In 2007, Orleton Farms, which is located in Madison County, submitted a permit application to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to start a large-scale dairy farm that would house 5,428 cows. Now a group that aims to protect Big Darby Creek wants Pleasant Township to join them and fight against the farm.
The proposed dairy is known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). To be considered a CAFO, a facility must first be defined as an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO.) AFO’s are agriculture operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. Their feed is brought to them rather than the animals grazing or seeking feed in pastures.
"I’m not against the concept of a large dairy farm in Ohio, but I am against where it will be placed," said Lori Wade, a trustee with the Darby Creek Association and a Pleasant Township resident.
The farm land drains into Bales ditch and Chenoweth ditch, which flow into Spring Fork, which then flows into Little Darby Creek.
Pleasant Township is one of the 10 jurisdictions in Franklin County involved in the Big Darby Accord. The plan of all jurisdictions involved is to preserve and protect Big Darby Creek and its tributaries.
"You don’t have to live in Madison County to oppose this," said Wade. "I live by the Big Darby and it’s amazing that this piece of sanctuary is so close to a huge metro area. It’s beautiful and I want to keep it that way."
Since hearing about CAFO’s from Darby Creek Matters, a group that has been fighting the Orleton Farm proposal for over a year, Wade has been going to different township meetings and spreading the word to residents about the possible threat to the Darby Watershed.
"One of the biggest things we are concerned about with this mega farm is waste run-offs," Wade said. "The amount of manure generated from these farms is just staggering."
According to Darby Creek Matters, such an operation can produce 287 tons of manure per day.
Dairy CAFO’s commonly use the waste from the confined cattle to fertilize crops. This process requires the application of tons of liquefied manure to area fields. To facilitate this procedure, the operation will use lagoons to store and treat the waste through bacterial action, prior to applying it to the land.
Darby Creek advocates are worried that the waste lagoons could become swamped with rain and flood into ditches that lead to the Darby.
"If it’s not protected really well, it could also get into underground aquifers," said Keith Goldhardt, chairman of the Pleasant Township Board of Trustees. Goldhardt is also on the Darby Accord Panel.
However, Thomas Menke, president of Menke Consulting noted that the Van Bakels’ (who own Orleton Farms) manure management plans address environmental concerns with modern technology.
When the dairy was first proposed, he stated that no raw manure would be stored on the farm or applied as fertilizer to land. Instead, the manure will be cleaned from the dairy barns three times per day via sealed tanks; a concentrated natural liquid fertilizer for crops will be made into the soil to conserve fertilizer value and avoid odors. The largest portion of the processing volume will involve wastewater, which will be treated in a pond lined with material of low permeability.
"This no-odor, low nutrient content water will be irrigated on growing crops to capture the value of the water," Menke noted. "A key difference between this system and community systems are that this system will not discharge to streams."
Goldhardt said since he has not seen the new technology, he cannot address the new manure management plans. As he sees it right now, he still does not believe the agriculture departments should allow this CAFO proposal to go through so close to Darby Creek.
"I’ve seen some of the latest technologies for these farms, and I still think it’s a bad idea," he said.
Goldhardt added that until he knows it is a 100 percent safe operation, he is going to do his best to protect Pleasant Township and the Darby.