Commission gives school farm project unanimous OK

The Hillsboro Planning Commission voted unanimously at its Jan. 29 meeting to recommend that the city council approve a special-use permit for USD 410 to develop a school farm on the elementary school campus.

The two-hour meeting was a follow-up to a 21?2-hour meeting Dec. 11. About 20 people attended the first meeting, several of whom live in neighborhoods near the school and were critical of the project.

Smell, noise, flies, animal security, safety and number of animals were among the concerns mentioned.

The first meeting ended with the commission tabling the issue until the Jan. 29 meeting. Thirty-five people signed the attendance record.

Most of the residents who spoke against the project at the first meeting returned to reiterate their concerns. But commission members also heard from around 27 participants who expressed support for the project when Cynthia Fleming, commission chair, invited each person in attendance to express his or her position.

The issue will be on the city council agenda March 3, according City Admini?strator Larry Paine.

Addressing concerns

At the start of the meeting, HES Principal Evan Yoder addressed several of the concerns that had surfaced at the earlier session.

? The timeline for animals on campus.

?If we get approval from this group and the city council, we?d like to get chickens right away,? Yoder said. ?We have a chicken tractor built. We?d like to get chickens this spring yet.

?As far as the other animals, we would not get those until all the facilities are built and we have secure fencing, lighting and housing, so we feel confident kids can be around them and that they will be safe.?

Yoder said, ?The timeline could be a year from now, it could be five years from now, it could be long after I?m retired and gone. It will depend on whether we get funding for it.?

In response to a question, Yoder said no animals would be housed on campus during summer break.

?What we want to do is bring animals in the fall that are going to have babies, because kids love to see little babies and we want to show them that process,? he said.

?We want them to see that life cycle of farm animals that will take place during a school year.?

Yoder said lambs, goats and hogs reach market weight in about six months.

With the absence of animals in summer, Yoder said concern about flies should be alleviated.

?There are feed supplements that you can feed animals that flies cannot reproduce in the manure,? he said. ?They won?t be out there through most of the year.?

? Number of animals.

Yoder said the farm would be home to a maximum of two bucket calves, plus two gestating ewes, two gestating goats and a sow that would give birth during the year.

?These are small numbers,? Yoder said. ?They will not be in tight quarters?it?s not a feedlot. Part of the responsibility for kids is to keep that area clean. We want to be good neighbors, and we don?t want our schools to stink anymore than the neighbors want it to stink.

?Just because we have so few animals there, I?m confident it?s not going to happen.?

More about manure

Two professionals addressed the concern about animal manure.

Rickey Roberts, Marion County extension agent, said large farm animals, like cattle, can produce up to 10 pounds of manure per day, but 90 percent of it is water.

?In a month?s time you?re not even going to get a wheelbarrow full (of solid waste),? he said.

Sheep and goats produce about a third of that amount, and about 75 percent of it is water.

?Cleanup is not going to be difficult to accomplish,? Roberts said. ?We have much more manure hauled into town every year for our lawns and gardens than what these few animals will produce.?

The animal waste will be used to develop compost for plants growing in the greenhouse that will be part of the farm project.

?We want to work with the community, we want to get this program for the kids,? said Jana Dalke, who will oversee the compost project. ?No one wants a smell. They want a clean environment.?

When it comes to waste, Hillsboro veterinarian Jessica Winter said farm animals don?t have near the unpleasant impact that dogs and cats do.

?They are built in a way that they break it down completely and utilize it,? she said of farm animals. ?This manure we?re getting will degrade a lot faster than my human feces, or dog and cat feces because they?re not eating meat and they?re not eating protein.?

Others in opposition

Some participants voiced their opposition based on other issues.

Doug Wright, 201 S. Ken?nedy, said he was concerned about safety.

?Is everybody here going to sign a lease that if their kid gets stepped on and hurt, the school district will not be responsible?or the city?? he asked.

Jamie Peters, rural Lehigh, said her two children have been working around animals for years without injury.

?This program will not benefit my kids because they?re already getting it (at home on the farm),? Peters said. ?But I come to school and donate my time to help teach the kids who live in the city to learn where their food comes from. I think that?s something everyone should know.?

Some opposed the location of the project more than the project itself.

?I?m all for learning about animals, but put it a ways from town and bus the kids out there,? said David Goering, 202 S. Wilson.

David Faber, 101 S. Wil?son, spoke in favor of the project. He said the school district has been a responsible neighbor during the 15 years he?s lived adjacent to the campus.

?I can?t believe it would be any different now,? Faber said.

But some participants remained unconvinced.

Stephen Stafford, 404 E. Grand, said a school field trip to a turkey farm was enough for him to learn about the origins of his food.

?Why do we have to build a farm?? he asked. ?If we?re going to spend thousand of dollars, let?s use it to bus them (to a farm for a day).?

Karl Jost, 205 S. Kennedy, said he has become an activist against the project ?because I know what it will do to my community. I don?t say it?s not a good thing for children, but it has to be somewhere else than right here.?

Jost asked City Admini?strator Larry Paine how many negative responses it would take ?to stop this thing.?

Paine replied, ?There is no criteria for numbers. These (commission members) have to understand that there?s a groundswell against it or a groundswell for it. They get to choose.

?You can have people in a community who disagree, and that?s fine,? he added. ?That?s the nature of the democratic environment that we live in.?

Paine said the public has recourse if the school district doesn?t live up to the objectives listed on its permit application. Violations could result in the permit being pulled.

Next steps

The next step will be to bring the project before the city council at its March 3 meeting for a final decision.

If the permit is approved, ?we want to get chickens as quick as we can,? Yoder said. ?There?s only going to be a couple of months left in the (school) year, so we aren?t going to do much more than that.

?Then, we will meet with our committee to get our plan nailed down, and then we?ll start looking for people who?d want to help us get this thing built.?

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