A hog and poultry processing farm just south of Ashland can continue operations at least through mid-February, because it will take that long to decide whether neighbors opposing its operation will prevail in their appeal of the county’s approval of Uproots Meats’ facilities.
Most of more than a dozen people who spoke at an appeals hearing before the county hearings officer Monday in Medford testified against the farm above Weisinger Winery on Siskiyou Boulevard.
Appellant and neighbor Denise Krause, a retired professor of public health and epidemiology, claimed Uproot Meats is located in a terrible position uphill from neighboring farms and the Talent Irrigation District water canal, and has already damaged to the environment and neighboring farms. She formed the Don’t Uproot Ashland! Committee in opposition to the farm.
Several audience members at the appeal sported large, white “Don’t Uproot Ashland!” stickers.
“We all have a right to farm, but we don’t have a right to harm,” Krause said. “We don’t want to put someone out of business, but when what they’re trying to do hurts everyone around them, we have to do something about it.”
Jackson County Development Services tentatively approved the farm’s expansion application to a commercial facility Nov. 27.
Uproot Meats, 3152 Siskiyou Blvd., is on a steep hillside. The hillside weathered a fire in 2009 and is now vulnerable to erosion, Krause said. The hillside was also excavated to make room for a cannabis grow a few years back, which has since been abandoned.
Various farms, homes, waterways and wineries are downhill from the farm. Many neighbors are concerned that the farm is denuding the hillside, and waste and sewage from the pigs are polluting the land, their farms and water sources.
About 13 neighbors spoke at the appeal addressing issues that have cropped up over the last two years Uproot Meats has been in operation.
Some neighbors said the owners and employees have caused thousands of dollars in damage to their properties in a series of incidents, including, they said, disregard for a shared gate which is on private property and used by Uproot Meats and commercial trucks to get to the farm.
Hyiah Sirah owns the property with the easement and gate which Uproot Meats uses to access its farm. She said people have left the gate open and broken it numerous times, which caused her livestock and guardian dogs to escape and forced her to rotate her stock and milking times, which has caused her production to decrease by nearly half. She said two of her farm hands have left, and the Uproot Meats farmers have yet to offer compensation for damages.
“For two and a half years, my farm has been impacted,” Sirah said at the appeal. “Who wants to live next to this?”
Debbie Hansen, who has a farm below Uproot Meats, boards horses and is also a guest rancher to the nonprofit Riding Beyond, which provides equestrian care for breast cancer survivors. She said horses are sensitive to smell, especially that of death. After noticing the horses refused to use some of the trails on the northern end of her property, she found a dead pig near the property line. The other pigs were eating it, and it was left there for days, Hansen said.
Hansen said she’s already lost a customer and is afraid more will follow.
She said some neighbors have found pig bones, which allegedly is due to a predator dragging a pig off the property, according to Uproot co-owner Krista Vegter. Other neighbors complained of the pigs “screaming,” which they say is due to the animals not being fed enough.
Vegter claims Uproot Meats is in full compliance with all regulations and inspections.
“We’re not afraid to be held accountable for every step of the way,” Vegter said in her rebuttal. “I want to acknowledge all of these concerns. I hear you.”
Vegter said she and co-owner Sonia Consani hadn’t heard these complaints directly from their neighbors before the appeal.
“I put my phone number at the gate, and only one person has called,” Vegter said.
Adam Danforth, Ashland resident, said he is the founder of Butcher’s Manifesto and the Good Meat Project, and is a board director of Chef’s Collaborative, all organizations dedicated to building better food systems. He said he’s in favor of the farm because it is producing healthy and local meats where nobody else is.
“I don’t usually stand up for farms, because a lot of them don’t do what they say they do, but I have toured this site,” Danforth said. “There’s no local processing in Ashland like this one offers. If we want to eat local meat in Ashland, this is what we need.”
The farm can home to up to 40 pigs at a time and nearly 20,000 chickens. Vegter said chickens are slaughtered there, but the pigs are shipped off for slaughter. All the meat is processed on site.
Krause said the slaughterhouse was constructed “prematurely right above the TID canal” and that it will produce 107 tons of pig poop annually, which is more than the allowed 20 tons, and so the farm is out of regulation.
She said the farm does not have an appropriate permit for sewage operation nor an active building permit despite construction of the slaughterhouse, residential and chicken structures.
Other neighbors, all downhill and downwind, gave similar stories, some more concerned about pollution to the TID canal, which is used for irrigation and sometimes used to supplement Ashland’s drinking water. And some neighbors were more concerned about the treatment of the animals, although remarks on animal treatment technically can’t be considered for the appeal.
Annette McKenna, who moved to Talent about five months ago, said she’s in favor of the farm because she moved to the area with a goal of finding clean, local food.
Uproot Meats says its animals have free range on native oak woodland hillside and are fed a healthy diet without corn, soy GMOs or pesticides.
Vegter said the hillside is intentional because it is preferable for the heritage pigs they raise. It keeps them healthy, happy and their meat flavorful, she said.
Ashland resident Carol Voisin listed 13 conditions the Don’t Uproot Ashland! Committee would like added to the application, including assurances such as a traffic assessment conducted by the farm, plans to construct an improved road for its use and to provide monthly testing of the TID water quality to ensure it is not polluted by E. coli and similar bacteria.
The hearing officer, Roger Pearce, said the record will remain open for two weeks at the request of the appellant’s attorney. Two additional weeks after the record is closed will allow both the appellants and the applicants to respond to any additional information added to the record. A decision should be made by mid-February.