Runoff from chicken house closes organic farm - WSMV Channel 4

Runoff from chicken house closes organic farm

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One of Tennessee's oldest organic farms will shut down operations because of who moved in next door.

Jeff Poppen, also known as "The Barefoot Farmer" has been perfecting his formula for produce for decades.

But when a massive chicken grow house opened near his land, he decided it was time to go.

"The Barefoot Farmer" symbolized a return to honest farming run on principles of science, patience and purity.

The result? His produce had been considered so good that you can find it in some of Nashville's best restaurants.

"He spent so much time on this land," said Andy Whitaker. "This is the best soil in Tennessee, as far as I'm concerned."

Long Hungry Creek Farm sits on 7 acres along a creek in Macon County.

Poppen, its owner, earned a reputation nationally for a type of farming called biodynamics, which had Whitaker moving from Los Angeles this fall to learn more as an intern.

"We don't buy fertilizers, like maybe organic farmers," said Whitaker. "We like to maximize the potential and resources that are around us."

But problems surfaced when the owner of the land nearby struck a deal with Tyson Foods.

Now a large chicken grow house sits about 500 feet uphill from Poppen's pristine produce.

The runoff from the farm above has caused concern for Poppen.

Runoff trickles down the hill, bringing with it who knows what for the soil that took years to prepare.

"If anything else, it's just disheartening to know there's such a toxic environment over the hill, literally," said Whitaker.

Soon all the farm's production will move several miles away.

Already Poppen has planted garlic and spinach and tilled the land for new crops.

But it could take years to bring the new land up to these standards, a tough lesson for an intern learning farming beyond the basics.

"It's just going to take some time to bounce back from this, and it wasn't necessary," said Whitaker. "This is not something that had to happen here on the backyard of a farmer's land. They had their options."

"We're not going to stop making food because that's what you do when you farm. You come up with creative solutions and you overcome obstacles."

In a statement, Tyson told Channel 4 News the grow house it contracts with follows state laws on drainage.

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

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