Johanna Farms Flemington Stench Spreads to West Amwell
Fulper Farms Label and Reputation at Risk
According to recent news accounts, the Fulper Farm in West Amwell has big ambitions to diversify and market a “Fulper” line of products, recently expanding their dairy operation to include cheeses and yogurt marketed at local farmers markets:
In the meantime, the Fulper Farms label will appear on a new line of products that include Greek yogurt and regular yogurt, as well as soft cheeses such as mozzarella and ricotta — products that will go on sale at farmers markets and local restaurants starting next week. The goal is to one day get the products into supermarkets.
Robert Fulper’s daughter, Breanna, 24, is the mastermind behind the plan to create a Fulper line of products. The Cornell-educated farm girl has been experimenting with ways to keep the family business profitable since she was in high school, when she urged her family to begin offering farm tours and birthday parties.
But this is not your Ben & Jerry’s or Stonyfields operation.
Having attended Cornell myself (and married a Cornell Ag School grad), I’m sure Fulper’s Cornell trained daughter realizes that any “Fulper brand” – and the ability to conduct farm tours and birthday parties – would not benefit from a reputation for applying vile smelling industrial sludge on their farm that destroys the quality of life of their neighbors.
[Note: We’re sure he shares the same interests that Mr. Fulper himself noted last year:
The [odor] is something that he is attempting to be most conscious of and is also something that Johanna Foods is very concerned about because they have an image to protect; do not want to be a bad neighbor; and, are therefore taking some major steps in their lagoon process in order to have a better product. – end note]
The problem is, the Fulper Farm accepts, stores, and land applies industrial sludge produced by the wastewater treatment process at the Johanna Farms Flemington Plant. (I suspect he is paid to accept this industrial waste stream, making his farm a disposal operation, regardless of what DEP permits say.)
That Johanna plant has had notorious odor problems that have caused hundreds of complaints by neighbors.
Johanna has balked at solving the problem by installing a totally enclosed wastewater treatment system and DEP has failed to enforce state environmental laws and DEP permits. For that story, see this 3 year saga (a long stewing dispute that has finally been picked up and run on page one of the Hunterdon County Democrat):
- Flemington Stinks Again – DEP Still Does Nothing (2012)
- Stop the Stink in Flemington – Johanna Farms Plant Still Smells (2011)
- Johanna Farms Flemington Plant Upset Causing Huge Odor Problems (2010)
Those Johanna Flemington plant odor problems are now literally spreading to West Amwell.
For 17 years, I have lived in West Amwell, about a half mile as the crow flies from the Fulper Farm. I live even closer to fields that Fulper applies the Johanna sludge on.
Over those 17 years, with one exception (a case where Fulper’s spray operation was discharging liquid manure to a local Category One stream tributary), I have stayed out of local affairs.
[Note: oops, I foot this one: Get the Cows Out of the Stream).
I reluctantly have bitten my tongue over Fulper’s Johanna sludge odors, which seem to have gotten far worse over the last 3 years or so. But this week, the stench was just too much to stomach – literally a stench so vile it can make one puke. And it lingers for days.
Well, my patience is exhausted – the problem is getting much worse, not better. Johanna is not responsive, and DEP is not doing their job either. Fulper’s excuses are all exhausted, so he must permanently cease applying Johanna sludge.
I stopped by the Township’s Office to complain on Friday. I then went to Fulper’s Farm to talk with Mr. Fulper – he was in the field working and unable to talk. But I ran into him Friday night at the Hunterdon County 4H Fair and we spoke at length.
Let’s just say that, although Fulper acknowledge the odor problems, he denied having any adverse water quality impact on the C1 stream that runs behind his farm, instead he bragged about his Nutrient Management Plan. And he did not offer to address the odor and quality of life/nuisance problems that he admitting creating.
His wife tried to shut me down, and kids were deployed to remind me that dogs were not allowed in the animal area where we were speaking, so I needed to leave (I was at the 4H Fair with my leashed dog).
Fulper was arrogant and unapologetic. He basically said that I needed to just suffer for 3-4 days a couple of times a year. So, Game on Mr. Fulper !
And I’m not the only one – see the Minutes of the July 27, 2011 West Amwell Township Committee Meeting
OPEN TO THE PUBLIC/TOPIC NOT ON THE AGENDA
Joanne Speranza, 98 Rocktown-Lamb. Road, read a letter (copy attached) into the record concerning the continuing problem of the extremely noxious and vile odors arising from the delivery and/or distribution of food by-products provided by Johanna Farms to the Fulper farms for use as crop fertilizer. Also outlined were her efforts and contemplated next steps if the situation is not remediated. A brief exchange then took place between Ms. Speranza and RobFulper over problems experienced with the former’s pool since Memorial Day.
Rob Fulper came forward in response and noted that the family has been working with Johanna Foods on this by-product for quite a few years. He relayed that the biggest disadvantage of this product is the odor, a fact that has never been denied, but he has made efforts to mitigate the problem as well as to avoid weekend and holiday spreading. However, sometimes the odor comes back, especially if it rains. Mr. Fulper explained that what is spread is a by-product of food/juice processing which has been aerobically digested and turned into sludge in the lagoon. The sludge, which unfortunately has a negative connation, is made up of bacteria that have died; then separated off; squeezed; and, delivered to his farm. The remaining liquid in the lagoon is piped to the Raritan Water Authority and is crystal clear. Johanna has done this part of the operation very well but has struggled with the sludge side, especially if the bugs in the lagoon get upset and the product isn’t properly digested. Mr. Fulper acknowledged that they have had an issue with where the product is kept on their site and also if it sits too long in extremely hot weather it goes anaerobic, which results in an odor problem. Due to the terrible heat, they have stopped spreading for now. Mr. Fulper noted that with all the talk about renewable energy, recycling, etc., this food by-product is one of the best things that they have done for their soils and the crops show it. The product is a soil amendment/organic fertilizer; is organic matter; has some phosphorus; and, nitrogen. It replaces the necessity of buying synthetic fertilizers, which contain heavy metals. This product is controlled by DEP and undergoes rigorous testing and sampling, which is why he believes it to be safe, and one that is the right thing to do for the soils, although the odor has been a big challenge. The latter is something that he is attempting to be most conscious of and is also something that Johanna Foods is very concerned about because they have an image to protect; do not want to be a bad neighbor; and, are therefore taking some major steps in their lagoon process in order to have a better product. Mr.Fulper continued that there are lots of struggles and challenges encountered with keeping a farm in New Jersey but this product is a good thing—a fertilizer product that’s recycled; saves fertilizer cost; is available locally from the plant; is the greatest thing to put on the soil; and, an important part of their operation. He would like to try to keep working with the product; wants to be considerate of the neighbors; doesn’t want to have to come here; and, appreciates it when people call him directly as he is willing to work with them. As for the pool thing mentioned earlier, Mr. Fulper admitted that he doesn’t know enough about it although he finds it really hard to believe. If it were surface water running off from the fields, this would definitely be a problem but air borne is highly unlikely.
An extended exchange between members of the committee and Mr. Fulper ensued over items such as the amount spread, the nutrient management plan, the method of application, the composition of the product and how it is spread, the issue of smell, when/how it is stored and past practices that did not work well. Other items mentioned were that Johanna is reportedly in the process of major change or re-construction as efforts to work within the confines of their existing system are not solving the problem. Mr. Fulper also relayed that if the product is not distributed as fertilizer, it goes to an incinerator and burned which, in his opinion, is a waste. In addition, the Dept of Ag encourages the use of such products as they can be good for the farmer. The product is safe; it’s a food by-product; bio-degradable detergents are used when the machines are cleaned; and, everything is monitored as DEP takes frequent samples of both the liquid and the cake. It’s a very controlled product, otherwise he wouldn’t be interested in using it.
Attorney Faherty was requested to speak to the issue; relayed that this situation has directly affected him for many years; expressed a bit of disappointment with Johanna as his letters in 2008/09 requesting information never received a response or even a phone call acknowledging receipt of same; and, queried how the purported quality of life issue raised is balanced against the right to farm and a taxpayer’s right to live.
Ms. Speranza added that she has always commended Mr. Fulper on his farming ability/greenness; proceeded to present a copy of the permit with detailed application parameters; and, noted that while the product is giving something back to the earth, which is want DEP wants, they also publish an odor fact sheet that explains what is and is not acceptable. The latter shows that DEP is aware that some of these things can cause lack of quality of life and was put in place by the air pollution control act whereby complaints can be filed with them and ultimately sent to the Board of Health. She continued that the quality of life is definitely affected throughout the area; that while she understands that the product is good for the earth, she is not willing to sacrifice her quality of life for it; that during the summer months her backyard is her oasis; that this enjoyment is not limited to special events; it was not like this when she purchased her home several years ago; and, the odor is not a healthy one. She also questioned why it has taken until now for Mr. Fulper to become more involved in trying to rectify a problem that has brought people to their breaking point.
That Johanna has been working on the problem and thought it was under control was re-iterated by Mr. Fulper and noted that the microbiology issue is complicated. He believes that taking more moisture out of the cake would help but doesn’t know whether this would be feasible given the energy balancing act. Although this is a challenge, it is not his business in that Johanna Foods holds the permit and he works with them. His interaction with DEP is limited as is his interaction with the management of the Johanna facility. He knows what he has to do; where the product needs to go; and, that it needs to be spread quickly but weather impacts and dictates farming operations.
Mr. Molnar expressed appreciation to Ms. Speranza and Mr. Fulper for their attendance and information and hopes that there will be some word from Johanna Farms on the issue.