Neighbors who fought successfully to block a big new animal confinement in northeast Iowa are working to help their former adversary. The operator of the meatpacking plant in Postville had proposed to build a poultry confinement in Winneshiek County that would have housed nearly a quarter-million birds. Bob Watson with “Friends of Winneshiek” says though that plan was halted, his group’s looking for farmers to sell chickens to the plant. He says when they got into it, the group had more in mind than just defeating the plan. Part of their three-pronged attack was showing that farming can still work on a smaller scale than “industrial agriculture.” The DNR announced the poultry confinement scored badly on the state’s newly-created environmental “matrix,” and turned down the plan. That’s when “Friends of Winneshiek” set out to find small area farmers who could supply the slaughterhouse instead. He says they wanted to put the packer in touch with smaller-scale producers who wouldn’t have so much impact on the environment and neighborhood, producers already integrated into ongoing farming operations in a safe and healthy way, for both people and the environment. They’re going to co-ops and local Amish communities to set up talks with Agri-Processors, the Postville plant. He says the group feels responsible to carry out its claim that there’s a better way to produce animals for processing. He says they’d rather offer their help and knowledge of the process than leave Agri-Processors wondering, now they’ve been defeated in the DNR matrix, how they’re going to get the birds they need. Watson says the group hopes to show farmers can produce chickens at a scale that’s healthy, and that businesses like Agri-Processors can succeed in the region. He says the plant is giving the counter-proposal a fair chance. Even though the permit was denied, the applicant could still build a smaller facility “below the matrix” on that site. But instead, he says Agri-Processors will work with Friends of Winneshiek. Local farmers, including Amish producers, are already raising birds for different markets, but Watson says they’re willing to talk about supplying the Postville plant as well. The plant is operated by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group and is known for its production of kosher meats and Watson noted the Amish are also known for living in tightly-knit communities. If people can make money, he says, they’re willing to take a look at a proposal. He notes “It’s actually pretty funny, the Amish people, the community didn’t even know who Agri-Processors were.” He says it’s kind of fun to be involved in a venture that puts two “cultures within our culture” that may be mutually beneficial to both. He says it’s a long-term job to put them together but the northeast Iowa group is committed to helping find a solution that helps farmers as well as the local meat processing business.
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