“An Organic Farm Under Threat. An Urgent Message from Azure Standard.”
Those are the words that greet viewers of a Vimeo video posted by Azure Farms, a certified organic farm located in central Oregon. Watching the video, viewers learn from David Cross, the farm’s marketing director (there’s your first clue), that Sherman County, where 2,000 acres of the farm is located, has recently changed its statutes to require the eradication of certain noxious weeds. Mr. Cross claims that Azure Farms could certainly work to control those noxious weeds through organic methods, but would only be able to eradicate them by spraying “toxic and poisonous substances” on its certified organic farm. Obviously, the idea is abhorrent to him. The County is ready to force the farm to spray the “poisonous muck” on their farm and put a lien on the farm for the cost of labor and materials to do it. Azure Farms begs viewers to email, call, and inundate the court with requests to rule in the farm’s favor.
As a last ditch effort to convince viewers, Mr. Cross appeals to the fact that he is a father of 6 and his family had decided to stop eating non-organic and GMO foods to protect themselves. Because, you know, the stuff those conventional farms are raising is super icky, nasty, and dangerous. Oh, and Round-Up is Agent Orange.
As you might imagine, contrary to Mr. Cross’ emotional and ridiculous plea, there is another side to this story.
The Rest of the Story
Under Oregon law, Chapter 569 establishes the requirements and authorities for controlling noxious weeds. Pursuant to the law, individual landowners are required to eradicate or control the spread of noxious weeds, as that term is defined by the State Weed Board, on their property. If landowners are derelict in their duty to do so, authority is granted under the statute for the county to take action and may charge the expenses for doing so to the landowner.
In early March of this year, Sherman County contacted the Ecclesia of Sinai at Dufur, which apparently owns Azure Farms, and informed them that they were in violation of the county ordinance because certain noxious weeds were found to be running “rampant and unchecked” on their property. The County gave the farm 30 days to submit a Weed Management Plan, which explained how the farm planned on destroying the weeds and keeping them under control throughout the growing season.
But instead of submitting a management plan and complying with the ordinance, the farm instead claimed they had a religious exemption, were not subject to the County’s authority because they only answer to a higher power, and were prohibited from using “toxic chemicals” as part of their faith. Furthermore, and for good measure, the farm claimed that it avoided using chemicals because it wanted to protect future generations from the use of all those horrible pesticides.
At the end of April, the County responded and informed Azure Farms that the management plan was insufficient and suggested several methods, only one of which included the use of herbicides, to control the noxious weeds on their property. If no action was taken by May 22, 2017, the Weed Control District planned to move forward with taking care of the noxious weeds and charging the farm with the costs.
That’s when Azure Farms took to the internet to plead with the public to intercede on their behalf.
“Control Your Weeds”
So, what’s the big deal?
Scott Dahlman of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a grassroots organization promoting the efficient production of food using modern technology, explained that this has been hurting other neighboring farmers. Sherman County is a mostly rural, agricultural part of the state. Because Azure Farms has failed to control the noxious weeds on their property, other farmers have been forced to use more herbicides to make up for it.
There are also wheat seed growers in the area that have to worry about contamination of their crop at harvest. If the noxious weeds are not properly controlled, their seeds can end up in the wheat after harvest and negatively impact the value of that seed.
As Scott said, Sherman County is simply asking Azure Farms to control their weeds.
These laws are meant to be a shared responsibility that benefits all agriculture. Even organic farms are required to follow local laws and be good stewards of the environment. They have to control weeds on their property and have organic-certified options available for doing so. Azure Farms has made the decision to harm their neighbors, not to follow the law, not to correct the problem when given the opportunity, and to make a mockery of the entire legal system. For them to turn to the public for help when they knew they were wrong and were given opportunities to fix the problem is disingenuous.
Also, as an officer of the court myself, I am appalled that a farm would turn to the public and beg them to inundate the court with spam emails and phone calls demanding that the judge rule in the farm’s favor. Not only is that a waste of judicial resources, it makes a mockery of the law. The law is not decided by spam marketing campaigns.
In the same vein, Azure Farms’ social media message here is clear: tell the County to shove it. If they get enough support, the County will decide it just isn’t worth the negative publicity and forget about the whole thing. And in Oregon, where the issue of pesticides and genetically modified crops is so sensitive, they knew exactly what they were doing. Unfortunately for Azure Farms, social media works both ways and it’s time for the other side of the story to get out.
Azure Farms needs to do the right thing and control the noxious weeds on their property. If they aren’t willing to step up and do it, then I sincerely hope the County will follow their own laws and do it for them.
[UPDATE: The Sherman County Court released this statement via Facebook: Today, May 16, 2016 [sic?], Nathan Stelzer submitted a Weed Control Plan to the Sherman County Weed District. A plan was originally requested on March 2, 2017. The plan is under review, and the court is working on keeping lines of communication open with Azure Farms/Ecclesia of Sinai at Dufur to continue working towards a resolution to this issue.]