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Published: Sunday, 8/8/2004

Country living can awaken one's sense of smell

BY JANET ROMAKER
AND JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

WAUSEON - A new brochure about Fulton County will carry a warning about country living: It stinks.

In other words, fresh country air sometimes smells like manure.

The planned brochure is to use more than words to make its point to people who are considering a move to the county. Many of the pamphlets are to include a scratch-and-sniff panel with a strong whiff of what designers say smells like cow manure.

The scratch-and-sniff sticker alone is expected to cost 20 cents per brochure, with a estimated bill of $1,200 for the 4,000 brochures. The costs are to be paid by public and private groups including the county Regional Planning Commission.

But organizers hope the novelty of scratch-and-sniff manure might lead to a better understanding of life in the country and help prevent what the brochure calls unwarranted complaints to public officials and frivolous lawsuits over farm activities, such as spreading manure, spraying pesticides, and stirring up dust.

"A lot of people who have moved out here did not realize that they don't have to live next door to a livestock producer to smell country air. You can smell it in town," said Kim Bowles, administrator of the county Soil and Water Conservation District that is to provide $500 toward printing the brochures.

The brochure is clearly aimed at protecting farms, whose annual sales in the county range from $75 million to $95 million, according to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service. It counts about 950 farms in Fulton County.

A draft of the brochure refers to "industrious farmers carefully applying manure to fields as well as pesticides and fertilizers" and working long hours to make the United States the "breadbasket of the world."

But some new homeowners do not think about such farm work when they move to the country, the draft brochure goes on to say.

"Ironically, it is those individuals who purchase their dream house in the country that are the most vocal advocates of preserving farmland, but the most likely to complain about a farmer's hours of operation, as well as pesticide, fertilizer, and manure application," it says.

Fulton County's planned brochure is modeled after a pamphlet produced last summer by western Michigan's Ottawa County, a growing area sandwiched between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan.

Some newcomers to Ottawa County had fretted about planes spraying blueberries and farmers working nearly round the clock in-season with loud equipment, said Mark Knudsen, director of the Ottawa County Planning Department. A few called law enforcement, asking that a farm be closed because they could smell its manure, he said.

"One of the eye-opening facts of this whole process has been the naivete of city dwellers," he said. "They believe it's going to be pristine and quiet and kind of Norman Rockwellian."

The Michigan county spent $5,000 to print 10,000 brochures - half was paid by the county and the other half was split by the Farm Bureau and the Cooperative Extension Service - and another $5,000 on county employees time to develop and distribute the pamphlets, Mr. Knudsen estimated.

Anecdotally, Mr. Knudsen said the county does not seem to have had as many complaints about agriculture since the brochures came out. Farmers love the pamphlets, said Mr. Knudsen, who said he had heard from only one person who complained that "We were making Ottawa County the manure capital of the world."

It was Mr. Knudsen who came up with the scratch-and-sniff idea for the brochures.

"Living in the MTV society we do, there's such a need for an attention grabber to get people to read anything," he said.

But producing a scratch-and-sniff manure odor that smelled like the real thing was difficult.

"It took us about a year to find a company that would actually take the project," he said. "They literally turned their nose up at us and said we want nothing to do with it."

Perhaps for good reason. Mr. Knudsen said the company that took the order evacuated its plant for the first time in its history during work on the manure scratch-and-sniff because the odor was so bad.

In Fulton County, Soil and Water Conservation District board member Bill Shininger pressed for a local brochure after officials saw the Michigan one.

The 42-year-old farmer who raises 1,300 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat in Fulton and Lenawee counties said he has never had complaints from neighbors and does not farm near subdivisions.

But he sees the brochure as a proactive step for agriculture in Fulton County where the population grew 9.3 percent between 1990 and 2000.

"I just hope that people are aware of some of the customary things that happen in the country," he said. "There seems to be somewhat of an exodus from the city this way."

It will take more than a scratch-and-sniff manure brochure to change that trend, however, said Larry Neuenschwander, a farmer and a real-estate agent with Joe Newlove Real Estate & Auctions in Wauseon.

He said he would hand out the brochure to clients with questions, but he doubted that it would discourage many from moving to rural areas.

Promoters of the brochure hope real-estate agents, banks, and mortgage companies will be the primary distributors of the brochures. Organizers are saving the pricey scratch-and-sniff stickers for those copies, which they hope will land in the hands of people considering a move to the country.

The first brochures, which are to be distributed at the Fulton County Fair next month, will not have the scratch-and-sniff panel, said Leitha Sackmann, a coordinator with the county's regional planning commission.

The planning commission is expected to put $200 toward printing the brochures and officials are asking Ohio State University, Fulton County Health Department, and Farm Bureau to contribute as well.

The draft brochure makes no mention of the size of farms, but Fulton County is in the midst of the rural counties where large dairy farms are being built.

To Norm Carpenter, a trustee of the Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms which opposes large livestock farms throughout the region, the taxpayer money allocated for Fulton County's brochures would have been better spent to put a moratorium on such farms.

Mr. Carpenter, traffic and safety director for the Wood County Highway Department who farms 300 acres, said he hoped that residents do not feel powerless in disputes with farmers after reading the brochure. One section urges readers to keep agriculture viable in Fulton County by refraining from "any actions that would discourage farmers from conducting standard farming practices on agriculturally zoned property."

"I realize what they're saying and yet there's a limit," he said, questioning how officials would define standard farming practices.

Contact Jane Schmucker at: jschmucker@theblade.com or 419-724-6102.



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