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Citizens protest large dairy farm


Jay Kershner is joined by Bowling Green State University students Deana Swaney, 19, center, and Sara Eisenbaum, 20, at Range Line and Maplewood roads across from the nearly 700-cow operation in Wood County's Liberty Township.

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WESTON, Ohio - Emalee Kernisan was supposed to be in school yesterday, but the way her mother looks at it, she was learning plenty outside Wood County's only large dairy farm.

Emalee, 11, who attends Milton Elementary, and Marijane Pitman joined 20 local residents in a protest across from the nearly 700-cow operation in Liberty Township. The demonstrators wore dust masks and shouted slogans, claiming large dairy operations cause foul odors, water pollution, and fly infestations.

“I took her out a half-day,” Ms. Pitman said as she and her daughter stood in the blustery midday chill at Range Line and Maplewood roads. “I thought this was the most educational thing she could do.”

Emalee smiled as she carried a sign that read, “KEEP OHIO BEAUTIFUL.”

“I like the family farms, and I want space, not smells,” she said.

Ms. Pitman, a teacher in Findlay City Schools, took a half-day off work to help a citizens group press its case for a statewide halt to development of large dairy farms. “We want to see a moratorium until some studies can be done,” she said.

Ms. Pitman, who lives in nearby Milton Township, pointed to a trench that runs along Range Line in the front of the dairy farm's property. “This ditch runs right into Tontogany Creek, which runs directly into the Maumee River,” she said.

Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development LLC developed the Liberty Township farm, owned by brothers Walter and Hein Manders of the Netherlands. The operation opened in June, 2002.

Kimberly Badtke, a Vreba-Hoff employee, defended the farm's operations.

“There are pest management plans in place at the dairy,” she said. “Before construction, the farmer works consultants to put together a plan to look at water runoff. ... We realize the importance of having a good water supply on any dairy operation.”

Vreba-Hoff, which developed dairy farms near Hudson, Mich., and several other counties in northwest Ohio, said it is considering whether to buy 160 acres on Cygnet Road between State Rt. 235 and Township Road 43 in Wood County's Jackson Township.

“It's under consideration as a potential dairy site,” Ms. Badtke said. “I don't believe the land has been closed on.”

Area residents fear another dairy “megafarm” is on the way.

“It devalues our property,” said Matt Baumgardner, president of Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms. “I live a mile south of here, and there's mornings ... you can't stand to be in your house because of the smell.”

Besides environmental concerns, the demonstrators said they believe large dairy farms employ few workers while driving family operations out of business. As a car with Michigan plates pulled out of the dairy's driveway, the protesters waved signs and yelled at the men inside. The man driving the car waved at them, then drove off.

“That's the Wood County jobs going to waste,” said Norm Carpenter, who lives a half-mile northeast of the dairy. “I grew up on a dairy farm, but these are just too big. Too much manure, too much pollution.”

Wood County officials have said they can do little to stop larger dairy farms from setting up shop. County Administrator Andrew Kalmar has said the Liberty Township farm was not subject to the county's building inspection code because agricultural structures are exempt.

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