Opposition grows to factory farm near Coloma, WI

Farms yes, factory farms no!The local group organizing against the proposed 5,000 cow farm has a website, here, and online petition, here.

A group of citizens opposed to the controversial 5,000-cow factory farm (called the Richfield Dairy) gained significant strength over the July 4th weekend following efforts to share information and to draw attention to the proposed CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). Many families living within just a few miles were unaware of this proposed dairy until this grassroots effort began just a few weeks ago.

Many residents were caught off guard by the size and proximity of the CAFO since public notices were posted only in Adams County while most of the residential properties and affected lakes are located in Waushara and Marquette Counties. Residents like Bruce Van Schaak are wondering what the future holds. “I own a beautiful home in Coloma and I also have land less than 1,000 feet of the proposed ‘dairy farm’ where I intend to build my retirement home in 5 years. Why would I continue to have this dream if the water tables and air quality will degrade with this CAFO?” he said.

The grassroots effort has succeeding in attracting the attention of hundreds of residents, landowners and business people and is growing in support every day. The stories of families in close proximity to the dairy are heartbreaking. Generations of family farming are being threatened by the growth of these factory farms said Terry Tinkle, a resident of the Coloma area.

"Study after study has shown that small-scale grass-based dairy farms are the best way to go in terms of getting the highest return for farmers and a healthier product to consumers without compromising our quality of life here in Wisconsin," noted John E. Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders. "Yet, it has been the policy of the state, under the corrupting influence of the agribusiness lobby, to create regulatory loopholes and grant massive subsidies to just a handful of factory dairy farm operators. We can no longer afford this misguided rural development model being promoted by the Governor's Office."

A local and statewide outcry began when landowners next to the proposed site learned of the massive operation to be located on the corner of Cypress Avenue and 1st Drive, about one-half mile south of Highway 21, and three miles west of Coloma. Another property owned by the same corporation only 2 miles west of this location is bordered by Highway 21 on the north between 3rd and 4th Avenue. While this site has yet to go through the permit process, it is feared that this too will become yet another large factory farm. “We do know that they own this property and adjacent neighbors have been contacted about selling their farms,” said businessman Bob Clarke, a part time resident of Coloma who hopes to retire there.

The proposed location for the Richfield Dairy is in the Town of Richfield, Adams County, but is adjacent to the Town of Coloma, Waushara County. This area is near the very popular Ice Age Rock formation and landmark, known as "Ship Rock."

A corporation known as MilkSource hopes to bring about 5,000 cows to a small swath of acreage in the rich farmland of Adams County, a burgeoning practice known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs have proliferated over the last decade. In 1995, only 15 existed in Wisconsin; today, there are almost 160. Numerous CAFOs have been cited for illegal practices by several state governments.

A grass-roots organization of local and statewide citizens, along with the Wisconsin Trout Unlimited chapters beat back an attempt by Nestle and Perrier to establish a bottling operation in the Mecan Springs area in 2000, largely over the damage that would be done to the water supply and wildlife. The threat to local aquifers from the waste generated by 5,000 dairy cows poses an even greater danger to the water and the quality of life for Adams and Coloma-area residents, Clarke said, in addition to concerns over property values and economic impact.

In a brief filed before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Midwest Environmental Advocates said:  "The devastating impacts of poorly managed or improperly sited CAFOs are well recognized in Wisconsin. … This concern was recently stated by both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, who halted construction of a large dairy operation sited within one mile of a lake in their home districts, on the basis of water quality considerations."

MilkSource already owns and operates a number of other CAFOs in Wisconsin. According to the MilkSource website, its current sites include: Tidy View Dairy, 6,800 cows (Kaukauna, Outagamie County); Omro Dairy, 2,700 cows (Omro, Winnebago County); Rosendale Dairy, 8,000 cows (Pickett, Fond du Lac County); and Calf Source in Greenleaf (Brown County), with 7,500 calves. It is also moving forward with New Chester Dairy in Adams County, with 4,300 cows.