#1 Never enough: Valley Oaks closes doors after harrassment, lawsuits abound by Cincinnatus 09.09.2019 20:34


[quote]Valley Oaks Steak Company had barely gotten the light switches figured out on their state-of-the-art meat processing facility when they succumbed to anti-ag activists last month. Following a year of harassment, threats and lawsuits they announced Aug. 19 they were ceasing business.

Ironically, the family-owned feedlot and meat processing plant, located 30 miles east of Kansas City, was designed as a sustainability, environmentally-conscious, socially-aware, locally-grown foodie’s dream. “We did everything ‘they’ wanted,” says manager Jake Huddleston, even installing an observation deck over the kill floor. The cutting-edge processing plant is owned by the Ward family, noted Angus cattle breeders and area real estate developers. It was built in 2016 alongside the largest covered feedlot in Missouri that has a capacity of 900 head. Cattle were fed, finished and then walked to harvest in a one-site, low-stress environment. The meat was sold off the farm.

“We checked off all the boxes – we did the research and found out what people want,” says Huddleston. “We identified sustainability standards, we were vertically integrated, we addressed where all our inputs came from, how much fuel we were keeping off the road and what our carbon footprint was. We checked off every environmental impact. And it still wasn’t enough.”

As Valley Oaks ramped up production from a “proof of concept” 12 head a day to a goal of 100 head per day, they grew to 100 employees and then sought to expand cattle operations. In February 2018 they requested permitting for an expansion from 900 head of cattle to 6,999 and sent out what Huddleston called a “neighbor letter” outlining their plans.

That’s when the imagined stink began.

“What followed was a barrage of false accusations that got legs and traveled quickly until they were quickly accepted as factual,” says Huddleston. “It became ludicrous.” Letters of condemnation totaled over 1,000 and explosive town meetings took place. “I was at one meeting where the opposition had to hold one guy back or he would have physically attacked me,” Huddleston says. Activists, neighbors and opponents of ag cited poor air quality, odor, water contamination, spread of disease, insects and negative quality of life among their fears.

As the public whipped themselves into a frenzy, four head of Valley Oaks cattle were shot during the night at point blank range. The Ward family had a house door smashed in, photos were taken of their children playing in their yard, and company supporters received phone calls that they would be “slaughtered.”

In June 2018 the Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued Valley Oaks their requested no-discharge permit which allowed the expansion. Opposing comments and lawsuits were filed, and in October 2018 the Missouri Clean Water Commission responded to an appeal of the decision and halted the expansion.

Leading the lawsuit was the 1,000-acre Powell Gardens, a botanical garden community four miles from Valley Oaks, in partnership with a variety of anti-agricultural groups and a deep arsenal of misinformation. Statements from opposition claimed they were certainly pro-farming, just “not here.” Signs posted read “No to Valley Oaks – Farms not Factories.”


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