Fifteen years ago, Maureen Holmes (not her real name) moved back to her "roots" and built a home on the family farm. For the first five years, she was exactly where she wanted to be—then her neighbor started grading his property and the road in preparation for two chicken houses.
"Nobody asked, nobody informed us," says Maureen. "In fact we got different stories as to what was actually being built there." The chicken houses were constructed before Maureen and her neighbors knew what they were. (Some of these structures are as big as a football field and can hold about 25,000 birds each.)
"I went out to work one morning and there were four or five buzzards perched on my neighbor's truck," says Maureen. "When the chicken houses are cleaned out, there are usually some dead ones. They must have some way of disposing of them but I think they were just leaving them on the ground—that would explain the buzzards."
Maureen called the county health department and Koch Foods (a large company that installs "state-of-the-art" poultry operations and provides the chickens.) "The county said we are in a farming community and there's nothing we can do," she says, "and Koch didn't say a whole lot." Not even after they were informed that buzzards were flying around, going after the dead chickens.
"I spoke with a lawyer and he told me that a [lawsuit] is possible if it interferes with our quality of life," says Maureen. "Depending upon when they are hauling and spreading chicken manure, we can't even stand outside and it is especially bad at night. I can't ever plan a cook-out.
"I was having a baby shower for my niece and I hadn't held any events for some time so I was really looking forward to it. I made a lot of preparations—decorations and food—and it took a lot of time. On the day of the event, I don't remember if they were hauling or spreading the manure but it was so bad that my friends got out of their cars and literally ran to my house. By the time they got inside, they were gagging and every time they opened the door, the stink would come wafting in. There was no getting away from it. No amount of air freshener will disguise it.
"My daughters, aged 12 and 10, are deeply affected. They want to play outside but on the first sunny, warm day this year they had to stay in; the dust was flying around and the air was thick. My daughter has asthma and allergies—although she didn't get asthma from this, it certainly aggravates her condition. Nobody can stand to be outside when they haul this manure, uncovered in the dump trucks, up and down the road."
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"Two years ago, my neighbor, who lived between me and the chicken houses, couldn't stand it any longer and sold his house for a fraction of what is was worth," says Maureen. "As a single mother with two kids, I was really happy and proud to have a home that was mine. But now I would like to sell it. My concern is that I can't sell for what it is worth because of all these chicken houses. It took me a long time to get a home; I have worked all my life and I still have a mortgage.
"I am a peaceable person and I don't want to cause commotion; I realize the houses that are built are done; I just want to stop more houses from being built."