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Nearly 300 Concerned Residents Turn Out for Huber CAFO Emergency Meeting

Wow! On Wednesday evening, September 5, Jefferson County residents came out in force for the Emergency Meeting on the Huber CAFO. About 300 people packed into the Cambridge Room at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. We had to open the partitions to fit everyone in, and it was still standing room only.

The Emergency Meeting on the Bill Huber CAFO, called the Daniels Site, drew a wide range of concerned citizens including elected officials and candidates, and a few even traveled from Des Moines to attend. Jocelyn Engman opened the meeting sharing why she and her newly formed group, Pleasant Plain Friends for Rural Preservation, organized the meeting with JFAN even though she normally shies away from the spotlight.

“The reason that I am standing here talking about CAFOs is because I still care about farming, family heritage, and Iowa. I believe moment we started putting hog production in front of the health and safety of our neighbors is the moment we’ve lost sight of family, of our farming heritage, and of what it means to be Iowan,” Engman said.

The Huber CAFO is threatening her family farm operation, Pickle Creek, which she and her husband Tim have developed into a thriving business over the past 16 years.

“I am here to say we need to start respecting the rights of all rural Iowa peoples. I am here to ask Mr. Bill Huber and Agri-Way Partners to show compassion toward a fellow farmer and reconsider their decision to move in and build a huge 7947-hog confinement just down the road from my produce farm…. I am here to ask the Iowa State Legislature to stop championing hog production over people and to start standing up for the basic human rights of their constituents. I am here to ask every one of you to join me in speaking up and to plead with our neighbors, friends, and legislators to please, in Iowa, start putting people first.”

JFAN President and Executive Director Diane Rosenberg spoke about why the Huber CAFO poses a different kind of threat to Jefferson County. “Bill Huber doesn’t live in Jefferson County, he doesn’t have community ties or interests like contract growers who predominately own CAFOs here in Jefferson County. He will not likely be working in the CAFO….We’re dealing with a corporation that can just plunk down a CAFO wherever it can get the land and build…that may not necessarily care if a confinement is built close to Fairfield, Maharishi Vedic City, MUM or Cambridge Investment.”

She also addressed the role supervisors could play, pointing out that though their authority was limited, they were not powerless. “They have a voice and they can use it. They can speak up for constituent concerns. They can speak up for the value of scoring a Master Matrix using high standards worthy of an industrial operation that generates water and air pollution because CAFOs are industrial operations….They could be a voice for protecting Jefferson County residents.”

Special guest Senator David Johnson spoke on the legislative process and the Master Matrix. He said present laws favoring industrial agriculture will not change until many state legislators are replaced.

“I’m going to ask you two things tonight…when exactly are we going to put community before state, community before party? When are we going to think in terms of the community? That’s what’s stopping us from being able to live together, protect the environment and produce food for people.”

On the Master Matrix, Johnson said, “When it’s adopted by a county Board of Supervisors, the Master Matrix is a tool. But it’s not a tool if you don’t use it. There are ways that we built into that Matrix that give it a little bit of flexibility if the county supervisors will just recognize that and not say their hands are tied. Or that we don’t want to have 99 sets of rules across the state, which is so bogus. It’s time to put that argument away. It’s been around since 1995.”

As one of the 12 stakeholders that created the Master Matrix, Johnson also said he feels a personal responsibility to fix a broken system and that’s why he’s been traveling around the state for the past two and a half years addressing these issues.

Rosenberg then opened the comment period with some ground rules. “Everyone who wants to speak tonight can do so. We’re not going to end before everyone has a chance. If you have something to say that someone already said, go for it. These comments will all be sent to Huber.”

Dozens of people spoke within a three-minute time limit, offering a wide range of comments and asking questions of Johnson. After each group of four or five comments, Senator Johnson responded to all the questions occasionally joined in by Rosenberg. This went on for nearly three hours.

The first question asked if any of Jefferson County supervisors were present. Supervisor Dee Sandquist was out of town for the week for the birth of her new grandchild, but Supervisors Dick Reed and Lee Dimmitt did not attend.

Attendees were encouraged to write comments on postcards provided and over 115 postcards or previously prepared comments for Huber were collected. Petitions were circulated and approximately 270 signatures were collected.

An action sheet was provided and at several points Rosenberg encourage everyone to refer to the sheet and continue to take action once they leave. We've updated the Daniels Take Action page with those recommendations that you can read here.

At the end of the meeting, many people commented that they learned a lot about CAFOs, the legislative process and influences on it, such as Farm Bureau, which Johnson said rules the state legislature.

JFAN recorded the meeting. If you missed it, you can listen to it below:


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