After nearly four years, the legal battles of local family farmers Alan and Kristen Hudson are coming to a close. On behalf of Save Farm Families and Wicomico County Young Farmers and Ranchers, I am disappointed that Judge William M. Nickerson decided last month not to award legal fees to the Hudsons after he found that the radical Waterkeeper Alliance was unable to prove that pollution was coming from their poultry operation.
Wanting to see the Hudsons awarded legal fees wasn't so much about the money. Thanks to the generosity of supporters from across the country, Save Farm Families was able to cover the Hudsons' legal fees and save them from losing their farm. But we were hoping to see someone held accountable for the family's four years of suffering.
The Waterkeeper Alliance, Assateague Coastkeeper and the University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic continue to stand by a case that shouldn't have gone to trial. I read the judge's decision, and I was struck by this comment: "It was most unfortunate that so much time and so many resources were expanded on this action that accomplished so little." He also said that the Waterkeepers weren't interested in settling the case.
What's even more disturbing to those of us who farm is that both the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastkeeper have made it clear they plan to do this again. In a recent Facebook post, Kathy Phillips, executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Assateague Coastkeeper, promised there would be another lawsuit. The Waterkeeper Alliance, which has branches throughout the Chesapeake Bay area, has promised to continue its fight against "factory farms."
If the Hudson farm is the definition of "factory farm," then almost all of us who raise animals on our farms are at risk of a lawsuit.
With the trial behind us, this should be a time for cooperation. Responsible farmers want to be good environmental stewards. We know that raising food — like any other human activity — has an impact on the land, water and air. As we've learned more about that, we've adopted best management practices and accepted increasing regulations. As a result, agriculture has made environmental progress. Reasonable environmental groups recognize this. They understand that economically sustainable farms are important to protecting the Chesapeake Bay. True, we may not agree on everything, but we agree that we want to protect the environment and farming.
In a recent press statement, Ms. Phillips made the following comment on behalf of Assateague Coastal Trust: "Delmarva cannot sustain a growing poultry/corn/soybean industry without doing significant damage to our waterways." The truth is, we have fewer chickens, fewer farm acres and fewer farmers than we did a decade ago. And if the Waterkeeper Alliance and its affiliates have their way, there will be even fewer in the future.
Lee Richardson, WillardsCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun