Friday, November 16, 2012

Educating the government about farming

The snohomish county health department has been an annoyance for most of a  year now. 
Kathy Pierson on the left.  Her supervisor on the right.

This all started because I hired a guy to do some work on my farm.  For a variety of reasons, he didn't work out, and when he left he took some of my tools and equipment with him.  I ended up having to sue him to get my stuff back.  He did return my stuff, by the way.     

While this was happening, he was busy complaining about me to various government agencies, and leading them on tours of my property during working hours.  It's bad enough that he wasn't doing the work he was supposed to be doing, he's actually actively trying to create problems for me.   He was complaining about me defaming him, too.   What's funny about that is that the legal folks asked him what, if anything I said about him was untrue? 

In any case, the snohomish health department has been on my case ever since.  Kathy Pierson has continued to send me notices and letters demanding that I do this or that, expanding her area of interest from her original complaint, "improper handling of solid waste" to anything else she can think of. 

Here's the final letter I sent her, which basically says "I'm tired of dealing with you.  Please write me a citation and I'll see you in court". 

October 17th, 2012

Kathy Pierson, RS
3020 Rucker Avenue, Suite 104
Everett, WA 98201-3900

CC:  Luke Conyac, Bobbie Lindemulder

Ms. Pierson
Regarding your letter dated Oct 17th. 

I have reviewed the video recording that we made of the entire site visit on July 24th, 2012, and while you do mention manure, the complaint that we were addressing was one about feeding fruits and vegetables to pigs, not manure handling.    

In this recording, you state that your concerns about the feeding was resolved, and that the complaint was closed as far as you were concerned.  While you do mention manure, there is no discussion at all or any agreement by any party about anything to do with manure.    

Every property that has animals on it has manure of one sort or another.   Is it now the policy of the Snohomish County Health District to regulate every farm in this county,  every horse owner, every goat owner, every chicken owner and to require manure management plans of some sort from each, no matter how small?  

If you believe that my operation is violating a law or rule, I would like you to cite the specific regulation or law, the location and nature of the violation, how you determined it was a violation and any proof that you have that shows that violation.  For each, I would like you to detail what you propose we do to come into compliance.   On receipt of that information I will take appropriate action. 

Let me be clear:  I intend to take no action of any sort related to my farm plan, as I am now concerned that whatever is done will not resolve whatever issues you are now trying to bring up.   I will not implement any change, nor will I make any comment or respond in any way until you make a complete list of any and all violations that you are concerned about; doing so would be counterproductive and probably won't resolve whatever new concerns you might have.      

At this point this enforcement action appears arbitrary and capricious and not based on any complaint received. 
The original complaint had to do with my dumping fruits and vegetables on the ground, and letting the pigs eat it.  I'd then throw down a layer of wood chips, and then feed another batch of vegetables on top of that.    The pigs mixed the materials up completely, and they'd compost pretty effectively.  Once I'd done that for a while. I'd plant a crop on it, or move the resulting topsoil into my greenhouse and use it there for planting. 

Pumpkins on the ground.   
The picture above is from a farm pretty close to mine.   There are vegetables lying all over the ground at this farm.  Some are rotting.  There are thousands of these.  Tens of thousands. 
Acres of pumpkins
 So the basic concern that she's coming to me with, at least originally, is that I'm putting fruits and vegetables on the ground.  Kathy, look at these pictures.  Would 50 tons of pumpkins on the ground be "improper handling of solid waste?"  Would it be that if I turned my pigs loose into this field and let them eat them?    How about if I went and got these pumpkins and brought them back and fed them to my pigs? 

They're perfectly good.  Just didn't sell for Halloween
 I'm sending a link to this post to Kathy, in the hopes that she'll understand that vegetables, in all sorts of different states -- fresh to rotten - are on the ground at farms every single day all over the country. 
Some have been split open to get at the seeds

Some have been disc'd into the soil.  These pumpkin shreds cover at least 10 acres. 
And just in case  you think this is limited to just pumpkins, look at the following pictures: 

"crop residue" left in the field after harvesting cabbages
Now this farm, the one in the pictures, is a conventional, modern farm.  They don't have any animals at all.  It used to be that the way you dealt with this, to get more value out of it, is to turn animals loose on it to eat as much as they could.  Cows, pigs, goats, sheep...  They'd return the material to the field in the form of manure, and you'd get some extra value out of it. 
leaves, stocks and the occasional cabbage head
 Modern farming doesn't involve animals in any way.  They leave this stuff in the field and then till it in, to compost there. 
cabbages that haven't been harvested yet
 There was a 10 acre corn field that wasn't harvested, either.  I don't understand why they didn't, but this sort of thing kills me.  I'd love to turn some hogs loose on that field, or some cows. 
good fodder.  Why waste it? 
Summary:  Kathy herself, and the entire Snohomish County Health department, has been acting like my feeding fruits and vegetables to pigs is unique, novel and ... illegal.    Have any of these guys been to a farm, or is their agricultural experience limited to the produce aisle and meat case? 



George said...

Bruce, I can't believe they are STILL after you over this, even after all your work pouring concrete pads...

Regarding the manure, here in Pennsylvania we are required to have a soil erosion, and manure management plan reviewed by Dept of Environmental Protection if we have ANY manure or animal that exists over a 5000sqft area, 1/8th of an acre. If you have 2 chickens in a 5000sqft yard, YEP the state has to be involved. If you have more than 2 AEU here, you have to hire a nutrient specialist to draw up the manure plan.. It's SOOO annoying. I understand the reasons as we are in the Chesapeake watershed, but sheesh. I feel your pain :)

Bruce King said...

There are all sorts of laws on the books that are basically ignored. What that means is that the departments, like the department of ecology, have very wide discretionary powers.

let me give you an example: There's a law on the books that says that it's illegal to discharge pollutants into the waters of the state. And that sounds fine, right? But the waters of the state have been defined as anywhere that could be deemed a wetland (they don't have to prove that its a wetland to charge you with this, you basically have to prove that it's NOT a wetland, which can be difficult and expensive) and any land that's in the flood plain of a river, which includes the area 150' above the high water mark, too.

So any farm you see in washington state (it's a state law) is undoubtably breaking this law. If you plant a seed, or allow an animal to graze, heck, if you go swimming in a local lake or river, you're breaking this law.

At this point it's not enforced vigorously, but they trot this out when they're trying to get you to do something -- and as written, it's a pretty credible threat.

If they enforced the laws as written I believe that we wouldn't have any farms left in washington state. Each agency has its own web of regulations that overlaps the other agencies. For stuff like land development, where the profits can be measured in tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, you can afford to pay the consultants a few million bucks to make these problems go away. But for a farmer with 50 or 100 acres, it's not the same dance. And when you talk about smallholdres, at 1-5 acres, it's not possible for most folks.

becky3086 said...

I love your letter to them. Good for you because I have a feeling they will just keep doing it if you let them.