Amity Township Supervisor Sleeps Through Turkey Farm Hearing

Photo credit: The inside view of a typical turkey production house, Soil Science, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Residents of Amity Township have been flocking to monthly conditional use hearings to raise issues surrounding a proposed turkey growing facility. But while residents share concerns about nuisance odors, out-of-control fly populations, and water quality issues that go along with having 20,000-plus turkeys in two large sheds, the supervisors don’t all seem to be listening.

In fact, supervisor Terry Jones appeared to be sleeping through most of the hearing that took place on April 27th.

According to a source who attended the meeting, Jones went up to someone holding a pro-turkey farm sign and said “I’m not supposed to have an opinion until this is all over, but that’s a really great sign.” 

I suppose if his mind is made up, there’s no point in staying awake to hear the other side’s argument. But that defeats the purpose of having a hearing. The decision whether or not to allow intensive agriculture on a piece of land should be based on a review of all presented facts, not preconceived notions.

This is especially important because the supervisors’ main responsibilities include “[securing] the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Township.” This concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) threatens just that.

According to a 2010 CDC report, fine particulate matter from CAFOs can lead to asthma, bronchitis, and other lung issues, especially in children. Fly populations dramatically increase around CAFOs, and can carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens to nearby houses. Manure can leech into groundwater, introducing antibiotics, pathogens, and nitrates into neighbors’ drinking supplies. And these combined issues cause property values near factory farms to plummet.

Of course, Jones’s history shows how seriously he takes the well-being of others in his community: in 2012, he was driving under the influence when he caused an accident that injured a young girl. Jones was sentenced to eight to six months in the county jail after he pleaded guilty to charges of driving under the influence and recklessly endangering others. According to the Mercury News, “The judge also ordered Jones to pay $81,078 in restitution…to cover medical costs associated with the crash.”

Barry Shirey’s turkey farm

The supervisors don’t seem to care much about the facility, so they’re not holding the farmer, Barry Shirey, accountable for his statements either. There have been a few instances where he misspoke or fudged the facts, which should be a red flag for how he’s going to run his operation.

For instance, Shirey is a contract farmer for a company called Plainville. Yet for the entirety of the first hearing meeting, he referred to it as Plainfield.

“He changed the name of the company holding his contract,” local resident Shelli Brooks told me an email. “After the meeting I confirmed with his attorney that it is Plainville, not Plainfield as Mr. Shirey testified.”

Not only that, but he “was caught out understating the number of birds that will be on his premises at any given time,” Brooks continued. He originally stated that there would be 3 flocks per year of 20,000 birds each. However, according to the Reading Eagle, he later said “there will be about seven weeks of overlap” with 32,000 birds on the property.

His dishonesty during the hearings suggests that once the operation is running, he’ll continue to fudge facts instead of properly maintaining his facilities. Which isn’t hard to do in this severely under-regulated industry.

Shirey isn’t completely to blame, however. The way livestock contract farming works, he doesn’t have control over much of anything — and he’s not getting paid enough to do things properly.

The farmer does all the work of purchasing the property, getting all the necessary paperwork approved, building the sheds, and raising the turkeys. But Plainville controls everything from what kind of sheds he builds to what birds he grows, how he feeds them, and when they get picked up for slaughter. Then, Plainville pays him for the meat.

“The contractors don’t get paid for moving manure, they get paid for [live birds],” Maria Payan, an activist with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, told me in an interview. “So this is all coming out of their cost to do it, and they’re not making money anyway, so you can find that rather than doing it properly, they put it on the closest fields so they don’t have to truck it further.”

What’s next?

The next scheduled hearing will take place this Thursday, May 26th at 6 p.m. in St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. There is also one scheduled for June 16th.

Once they’re finished, Brooks says the best case scenario is that the supervisors “place conditions on the use of the property that may prove to be cost prohibitive, so that the Shireys would decide that it would just be too much of a nuisance, and too costly for the way that they want to run their facility.” She continued:

“In other words, even though they’ve already approved the corpses [in the compost pile], they could maybe limit the weight of the corpses that could be composted. They could require them to install an air quality monitoring system and have it be monitored by an independent entity, and if it goes over a certain level of air pollution, maybe require them to shut down for a specific amount of time.”
Unfortunately, the way things have been going, it doesn’t seem like the supervisors will add any conditions for the CAFO. But hopefully, with enough pressure holding everyone involved accountable, they’ll start listening up and realize that’s a terrible idea.

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