Neighbors Fight Highgate Egg Farm Expansion

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(Host) A Canadian company wants to more than double the size of its Franklin County egg farm. The Highgate farm already has 100,000 hens. The owner wants to build a new barn for another 135,000 birds. But a coalition of environmental and farm groups said on Wednesday that they will fight the proposal.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Fran Bessette lives nearby the Vermont Egg Farm in Highgate. Her family runs a dairy farm, and she says she’s used to the sites and smells of agriculture. But she says nothing prepared her family for the plague of flies that descended on her farm and barn after the egg farm started operation.

She says the flies that bred in the chicken manure infested her house, her barn and tormented her grandchildren. Bessette says it got so bad, she and her husband tried to sell the farm, but no one wanted it:

(Bessette) "In 1997¿ in June, I had two grandchildren six days apart. I had to go out and buy nets in my house to cover my grandchildren. And my children didn’t want to bring the grandchildren ¿ because of the health issue with flies. I covered my appliances. We went to bed at night with a fly swatter on each side and fans and we covered our heads. This is reality¿. We had gazillions of flies, crawling on everything. I have it on video."

(Dillon) Bessette was joined by other dairy farmers and a coalition of farm and environmental groups. They called on the state Agriculture Department to reject the egg farm expansion. The opponents describe the Highgate operation as a factory farm that’s not appropriate for Vermont. They said the eggs and the profits are shipped out of state, with only the chicken manure left behind. Guy Choinierre, who farms in Highgate Center, says he’s concerned that the state is heading down the wrong road in agriculture:

(Choinierre) "If we do not stop the first one, we will not stop the other factory farms that are waiting to come into Vermont."

(Dillon) Charles Storrow, the egg farm’s lawyer, acknowledges that the farm had a serious fly problem in 1997. He says flies are no longer an issue because the manure is now trucked away.

(Storrow) "So basically, yes, there was a problem at the very beginning of the operation of this farm. Vermont Egg Farms took vigorous steps to deal with that problem and we were successful in doing so."

(Dillon) Opponents of the egg farm expansion also argue that the state law that regulates these operations is too weak. Unlike the Act 250 land use law that regulates developments, the large farm law doesn’t give neighbors the right to participate during the review process. The coalition called on the legislature to strengthen the law.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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