LEWISTON, Minn. — The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) is extremely concerned that this week’s pronouncement by an Olmsted County District Court judge in a case filed by Daley Farms will have a chilling effect on citizen civic engagement in Winona County and beyond. Judge Kevin F. Mark declared that when the Winona County Board of Adjustment ruled against allowing Daley Farms to expand its dairy herd nearly four times beyond the county’s limit, the decision was “tainted” as a result of connections some board members had to the Land Stewardship Project and prior advocacy.
LSP members and staff care deeply about the future of Winona County, and for decades we have worked hard to use any legal, ethical means available to protect the land and communities here. Communicating with members of the community about the threats posed by an unprecedented expansion of the type Daley Farms is proposing is just solid, grassroots organizing, plain and simple.
In rural communities, people who are civically engaged through boards, committees, etc., are usually passionate about many issues, and are likely to be members of other groups that are part of the community, whether it be the Farm Bureau, the local historical society, or the Land Stewardship Project. Being engaged with other groups also helps us make more informed decisions on issues that impact the community. That’s not bias — that’s called community involvement. It’s the basis of what makes our local communities work. Daley Farms would have us believe that somehow this is wrong, not above-board, and that it destroys individual integrity.
The bottom line is that the lawsuit filed by Daley Farms is a distraction to the reality of the situation: the Daley Farms proposal did not qualify for a variance. In fact, it wasn’t even close. There is clear justification for this denial: Daley Farms is proposing to add 3,000 cows, which would put the operation at 5,968 animal units, almost four times the Winona County animal unit cap. Each year, it could use 92 million gallons of the area’s groundwater and produce 46 million gallons of manure and wastewater. If this expansion was to go through, it would put one of the largest dairy operations in the state on top of an ecologically fragile geology that is already facing significant water pollution problems.
This lawsuit is an attempt to distract from the unwanted and destructive project by attacking people who dare question the wisdom of letting an industrialized operation threaten the future of an entire community for generations to come. Given the resources being poured into this lawsuit by the Daleys, it’s clear that this issue goes beyond their operation’s expansion plans. What LSP is fighting is corporate-backed industrial agriculture, which does not care about the future of Winona County’s land or its communities. We will not apologize for that.
The Land Stewardship Project is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1982 to foster an ethic of stewardship for farmland, to promote sustainable agriculture, and to develop healthy communities.