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My Turn: Dunbarton chicken operation won’t affect neighbors

Pete and Gerry’s Organics is a third-generation family farm operation. We embraced cage-free, pesticide-free and humane treatment of hens and production of organic eggs in the 1990s, as an alternative to commercial egg production, which typically involves hundreds of thousands of hens kept in cramped, inhumane conditions and corresponding waste and odor problems. We’ve developed a loyal customer base, people who believe in the healthy and organic way in which our hens are raised and the flavor and quality of the eggs they lay.

As our production needs have grown, we have tried to have our hens raised by small, independent farmers, trained and required to adhere to Pete and Gerry’s humane, certified organic and environmentally responsible hen care and egg production methods. Although this is more expensive than consolidated “factory-farm” production, it lets family farmers hang onto their land and livelihood. We create opportunities for small family farmers to produce eggs from humanely treated hens, in a long-term partnership, premised on strict standards of sustainability for the environment, the local community and the well-being of the animals.

Some misinformation and incorrect assumptions about Tom Giovagnoli’s proposed barn in Dunbarton have been circulated lately, asserting fears and conditions that are directly contrary to the environmentally responsible and exacting practices that Pete and Gerry’s has long followed.

That is unfair, wrong and an insult not only to Giovagnoli, but to our family business, Pete and Gerry’s, and everything we stand for. Let me straighten a few things out.

We welcome all opportunities to answer any questions about the proposed barn and would be glad to show anyone interested an exact, working example of the barn Giovagnoli is proposing to build. Only then can his neighbors truly assess how this project will affect their lives. We are confident that this farm will not affect their lives at all.

Strict standards

Giovagnoli is proposing to build a single poultry barn to house cage-free, certified organic laying hens. Under standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Commission on Small Family Farms, the hen barn he is proposing to build is comparable in size to a dairy farm of between 50 and 60 cows. New Hampshire folks should be familiar with dairy farms of this size; over the past 25 years, they have been disappearing from our landscape by the hundreds simply because they are too small.

The diet we feed to our hens and the environment we provide for them to live in is freer from chemicals, freer from heavy metals and freer from pesticides than any environment you or I will ever be fortunate enough to experience.

The barn will not generate waste water, so there will be no run-off to contaminate groundwater. There is no arsenic in the hens’ feed and therefore no arsenic in their waste. Dry waste from the hens is removed from the barn twice daily and stored in an enclosed area at the end of the barn.

To the extent that there is any odor, it is the odor of the hens and not of their waste. Ventilation fans remove warm air from the barn, and bring cool air inside. Any odor from the barn cannot be detected in an open field beyond 300 feet away from the barn. Giovagnoli’s barn will be more than 1,200 feet away from the nearest residential property, with a heavily-wooded area and swamp in between.

One truck will visit the farm once a week to pick up the eggs. Another truck will visit once every other week to deliver feed. Waste will be removed by truck from the contained storage in the barn three to five times a year and transported off-site for sale and use as a cropland fertilizer.

Rodent and fly populations will be tightly controlled and regulated in accordance with federal standards and mandated and strictly enforced under the terms of our contract with Giovagnoli, which, like our contracts with our other farmers, provides for periodic inspections by me or another representative of Pete and Gerry’s. The barn will be specifically designed to prevent the entry and proliferation of pests. We protect our hens.

Humane care

The barn will be somewhat larger than a barn that would house 50 to 60 dairy cows because our humane animal care standards require ample floor space for hens to move around, exercise and act like chickens. Were the same number of hens to be kept in commercial-farm “battery” cages, as are 92 percent of the 280 million egg-laying hens in this country, the barn would need to be less than 3,000 square feet in size, as opposed to the 24,000 square feet that Giovagnoli would construct and maintain. The barn will be constructed within the wooded area of his 87-acre farm and will be completely out of the sight of his neighbors.

Misinformed opponents should not be allowed to deny their neighbor and his family an opportunity to earn a living on their land and deny local contractors and their community an opportunity to benefit from a project of several hundred thousand dollars. As we seek to fulfill the mission of our company by pursuing partnerships with Giovagnoli and other small family farmers, we hope neighbors and the communities that surround these family farms will take the time to learn the practices, safeguards and benefits of our organic farms and be more supportive of local agriculture.

(Jesse Laflamme is CEO of Pete and Gerry’s Organics LLC, based in Monroe.)

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