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Neighbors not in hog heaven

Neighbors with concerns about water contamination, odors and waste materials are fighting a proposed slaughter and meat-processing facility at a pig and chicken farm on the outskirts of Ashland.

Up to 40 pigs at a time live on the farm, and nearly 20,000 chickens — including those from other growers — could be killed and processed for their meat each year. Pork products, including sausages, would also be made on site.

The owners of Uproot Meats say they’ve worked to address concerns and want to provide locally made meat from free-range animals.

On Nov. 27, Jackson County Development Services tentatively approved a two-story meat-processing building and one-story chicken house on Uproot Meats’ 28-acre property above Siskiyou Boulevard southeast of Ashland.

The approval kicked off an appeals process that ends Monday.

Upset neighbors have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for the $250 appeal fee and to hire a lawyer. As of Wednesday evening, they had raised $2,388 toward a $3,250 goal.

Neighbor Denise Krause said initially she was interested in buying locally grown meat from Uproot Meats, which sells at local growers’ markets and through a community-supported agriculture subscription program.

But she grew concerned when she learned the pig and chicken farm was not far from her house and located on a steep, erosion-prone hillside that has not fully recovered from a wildfire that swept the wooded area a decade ago.

“Those would typically be placed in a place that would be flat and not right around a bunch of neighbors, and possibly even industrially zoned. But where this animal feeding operation and proposed slaughterhouse is located is actually on a steep hillside, right on the edge of town, with lots of surrounding neighbors — all downhill and downstream,” Krause said.

Neighbors said they are worried groundwater and their wells could be contaminated. In addition, a Talent Irrigation District canal runs along the downhill edge of the property.

Uproot Meats owners Krista Vegter and Sonia Consani, a former chef, said they looked for a hillside location when they relocated their pig farm from Bend a few years ago.

Free-range pigs that live on hills develop more muscle, improving the muscle-to-fat ratio and flavor of meat, Consani said.

The partners chose heritage breed pigs that have historically been raised on British hillsides, Vegter said.

Unlike pigs grown at large-scale agricultural operations, Uproot’s pigs roam the oak-studded hillside, napping, playing, digging and exploring.

Some are born on-site, while others come to the farm as piglets.

“They have a spoiled, happy existence starting from the moment they get here to the moment they are processed,” Vegter said. “We’re not a feedlot. They’re free-ranging.”

Hyiah Sirah, who lives just downhill from the pig farm and the irrigation canal, said Vegter and Consani have denuded the hillside with extensive excavation work and by having pigs that root through the soil. She said water flows off the farm property into the canal and also onto her pastures, where she raises goats and chickens.

“This is the type of thing that should be on flat land. It’s horrifying. It’s really, really horrifying,” Sirah said.

She said some neighbors have found pig bones and other body parts on their property.

John Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery, which is also downhill from the pig farm, submitted a letter to Jackson County planners expressing his concerns about a processing plant for animal products.

“We have operated Weisinger Family Winery at this location for over 30 years,” he wrote. “We have many people from all over the country that come to taste wines, sit outside and enjoy the fresh air and view. I cannot accept a processing plant that might produce objectionable smells, traffic, runoff or liabilities that would directly impact my business.”

Weisinger said runoff from Uproot Meats could infect his system and the TID irrigation canal water — which serves as a backup water supply for Ashland — with E. coli bacteria or other dangerous pathogens.

“A commercial processing plant is not appropriate for this location,” he wrote. “There are many commercial locations where this type of operation would be welcomed and appreciated.”

Vegter and Consani acknowledge they still have work to do regarding the state of their land.

They plan to work with the nonprofit organization Lomakatsi Restoration Project to improve the ground and woods of their property. They said they will also create more fenced areas so their pigs can be rotated around the property, reducing impacts to any single area.

In response to concerns about contamination of irrigation canal water, they’ve lined their fence with hay bales to stop run-off and capture sediment. The two have moved their pigs 100 feet back from their property line.

Vegter and Consani said they have begun selecting breeds of pigs that are less vocal. Their first winter on the property was unusually cold, causing distress and squealing among the pigs.

Neighbors contend the pigs were squealing because they were underfed and fighting each other.

Regarding fears about predators and scavengers being attracted to the area, Vegter said the pigs have now established the property as their territory and may actually serve as a deterrent against predators. She said she is sorry that, early on, a wild animal killed and dragged a pig, strewing bones off Uproot’s property.

As for odor, Vegter said they muck manure daily for compost. Processing of meat will all be done indoors.

But neighbor Debbie Hansen-Bernard said the location just isn’t right for what Vegter and Consani propose.

Hansen-Bernard said she spent years looking for the perfect place to raise her family, plant gardens and keep horses.

“And we finally found that piece of property. We did not buy it to have a slaughterhouse built above us,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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