Tyson Pushes Organic Farmer Off His Property

Tyson Pushes Organic The Barefoot Farmer Jeff Poppen Off His Property

Battling giant agribusinesses isn’t just confined to Washington. This year, the war is being fought in what used to be a pristine, quiet riparian woodland stretch in Macon County Tennessee. That’s where Tennessee’s oldest and largest organic farm has been duking it out with a Tyson food subsidiary.

Long Hungry Creek Farm is owned by Jeff Poppen, otherwise known as “The Barefoot Farmer” in his numerous PBS appearances. For more than a year Jeff fought a battle with his neighbors, who were seeking to build a Tyson chicken CAFO within a hundred yards of Jeff’s home and a large swath of his organic farm.

He lost.

The neighbors own more than 70 acres on which they could have built, but in a complete disregard for all human decency, they chose to build right on the border between the two properties and within a few hundred feet of Jeff’s home!

This, despite the fact that Tyson’s own regulations require that chicken houses not be built within 1,500 feet from a school, business, or public places.

In response to this argument, the Tyson subsidiary argued that Long Hungry Creek Farm is “not a business.”


Alan Powell, the CSA Manager for Long Hungry Creek Farm, reports:

Anyone with any sense of fairness recognizes that to build so close to Jeff when you own over 70 acres to place such an operation, is just not right, and almost comes across as vindictive. Cobb [the neighbor] has successfully changed the nuisance laws in Macon County to remove any simple recourse to prevent the encroachment and subsequent threat an operation like theirs poses to a chemical-free, biodynamic, decades-old established farm and business like Jeff’s. While the company continues to insist there is no threat of runoff or contamination from their chicken houses, that doesn’t make sense given the proximity and volume of chickens just up the hill from Long Hungry Creek Farm.

Sadly, the two new chicken houses that comprise the new CAFO house more than 37,500 birds!

Not only are these birds directly uphill from Jeff’s home and this section of his farm, they’re also upwind — meaning that all sprays, pesticides, ammonia smells, and chicken waste runoff will be coming right down the hill to Long Hungry Creek Farm.

The threat of this contamination and the loss of Jeff Poppin’s organic certification prompted Long Hungry Creek Farm to fight a year long battle against building these chicken houses so near their property’s boundaries.

As part of that effort, friends of the farm engaged in a lengthy letter writing campaign to Cobb-Vantress (the Tyson subsidiary) asking them to build their new facilities further back from the property line. Even an extra 1,000 ft. would have made a HUGE difference!

Alan Powell continues:

We know they spray insecticides and herbicides around the buildings, it is explicitly stated in the contract Jeff’s neighbor signed to become a farmer for the Tyson subsidiary….

We fought this and managed to hold off the operation for over a year, before the company found a loophole that exempted them from the permit that was previously preventing the chickens from being allowed on site. They often repeat in correspondence that they have been cooperative, and in fact did reorient the houses so that the vents blew away from the farm. I hold that reorienting the houses shows that something foul (no pun intended) comes out of these houses, even if just the smell, but potentially airborne chicken feces that contain antibiotic residues, ammonia, and if the practice is still in use, arsenic, which used to be standard in industrial chicken feed.

This waste is not merely assumed or expected. It’s already been experienced first hand by Jeff and his Long Hungry Creek Farm workers. Earlier last year, after a particularly heavy rain, they experienced a mudslide from the newly built chicken houses down the hill into their gardens.

Seeing the runoff prompted one witness to proclaim,

It doesn’t take much to imagine that this mud is an equally massive amount of drug-laced chicken shit sitting around in the rain while it is waiting to be picked up. Approximately 200 tons of waste from the CAFO is expected to be cleaned out two times a year, which is over 11,000 cubic feet in volume. Layered a foot deep, how many football fields is that?

Because of this, Jeff made a heart breaking decision to close down operations on this side of his farm, to move his family out of his home of nearly 40 years, and to relocate to the other side of his property.

“I can’t guarantee organic production here anymore,” Poppen said.

“Because of how close they built it, there will be no more gardens here, no more T.V. shows filmed here, no more church and school tours here and my family and I are moving,” Poppen posted on his Facebook page.

To see an aerial photo of the encroachment of the Tyson subsidiary (and just how shockingly near it is to Jeff’s farm), click here.

PLEASE NOTE: It has been misreported that Long Hungry Creek Farm is closing. Rather than closing, the farm is simply abandoning this part of its operations. It will still be open, and it is currently taking applications for membership in its 2013 CSA program. Nevertheless, the farm, and Jeff Poppen in particular, have taken a serious hit.

(photo by cornucopia.org)


  1. Michelle says

    I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that Tyson helped foot the legal bills for their farmer. What they’ve done is harassment and they’re intentionally attempting to put this man out of business.

    • says

      This story sickens me. Tyson may be a big name, but it won’t be found in my house any longer. What can we do to stop this? Tyson has the money and the power, but only as long as we keep buying their products! Thanks for posting this article and informing those of us who care.

  2. says

    ugh! it gets me so heated to read stories like this…i wish there were a way for all the folks who collectively believe in creating healthy food that is sustainable for the future of our land to get together and defeat these large aggro-business attempts to strong-arm farmers.

    • KristenM says

      You’re welcome.

      I just wish there was more we could do. For example, if Jeff Poppens can document pollution to his private property, won’t there be legal recourse then?

      Private property laws are pretty beefy.

      Maybe he could start a fund for the inevitable lawsuit, and we could all help raise money for it!

    • KristenM says

      No kidding. For all their good-sounding rhetoric about working with communities, they completely abandoned their own guidelines by refusing to budge on the location!

      A farm isn’t a business? What kind of logic is that?

  3. says

    I shared this post on Google+ and one of my friends said: “I used to live near the Tyson headquarters and I have known a lot of people that worked for them so this story doesn’t surprise me at all.”

  4. says

    wow, this is unbelievable. People never cease to amaze me. What happened to decency and common courtesy?! Karma will come back and bite some of these people back…as if needed another reason not ever buy chicken from Tyson….so disappointing. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

  5. Cynthia says

    I am proceeding from this site to the Tyson site, to send them a direct message that I will not buy their products. Perhaps if enough other people did the same it might get their attention. While it will be hard to guarantee that I never consume another morsel of Tyson-raised bird, I will do my utmost. Vote with your fork and let the bullies KNOW that’s what you’re doing.

    • Irene says

      I just did the same. I thanked them for inspiring me to raise a small flock for eggs (and eventually meat stock) and seeking out small farmers with meat birds that do not offend their neighbors.
      I wonder if the Occupy Monsanto people might take this one on?

  6. Faith says

    This the response I got:

    “Faith–This farm is not owned or operated by Tyson Foods, Inc., or any of our subsidiaries.

    The farm is contracted by one of our subsidiaries named Cobb-Vantress to produce breeding stock. Although this disagreement is essentially between two independent farmers, we believe you should have all the information regarding this matter.

    First of all, the family farmer in question is complying with state laws that regulate storm water drainage from the site of the chicken houses. Second, the farmer involved has already made concessions by changing his original plans for the location of the chicken houses, moving them farther away from Mr. Poppen’s property.

    Third, we believe the farmer is in compliance with housing setback standards required by Cobb-Vantress, which require that any poultry houses constructed to house birds be a minimum of 1500 feet from a licensed business or state certified/licensed school in a building that used solely for business or education. To our knowledge, Mr. Poppen does not operate a licensed or certified business or school.

    We are serious about our responsibility to operate with integrity. In fact, we have been working with other family farmers in the area who have already built and are operating chickens houses and they have received no complaints from their neighbors.

    We appreciate your concerns and want to assure you we intend to continue to work with our contract family farmers in a responsible way.”

    • KristenM says

      Yep. This is pretty much exactly what I wrote in my post.

      They made “concessions” of changing the side of the building that their ventilation system is on, making that farther away from Jeff’s home.

      They don’t consider Long Hungry Creek Farm a business, so feel they can build as close to the farm as they want.

      And, they’re hiding behind the he’s-a-contract-farmer-for-our-subsidiary card, as if that somehow removes them from all responsibility. The buck stops at Tyson — not Cob-Vantress, and not the contracted farmer who’s taken out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to build a Tyson-approved facility.

      (And just why did they feel compelled to build so close? They have 70 acres to work with! Would an extra 1,000 ft really have killed them or driven up building costs that much?)

      • Faith says

        I could not agree more. I love the “serious about our responsibility to operate with integrity,” part, I almost addressed it in my reply, but decided it wasn’t worth it. It’s kind of funny that when I replied to them I was sitting at my farmers market waiting for the farmer I buy most of my meat from. Glad I know where my mine comes from.

    • Irene says

      I had a similar reply.
      I answered the email saying I don’t believe the chicken farmer is truly independent – he can’t sell to anyone.
      I also said saying Mr. Poppen is not a business might follow the letter of the law but not the spirit – and shows no integrity. When I buy produce directly off the farm, it never occured to me that it might be something other than a business transaction.
      It will also be legal for them to drop this grower’s contract the moment there is a spill and someone complains too loudly – leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. No, thanks!!

      • Irene says

        * whoops, I meant he can’t sell to just anyone.

        “Animal Factory” by David Kirby was an eye opening read. (There is a lot of info about chicken houses.) After reading it, I came to the conclusion that CAFOs do not efficiently produce more protein to feed the world since the manure runoff kills off (or contaminates) so much edible protein from the waters.

    • says

      Interesting that they contradicted themselves in the first 2 sentences:
      “Faith–This farm is not owned or operated by Tyson Foods, Inc., OR ANY OF OUR SUBSIDIARIES”.

      The farm is contracted BY ONE OF OUR SUBSIDIARIES named Cobb-Vantress to produce breeding stock.

      What is the difference between “owned” “operated” or “contracted by”?? Does it not all lead to the same thing?? Tyson CAFO chicken farm up a hill and up-wind from a well-established organic farm! It doesn’t take a team of lawyers or an act of God to understand that the chicken people have ruined a portion of the Barefoot Farmer’s home and business and they owe him for his losses. When is this country going to take sustainable and organic farming serious??

  7. Faith says

    By the way, Tyson has a Facebook page. In case you want to leave a message.

    Problems like this are exactly why we need the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

  8. says

    I just sent an email to Tyson, through their website, telling them I will never have a Tyson product in my house again because of Jeff’s story. I don’t normally purchase their foods, but they don’t know that!

  9. Fran Patterson says

    I urge everyone to tell family, friends and neighbors to never again buy Tyson products!.. The pocketbook
    speaks the loudest…. Fran

  10. Barry Gwilt says

    As a person who has emigrated to the US from the UK with very little understanding of rules, reg, and laws here in the US, I am very very sad what I have learned about this country were big business dictates how your government works in there favour and how big business also dictates what goes into the food that you eat here, why have you all allowed these wealthy and power hungry people to totally control almost every aspected of your lives, I was lead to beleave as this was the land of the free, how disillusion I feel and how sad I feel for you and your country.

  11. Adriana says

    If I’m not mistaken Tyson operations prohibit production within a certain proximity of non-Tyson chicken operations to precent ” contamination” of their susceptible high density populations with diseases that free range chickens can hadle. What precludes the barefoot farmer from putting in some free range chickens on the property adjoining the CAFO’s property line?

    • KristenM says

      I don’t know!

      Maybe it won’t affect them if it’s after-the-fact. Or, maybe, they can use those regulations to force the Barefoot Farmer’s chickens away from the property line since his “claim” would be secondary.

      It’s a good question, though.

  12. Leah G says

    I live in the far SW corner of NC on the border of TN and GA. We are surrounded by Tyson farms. My husband and I farm our little 3 acres the good old organic way. Our laying hens and meat birds roam free all day. so do our turkeys and cows. our pigs are in a large pasture free to do as they like. no one eats soy or gmo. its funny the locals laugh at us. they think GMO is the greatest thing happening. they love the farm subsidies and govt money they receive when they cooperate with these BIG AG companies. Its really sad they cant put the circle together. Their uptick in illness is due to all the gmo food and BIG AG farming they are doing. Too bad the masses cant see this. My own family refuses to see it and yet I keep my MS basically cured through diet.

  13. Michelle Yost says

    I have had a ball leaving comments on Tyson’s facebook pages to educate its customers about this story, and about Tyson’s behavior in general. You should do the same!
    No doubt they will delete and block me as soon as they notice, but so far so good! You can access their Facebook pages from here!

  14. Kate W says

    I’m thinking we should form some sort of organic farmers and supporters union. Maybe if we could get power in DC with lobbyists we could create some real pressure to stop this sort of corruption.

  15. Mary B says

    Word of mouth goes a long way. I’ll be taking the time to write to Tyson and let them know how I feel, that I will not purchase their products and will be encouraging everyone I know to do the same. I’ve been avoiding their meats for several years now anyway, but this certainly makes me even more determined to do so.

  16. Heather T says

    If you look at the reply Faith received from Tyson, they stated “The farm is contracted by one of our subsidiaries named Cobb-Vantress to produce breeding stock”, looking at this link shows Tyson bought 100% of Cobb’s stock from The Upjohn Company in 1994. http://www.cobb-vantress.com/aboutus/cobbhistory.aspx Tyson is just doing the typical corporate song and dance so they do not get egg on their good corporate image. One poster here stated she was in charge of purchasing for two schools and would no longer purchase Tyson products, that is great but overall only a grain of sand on the overall business beach. A better idea is to contact bigger audience and apply pressure from the masses, there is a group called Change.org that allows individuals to do just that. Start a petition and get huge response and drop that in the corporation’s lap, an e-mail here and there gets a canned response, 500,000+ signatures on a well written petition causes some discussion in the board room. The same tack can be used with the mega purchasers, if the big box stores feel that their customer base is concerned with the product they sell they may apply pressure on the supplier to change their business practice or lose their account.

  17. Shelley says

    Horrible what Tyson has done. Best way to deal with a satanic company like this is to NOT BUY THEIR PRODUCTS. They can’t exist without profits. We don’t need to eat chicken to be healthy. Those living near Jeff’s organic farm should purchase more from him and other farmers like him.

  18. says

    I gave up meat. I have been to Rogers, Ark. and thjought it one of the megachicken raising areas. it smells disgusting!
    Sorry for the barefoot farmer. What can one say? spreading the truth may help.

  19. Cathy says

    Interesting story, Kristen. The companies that contract for CAFOs always cite their latest and greatest technology and their farmers’ compliance with state permitting laws even when common sense tells us the facilities are endangering health. Here in the Arkansas Ozarks, a hog CAFO backed by Cargill was permitted in the Buffalo National Riveer watershed, in a geology known as karst, where sinkholes and cave-ins are not uncommon. Built to accommodate up to 6500 animals, it is the largest-scale facility of its kind to be permitted in Arkansas. Opposition groups joined forces and filed suit. The suit is pending, with the most recent ruling coming down a few weeks ago. The court found that the USDA failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act when it gave only the most cursory review of the impact of the facility on endangered species. The permit could survive after the review is done over, but in the meantime volunteers are doing water testing. There’s much more to the story, but anyway we all must encourage one another to keep up the good work.

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