Rarely does a month go by without a head-scratching announcement of some activist group or another “fighting to protect the environment” by attacking somebody involved in agriculture.

They always play to the public’s naiveté, and they always want your money to support their misguided mission.

Now, here’s a chance to put your money behind a decidedly different mission: Help save a small family farmer-producer from being bankrupted by one of the more notorious activist groups around.

Here’s the story.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York City-based group who claims its goal is “to protect every major watershed around the world through grassroots advocacy,” is suing Maryland farmers Alan and Kristin Hudson for (allegedly) violating the Maryland Clean Water Act.

At the heart of this suit, according to SaveFarmFamilies.org, a group formed by the Wicomico County (Maryland) Young Farmers and Ranchers, the Maryland Farm Bureau and Perdue Farms to raise funds for the Hudsons’ legal defense, is a pile of fertilizer on the family’s 20-acre Berlin, Md., farm. It was believed by the Waterkeepers to be untreated poultry litter, which they identified from a small plane they flew over the Hudson’s property.

However, the pile was actually biosolids, which the Hudsons obtained from nearby Ocean City, Md., as part of a program run by the Maryland Department of the Environment to recycle municipal waste for agricultural purposes. MDE determined that no action was required, other than to spread the biosolids on the farm’s cropland.

However, the Waterkeepers have persisted with their suit, which labels the Hudsons’ operation a “factory farm,” despite the fact that they have only two chicken growout houses and are farming property that’s been in the family for four generations. The legal costs could force the Hudsons into bankruptcy before arguments are heard in court sometime next year.

“If this extremist group succeeds in forcing the Hudson family to settle or declare bankruptcy before arguments are even heard in court, they’ll do it to other family farmers here and across the country,” said Lee Richardson, a member of the Wicomico County Young Farmers and Ranchers, “just because we don’t conform to the Waterkeepers’ misguided image of how animals should be raised.”

Maryland happens to have a robust farming industry that is responsible for 14% of the state’s workforce, the largest percentage of any single sector, according to the Maryland Farm Bureau. Many local farmers are worried that if this lawsuit succeeds, it would open up the flood gate for more litigation.

“This extremist group is sending a message to American farmers: If you raise chickens, hogs or cattle—and don’t do it their way—then the Waterkeeper Alliance is willing to use the courts to force you out of business,” said Val Connelly, a member of the Maryland Farm Bureau and SaveFarmFamilies.org.

Addressing the real issues

The traction that the Waterkeepers are getting with this and other similar legal tactics is the undeniable damage done to Chesapeake Bay’s water quality over decades of abuse from a variety of pollution sources. Like all the other states bordering the bay, the Maryland Department of the Environment is pursuing several watershed restoration initiatives, including spending more than $129 million this year in half a dozen projects—all aimed at upgrading or enhancing wastewater treatment facilities to reduce the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways that eventually empty into beleaguered Chesapeake Bay.

That’s because the most important measure that government, from municipalities to states to the federal agencies, can take to improve water quality is investing in better treatment of the billions of gallons of commercial, residential and industrial wastewater that daily flows from storm and sanitary sewers in every urban area in the country. Wastewater is the main source of water pollution and that’s where both public- and private-sector eco-advocates need to focus their energies.

Of course, agriculture shouldn’t receive a free pass to engage in environmentally unsound practices surrounding the use of fertilizers and other inputs, nor land application of manure, composted or not.

But for an “enlightened” environmental organization to focus on a single farm family as defendants in a big-ticket, politically motivated lawsuit reveals the real motives of activists such as the Waterkeepers: drive animal agriculture out of the local and national farm economy.

You have to ask: Are these do-gooders simply pursuing a vegetarianism-for-all agenda, or do they really think that undermining production agriculture to “save” the environment will somehow benefit society?

Either way, they’re so wrong that to label them misguided represents charity of the highest order.

› For more information on efforts to help the Hudsons, log onto www.savefarmfamilies.org or contact Ryan Stanton at 410-449-4641.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator