This is part one of a four-part series. Find links to other installments at the end of this story.
Someday Kyle and Leah Broshears may be looked at as trailblazers in the fight to keep family livestock farms thriving in America. But right now, they're just staring down a growing pile of legal fees needed to keep their dream alive.
Kyle, 33, and Leah, 30, from Seymour, Ind., never asked for this. These young farmers were both raised with 4-H projects and FFA on livestock farms. They wanted to continue that legacy for their two young children, so they planned to put up a swine finishing barn in a remote location on Leah's family farm where they could give their kids chores, responsibilities, and other values farm families hold dear.
So, in August 2014 the Broshears began working with specialists at Indiana Farm Bureau to create a fact sheet about their project, to share with neighbors. They applied for a permit to build a 4,000-head swine finishing barn, which was unanimously approved last September. They received unanimous approval before the Board of Zoning Appeals in October.
So far, so good, right? What came next left their heads spinning. They opened their mail to find they were being sued. Not only the Broshears, but the county and every single individual on the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Kyle and Leah weren't sure what had gone wrong. To ensure transparency and assuage odor and water concerns, they had called or visited with every neighbor within a mile and a half of the projected site, passing out a pamphlet and listing all contact information for followup questions. The visits actually exceeded what is required by law.
"I didn't leave a single residence until I felt like I had calmed any concerns that they might have," says Kyle.
Opponents are heard >>
Not one person contacted the Broshears afterwards. Yet, at the meeting where Kyle and Leah made their case for the pig barn, opponents were loud, boisterous and emotional. That meeting lasted over six hours.
Greg Slipher, Indiana Farm Bureau livestock development specialist, says he wasn't surprised by the opponents who showed up for the meeting. He's seen more and more of them whenever a farmer wants to establish or expand a livestock farm.
"They often will look you in the eye in a one-on-one and say I have no problem, then show up at a public meeting and behave differently," he says. "The emotionally charged behavior in the public meetings mirrors mob mentality."
The lawsuit which followed is comprised of nearby neighbors, and a few who live several miles from the site. Five of those suing live less than a third of a mile away, but many more live from three-quarters to two miles away, and one lives 50 miles away in Indianapolis. That person owns nearby farm ground.
The suit may have been sparked after prompting from watchdog organizations such as Indiana CAFO Watch, which makes its presence known whenever a permit moves forward in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Barbara Cox, a prominent anti-CAFO activist, coached the litigants on what to say at the Broshears' Board of Zoning Appeals hearing, says Kyle.
The Broshears know many of the neighbors suing them. Many know their parents, or perhaps went to school with one of the Broshears.
Caving under pressure >>
Since the Broshears applied, their county commissioners, caving under pressure from opposition, increased the setback requirements; even so, their barn project still exceeds the increased setback distance by more than 100 feet.
In any case, the Broshears now find themselves in a fight they never wanted, and the outcome, no matter who wins the lawsuit, will no doubt have long-term neighborly repercussions.
"We couldn't believe that a group of people would be so against us raising pigs in a secluded part of Jackson County that is zoned for agriculture, that they would go as far as hiring attorneys to kill our project before it ever started," says Leah.
To raise funds to fight this legal battle, the Broshears are trying something unheard of in production agriculture. They have set up an online crowdfunding site to accept donations. Kyle believes the fight will cost as much as $100,000 before it's over.
If this approach works it could be a model for other farmers battling for the right to raise families on livestock operations. To hear the Broshears tell their story, watch the video here.
The Broshears never asked to be trailblazers. But they're in this fight now, and could use your help.
This is part one of a four-part series. See the other installments:
Defending animal agriculture: Saving the family farm (current entry)
Defending animal agriculture: Legal battle begins before building
Defending animal agriculture: Fighting back, legally
Defending animal agriculture: What can the ag community do to help?