fremont Farms has approximately 5 million chickens and employs only 50 people. He showed them how the manure was stockpiled and how a 200,000 capacity chicken house was constructed. (We had the feeling that he expected us.) Mr. Fuller was forthcoming and said that they had lots of problems when the houses first opened but they worked diligently to try and solve them. He said the property values plummeted but he thought they were beginning to recover(6 years later). He shared with us that, in his opinion, he could not understand why any major chicken or egg producer would want to locate near a college (like Crowder) or a town the size of Neosho, Missouri (which we told him had an area population of over 40,000 excluding the college). He also said Fremont Farms had left Fremont because they needed to be closer to their grain sources. We later found this to be untrue.
We then traveled to Fremont, Iowa, which is located 50 miles South of the Malcom facility. They have approximately 900,000 chickens on 110 acres in these facilities. We talked to the manager (Lauren Balkema) and he stated that they were unable to obtain additional land which was the reason that they moved to the Malcom area. He said he had chosen this occupation and he couldn't understand why the local residents couldn't put up with some inconvenience. For example: flies, odor, litter being trucked through the town, feathers flying all over town, etc., as we were to learn later from some of the local residents. They told us that Fremont Farms moved to Malcom because no one around Fremont would sell them land because they were all against the expansion and hoped the whole operation would leave. Later in town, while sitting in the car, we saw that the air was filled with floating feathers.
Both plant managers prefaced that their viewpoints were biased toward the chickens. Mr. Balkema also stated, as did Mr. Fuller before him, that he could not understand why a major chicken operation would locate in an area where there was a college and a fair sized town. He said he got lots of calls and complaints from the people of Fremont and it is less than 150 people and their operation is two miles out of town.
The area where these chicken houses are located is in farming country. The litter is spread on the surrounding fields. The few streams they have are very muddy and no one ever swims in them. We did not speak to anyone who has had to drill a new well nor has anyone had their wells contaminated. We learned that in Iowa everything is a black clay that is impermeable to "contaminate" leaching to groundwater as compared to our SW Missouri Karst topography which is likened to Swiss cheese.
Like Dawn says, you can put a chicken in a golden cage and it will still stink and attract flies.
Thanks to the Van Otterloos of Joplin and the Bushnells of Neosho for their July 14, 2005 trip notes. We now have a clearer picture about what the future holds for Neosho, Crowder College and the region if Moark/Land O’Lakes expands to 3.9 million chickens as it has requested in the pending MDNR permit.