BERLIN — A Berlin farm family embroiled in a legal battle with an environmental group over alleged pollution violations got the support of some agricultural heavyweights, including its co-defendant last week with the launch of a website and associated fund raising effort.
The Maryland Farm Bureau, the Wicomico County Young Farmers and Ranchers and Perdue last week announced the launch of SaveFarmFamilies.org, a website sponsored by the industry to help raise much-needed funds for the legal defense of a Berlin farm family involved in a protracted lawsuit with the New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance over alleged pollution violations.
The organization announced last Thursday the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) and the Worcester County and Wicomico County Farm Bureaus had joined the fray, adding more muscle to an already impressive list of supporters for the Hudsons.
The Waterkeeper Alliance, along with the Assateague Coastkeeper and the Assateague Coastal Trust, filed suit in U.S. District Court last March against Perdue and Hudson Farm, a contract Perdue factory farm operation of around 80,000 birds. The suit was filed when sampling in ditches that run adjacent to the property revealed high levels of harmful bacteria including fecal coliform and E. coli in concentrations that exceed state limits for recreational waters.
The Waterkeeper Alliance filed suit in federal court accusing the Hudson Farm of violating the Maryland Clean Water Act. The Assateague Coastkeeper and the Assateague Coastal Trust were later dismissed as plaintiffs in the case, leaving the Waterkeeper to forge ahead alone in the suit.
However, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) conducted its own investigation and determined the pile adjacent to the drainage ditches was actually biosolids, which the Hudson’s obtained from the town of Ocean City as part of a successful environmental program to recycle municipal waste for agricultural purposes. MDE determined no action was required other than to spread the biosolids on the farm’s crops.
Nonetheless, the Waterkeeper Alliance has pushed ahead with the suit, which now appears to be nearing the finish line. A settlement conference was held at the end of August, however, there has been no resolution of the case, which appears to be heading to trial. Last week, local and state agricultural agencies and Perdue, which is also listed as a defendant in the case, launched the website to help jumpstart a fundraising effort for Hudson Farm in its battle against the environmental group.
According to the website’s originators, the case has put a massive financial strain on the Hudson family and could force them to consider a settlement, or even bankruptcy, before any arguments are heard in court. The intent is to raise funds to allow Hudson Farm to continue its legal battle with the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has been called a test case for similar farms in the area and across the state.
“The Waterkeepers’ litigation is a job killer for Maryland,” said Lee Richardson, a member of the Wicomico County Young Farmers and Ranchers. “If this extremist group succeeds in forcing the Hudson family to settle or declare bankruptcy before arguments are heard in court, they’ll do it to other family farmers here and across the country.”
According to the Maryland Farm Bureau, the lawsuit marks a watershed moment for the agricultural community in Maryland.
“By pursuing this malicious lawsuit, this extremist group is sending a message to farmers that if you raise chickens, hogs or cattle and don’t do it their way, then the Waterkeeper Alliance is willing to use the courts to force you out of business,” said Val Connelly of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
To that end, the agricultural groups have launched the SaveFarmFamilies.org website to provide financial assistance for the Hudsons.
“The Hudsons can’t do it alone, they need help,” said Richardson. “This lawsuit is just the start and we need to send a loud and clear signal to these radical groups. Otherwise, there will be dire consequences for family farms across the state and around the country.”
The addition of DPI to list of organizations getting behind the Hudsons lends even more credence to the cause.
“It’s a known fact that the Waterkeepers are determined to end animal agriculture in this country and the Hudsons appear to be collateral damage in their larger efforts. We need to highlight their tactics and put them on notice that we won’t allow it to happen.”
In addition to raising money through the website, the Worcester County Farm Bureau is supporting a benefit dinner at Hooper’s Crab House in West Ocean City on October 1 in an effort to raise additional funds for the Hudson’s mounting legal bills.
“The farming community is a tight-knit group and well understand the magnitude of this litigation,” said Worcester County Farm Bureau Vice President Daniel Holland. “We will do everything it takes to make sure the Hudsons have the necessary resources to defend themselves against these out-of-town extremists.”