Steve Shipton helped pull up several rows of chairs at the Collins Community Center last night. Shipton, along with many more community members, were there due to their concerns about a 2,480-head hog confinement being built in the area.
The chairs filled in with attendees, more trickling in every minute. Shipton laid out another row of chairs. And another. The crowd continued to file in until a third of the group sat off behind a wall, far away from the Story County Board of Supervisors. As more than 100 people arrived, many were left to stand along the walls.
When one speaker asked how many people supported the new confinement being planned by Kyle Mens, only five members of the crowd raised their hands. When he then asked how many were in opposition, the room filled with chatter as well over two-thirds of those present raised their hands.
One by one more concerned residents filed up to address their concerns with the project, ranging from personal health and the quality of the air and water to lowered property values and the smell which would drive them from being able to do anything outside.
Tracy Lengeling lives in the area and one of her biggest concerns is the fact that her four generations of family who have often gathered there to enjoy the countryside and spend time outside will no longer be able to.
“I’d like more information from him, be up here, stand up for yourself,” Lengeling said. “Come to the neighbors.”
That was another common thread that wove through many of the concerns; Mens had done little to reach out to the many residents who live within a two-mile radius of where he wants to site his new confinement.
The Story County Board of Supervisors took it upon themselves to send out notifications when they heard that Mens would be submitting a manure management plan to them. According to the board, their hands are tied with the control of the situation being deferred to the Department of Natural Resources in issues such as this.
“Story County goes above and beyond what we’re required to do, in my opinion. With this many animals, we’re not required to do anything as a county … With something contentious, we’ve traditionally held a forum for the public to comment,” board chairman Rick Sanders said.
Sanders went on to apologize to the Jasper County residents just over the county line that were not notified. He explained that he had informed and invited the members of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to the meetings, but none were in attendance.
Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and community members brought up the concern that this was not a “factory farm”, addressing a quote from Kyle Mens’ attorney Eldon McAfee in a newspaper article.
“The house that he’s living in right now, he’s not going to stay. He’s going to put a hired hand in there and he’s going to move back to his family,” said Jana Jones, area resident. “He’s not in it to make a life with his family on the farm, he’s in it for the money … Not one person here has a problem with a family farm. None of us do. It’s these big factory farms.”
Mike Mitchell, another neighbor, has worked around agriculture much of his life. He has even worked with large hog confinements like the one that Mens is proposing.
“I don’t have anything against the family farm … This is not, in my opinion, a family farm. I can look around here and see some families that have young kids … that are out there striving, trying to do this,” Mitchell said. “If Kyle wants to have 100 head of sows …. I support him. If he wants to go through all the blood sweat and tears of all that, I’d support him.”
Mitchell made the distinction that the scale of Mens’ operation took it outside the realm of family farm and into the area of profiteering with little personal involvement.
Aligned with the concerns over the scale of the operation were the potential clientele who Mens would manage swine for.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement put it forward the swine would be owned by Eichelberger Farms, an Iowa subsidiary of Triumph Foods.
“They are the pork powerhouse, the second biggest producer in the country,” ICCI organizer David Goodner said. “There’s nothing local about it, they’re going to import the corn and feed from surrounding states and they’re going to market their meat as an export to Southeast Asia.”
Evan Burger, another ICCI organizer, said the only thing staying in Story County would be the mess for the neighbors to deal with.
“The money is going to leave the state as well as the pork,” Burger said.
Four people did rise to speak partially on behalf of Mens’ cause.
Brothers Dave and Dan Struthers spoke out, saying as farmers they believed that Mens should be able to establish his confinement so long as it fell within the letter of the law. Both believed he held a right to take this opportunity to enter agriculture.
Dan Struthers said that after working much of his life around confinements, he felt the personal health concerns were overblown. He did however say he wouldn’t want a similar operation located next to him, so he could feel for those in the neighborhood.
Dave Struthers said the Eichelberger Farms that Mens would be raising swine for were family farmers as well, just on a much larger scale.
Public comment came to a close more than an hour and a half after it began, and the Board of Supervisors addressed the crowd on what options it might have going forward.
One of the Supervisors, Wayne Clinton, said, “The board clearly appreciates and understands how passionate you are about this issue … We will let the DNR know the sentiment of the group we have met with is overwhelmingly not in support.”
The board’s recommendations included writing to and calling the DNR, state legislators and the producers who would supply the swine to Mens, organizing to make their voices heard to each group.
Burger said those recommendations closely followed their strategy moving forward.
“People have a lot of appetite for talking to the supplier and the DNR right now,” Burger said. “We’ve been talking to the DNR through all of this and we’ll keep doing that … This is really a show of democracy in action. This is the grassroots.”