(This piece was originally published on June 15, 2018 by the Newton County Enterprise.)

A petition has recently been filed with the Newton County Plan Commission seeking a public hearing and reversal of the decision by Board of Zoning Appeals to approve a special exception use for Natural Prairie Farmland Holdings to construct an organic dairy farm.

Discussion of this filing and other issues will take place Thursday, June 21 at the Lake Village firehouse.

The Protect our Kankakee River Basin Steering Committee and the Hoosier Environmental Council are partnering to host a community meeting updating the public about recent developments regarding Natural Prairie Dairy’s plans to construct the organic dairy farm on land that used to be Beaver Lake.

According to a press release, the meeting will be focused on providing an update on the current status of the proposed factory farm (i.e., concentrated animal feeding operation or “CAFO”), including the recently filed challenge to the County’s zoning approval issued last year, and actions that can be taken to protect residents’ drinking water, property values, and one of the most sensitive ecological treasures in Indiana.

The informational meeting takes place from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lake Village Fire Station, 9728 N 300 W. Lake Village, IN, 46349.

Participants will hear from Kim Ferraro, the Hoosier Environmental Council’s senior staff attorney and director of agricultural policy. Ms. Ferraro has years of experience representing communities threatened by factory farms and has been retained by the Protect our Kankakee River Basin Steering Committee to lead the legal challenge against the proposed organic dairy.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Hoosier Environmental Council to protect Newton County’s health, environment, and quality of life,” says Jeanette Jaskula, member of Protect our Kankakee River Basin. The fight against this CAFO is just beginning. We are pleased to announce that a legal challenge is now underway. With the revocation of the IDEM permit, Natural Prairie Dairy’s process to build a CAFO is back at square one. We encourage all residents of Newton County to attend and learn more about the current status of the proposed CAFO, efforts underway to prevent it from being built, and actions we all can take to protect our drinking water, environment, and properties.”

“It’s important that the people of Newton County understand the truth about Natural Prairie’s ill-conceived plans, the status of the zoning challenge that is underway and what citizens can do to take action themselves,” said Ferraro. “We also look forward to talking with the community about their own rights under zoning, land use, and environmental laws related to CAFOs as well as solutions for protecting the health, natural environment, and quality of life for rural Hoosiers statewide.”

Natural Prairie Dairy was not aware of the legal challenge until asked to comment by the Newton County Enterprise.

After reviewing the legal documents, Natural Prairie Dairy insists that they will go above and beyond the scope of the law to be good neighbors.

“For over 50 years, this same land has been farmed with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, without any concern,” commented Will De Jong, the farm manager for Natural Prairie Dairy. “As certified organic dairy farmers, we do not use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and after listening to our neighbors, we decided to go above and beyond what the law requires and invest in revolutionary green technology that will convert manure into clean water. As certified organic farmers, we work everyday to protect the environment. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to call me (219) 401-0274 or visit www.OrganicFarm.land to learn more.”

“Simply put, the De Jongs are good people, great farmers and neighbors, who have a long track record of protecting the land and water”, said Charlie Stone, a De Jong family representative. “In addition, they offer high paying jobs for Newton County residents, with generous benefits, creating a huge economic boom for the region”.

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