Lisa Hill has lived out many farmers’ worst nightmare. She and her family once farmed sweet corn, radishes and other crops on the fertile land north of Orlando, Fla. Their operation included 1,000 acres and 200 employees.
In the early 1990s, tragedy struck when an environmental group accused the Hills and nine other farms of polluting nearby Lake Apopka.
“They said our phosphorus runoff was too much, so they wanted to shut us down,” recalls Hill, who shared her story in December 2015 at Top Producer’s Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) conference.
What followed was a grueling battle with lawyers and policymakers.
“None of us knew anything about eminent domain or how to negotiate,” Hill says. They hired a lawyer to help them through the process, which spanned 2½ years. In the end, the Hills sold their land because they knew it was a losing battle.
Instead of ending their farming careers, the Hills relocated and started Southern Hill Farms, a 40-acre commercial blueberry farm.
To ensure their operation has a bright future, Hill partnered with some of the same environmental groups that pushed her family’s operation out so many years ago. She works closely with her county commissioners and uses social media and a website to promote the farm. The family builds further goodwill by hosting blueberry pancake breakfasts and 5K races.
“You never know when your farm could be hit with something like this,” Hill says. “But we have gotten our word out now, and the community is embracing us.”
In Your Backyard. I know you empathize with the Hills. Yet don’t think the challenges she’s faced are simply a factor of farming 20 minutes from Disney World. A farm woman from Ohio described similar challenges at EWA. In her case, producers face pressure from roundabouts and $300,000 houses rather than environmental activists.
To be proactive, this Ohio producer and other farmers host an annual block party, inviting people in a 1-mile radius for a carry-in meal. During the dinner, neighbors can ask questions about farming.
Kyle Broshears, a young farmer from Seymour, Ind., followed a similar course this past year when he applied for a permit to construct a 4,000-head hog building. He and his wife, Leah, visited all of their neighbors to present a pamphlet about the project.
“I answered every question they had,” Kyle says.
Unfortunately, their due diligence has not been rewarded with the permit they need to continue. Yet the couple is optimistic.
Dealing with unsupportive neighbors can be more agonizing than weather or marketing challenges. Keep your head up. Find resources and news at agweb.com/agriculture-challenge. I wish you a prosperous 2016.