Rural residents in Northern PA say fragile valley
no place to establish factory farms

Citizens and farmers organize to oppose factory hog farms
and to support sustainable hog production

By Greg Bowman, New Farm® editor

Beauty worth saving: An example of the porous rock in the Nippenose Valley's karst limestone terrain.

JERSEY SHORE, PA. Oct. 30, 2002 -- “We’re not about ‘suburban sprawl’ and we’re not against farming. We are local people who have lived here three to four generations. We just want to protect our water and our air.”

Dave Hallow of Jersey Shore (Lycoming County) doesn’t like the hard work of the Concerned Citizens of Nippenose Valley (CCVN) to be disrespected and distorted in media pieces on the simmering issue of factory farms in his community. The group has gathered a powerful body of evidence to document the subterranean fragility of their mountain-ringed valley, but proposals for the valley’s first two intensive hog feeding sites keep moving ahead.

Hallow serves on the CCNV board of directors.

CCNV is mounting a spirited defense of their home turf. Its members are attending local meetings of permitting bodies; investigating the dense connections between regulators, legislators and business proponents of Pennsylvania-style factory farms; and getting a crash-course in grassroots activism at the intersection of agriculture, environmental protection, economic planning and community values.

They are drawing on their own experiences, including those who have farmed themselves for many years, and their desire for the social and natural resource integrity of the valley. They are linking with other groups who have expertise in bringing accountability to industrial farming operations. They are finding what they are up against, and the many groups who are pursuing similar efforts against contract agriculture for similar reasons in other places.

CCNV sent a delegation to the Farm Aid concert near Pittsburgh in September. The group received excellent research presentations at public hearings from geological experts and professors from area colleges. CCVN is challenging actions by state officials in the permitting process, and watch-dogging every aspect of the process for the proposed two hog units.

At the heart of their determination to prevent the farms is the concentration of hog manure in the waste lagoons for the two finishing units. The volume would be equal to the waste from 20,000 humans, without requirement for any waste-treatment facilities.

Collecting 5 million gallons of hog waste turns the natural material from a beneficial fertility aid (when applied at proper times in the proper manner at the proper rate) into a much higher risk proposition. Floods, management errors and structural failure can lead to leakage of the waste from lagoons into surface and ground water.

The ecological impact of any leakage in the Nippenose Valley would be greatly magnified by the extremely porous underground limestone formations throughout the valley. The “karst” formations – unique in extent within North America – feature honeycombed and channeled bedrock by slightly acidic water passing through it.

Disappearing streams, sinkholes (one appeared last week), caves, springs and subterranean passageways that hold ground water characterize the area. The porous nature of carbonate rock allows many avenues for surface pollution to reach ground water in formations that may reach to other valleys.

Hallow reasons that if solid-waste landfills are not permitted in the valley, the pooled liquid wastes from hogs would reasonably not be permitted, either. Further concern comes from the air inversions that routinely fill the valley with fog. Trapped by the surrounding mountains that prevent wind from moving through, the fog doesn’t leave until it is burned off by sunshine. Hallow says confinement barn odors would be a serious problem in such an environment.

At its most recent meeting, the group’s steering committee agreed to explore how CCNV can meaningfully encourage family-farm scale, sustainable hog production. Hallow said their goal is the long-term production of cattle, hogs, dairy and poultry farms that promote rural economic development while guarding environmental integrity.

For details -- including stunning photographs of the area’s natural beauty -- check the group’s Web site at: http://sites.micro-link.net/limestone.