Kevin Hoover: If There Was Ever A Case For A Do-Over, This Is It – July 6, 2011

The letters above more or less reflect community reaction to the loss of Cypress Grove Chevre’s (CGC) dreams of an Arcata goat dairy. It’s such a stain on Arcata that one can’t help but wish for a chance at redemption.

Redemption doesn’t mean approving the project. It might mean rejecting the goat dairy for good reasons – but at least doing so after a rational public process.

You’d think a town so committed to freedom of thought could have a frank, adult conversation that includes people being allowed to finish their sentences.

As all-too-briefly described by CGC, the proposed dairy was an appropriate technology, animal-centered facility. Impacts were well understood and mitigatable. The dairy would be a showpiece for CGC to display to customers. It would be under heavy public scrutiny and thoroughly regulated by multiple agencies.

Given all that, what would Cypress Grove’s motivation be for maintaining the kind of squalid hellhole opponents made it out to be?

May 13, 1947: The Bloomfield Acres subdivision moves in on the Arcata Bottom. The Gilardoni dairy is at lower left. Merle Shuster photo courtesy HSU Library Humboldt County Collection

How to do it right

Last Thursday at a dinner party in which the goat debacle was the main topic, someone wondered aloud whether a petition might convince CGC to reconsider the Gilardoni site – or somewhere else nearby – for the dairy project.

I have no information that CGC is interested in giving Arcata another shot at hosting the goat dairy. The company has identified one new potential site, which, we are pointedly told, is “not in or adjacent to Arcata.” And certainly not as good.

But we can dream, can’t we? Yes, and in detail.

The first step to revisiting the issue is really starting over. How about we look for some common ground?

Opponents: Think honestly about the basis of your opposition. Then, if you still feel that way, bring your best facts before your neighbors.

Right up to the end, talk of clouds of ammonia, antibiotic runoff polluting the Marsh and E. coli killing neighbor children dominated the discussion, along with other preposterous claims.

I’d really like to see what the opposition would look like without the blatant fictions that formed its forefront.

Advocates: Show up and address the opponents’ factual concerns. Acknowledge any serious objections. Don’t let a few yelling people define the discussion.

Cypress Grove: Don’t wilt if one or two people wig out.

Politicians: Do something.

With a huge ag proposal at hand and tensions escalating, who is better positioned than our elected officials to act as a go-between for the advocates and opponents, setting a purposeful direction and clarifying basic issues such as process?

Supervisor Mark Lovelace visited the Gilardoni property and was researching goat waste issues. Yet, for weeks, little was done to allay the concerned neighbors’ worst fears, real or imagined, of their lives and property being ruined. It seems they were on their own, with the loudest, least reasonable voices holding sway.

Even the county process through which the project might have been approved or denied remained murky and in dispute. Why was this fundamental question so shrouded in mystery? A county supervisor interested in open government could and should have made some calls and cleared that basic issue up for his fearful constituents right away.

If we could turn back time, one has to believe that our elected representatives would play a more constructive role in shepherding a possible $3 million agriculture project through an orderly process.

But maybe not. They haven’t done any salvage work for us in the month since the project’s withdrawal.

Follow-through fail

Neither our mayor or supervisor has asked CGC to reconsider the cancelation. Basically they’ve offered perfunctory words of support (“hopeful,” “sincere wishes”) and offered to take the company’s phone calls. Impressive.

It’s clear now that any serious action to fight for Arcata, reverse this shameful loss and at least give the project a fair hearing is going to be up to citizens.

Who will start that petition, write the opinion column, form the Facebook group or grassroots committee?

Remember the post-cancellation proposal to create an “agriculture incubator” on the Gilardoni property? In the weeks since, no one has contacted the owners, Marla Daniels and Rayelle Niederbrach, to pursue that vision. It was just words.

Nor has anyone offered a simple, straightforward apology to CGC or founder Mary Keehn for the wildly defamatory accusations leveled at her and her fine company, or for the bullying conduct at Bloomfield School.

June 2, 1947: Iverson Avenue homes under construction. Do you suppose the new residents railed against the “industrial dairy” activity all around them? Merle Shuster photo courtesy HSU Library Humboldt County Collection

The end of history

Arcata has a rich agricultural history that spans from Wild West days when bears roamed the Arcata Bottom, through dairy’s golden age and into today’s exciting community supported agriculture/locavore/farmers’ market era.

But history has stopped. When Bloomfield Acres was planted in the middle of prime ag land, the die was cast: 64 years hence, a later generation of subdivision residents would demand that industrial dairying on neighboring farmland be disallowed – on grounds that they were there first!

This goat dairy could have validated so many of the values we espouse, including progressive agriculture, food independence, local entrepreneurship, consensus building, appropriate tech, humane animal treatment and more. It would even fulfill some of the same goals as the ag incubator idea.

Why didn’t we at least find out whether it would deliver all that it promised?

The fact is, impacts would have been mitigated and “dangers” made negligible. In time, just as with the nearby Windsong and Greenview neighborhoods, which have huge cow populations just over their back fences, the Bloomfield and Foster Avenue residents would have found the goats to be a non-issue.

When the gleaming, world-class goat dairy is finally installed elsewhere and the Ferndale City Council (or whomever) holds its ribbon cutting, I want every Arcatan to see that historic photo.

It should run in this newspaper as an obituary for Arcata’s agricultural heritage. It will also be a testament to Arcata’s abject failure to even try to comport with the high-sounding principles it talks about all the time.



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  1. Bonnnie MacRaith said:

    Thanks for the article Kevin. Perhaps people who are not familiar with goats in general are the ones who object to this. They really are a low-impact farm animal, very clean and provide a great product…goat’s milk that can be made into nutritious cheese. It’s much better for you and easier to digest than cow’s milk/cheese. It’s a wonderful business for Arcata and I hope CGC dream’s don’t go away.

  2. tra said:

    Very good article Kevin. Lovelace talks a good game about the need to keep local agriculture viable and to not allow residential development to take over ag lands, and he’s got lots of opinions about how our rural residents should and shouldn’t user their ag and timber lands — yet when it came to speaking truth to his own constituents when they asserted the primacy of their delicate suburban sensibilities while living on the edge of ag lands, he put his tail between his legs and slunk away.

    Hope he’s as embarassed by his performance as he should be, and that next time around (if any other agricultural operation actually decides to give Arcata a chance after this pathetic display of NIMBYism) perhaps he might actually provide some kind of leadership.

    It’s real easy to tell other people in other parts of the county how to live, but it takes at least a little bit more intestinal fortitude to stand up to your own consitituents when they are being irrational. Mark is smart enough, and means well, but whether he’s got the guts to stand up to the NIMBYs in his own town is an open question.

  3. Steve H said:

    As an Arcata resident I would like us to find a way to host CGC’s goat dairy in our area. Thanks, Kevin, for making the case.

  4. steve said:

    “Roused Rabble” a few observations about your comments: If there was enough land to support a goat dairy next to the current creamery, I’m sure that CGC would have taken advantage of that. I doubt that zoning is the issue as the land is designated for Ag already. Space is probably the real reason. There has to be enough room to build and provide pasture for the goats and there are regulations that determine how close animals can be housed next to food producing facilities.

    It would not be economically prudent to have two locations in which to manage, feed, and house animals

    Your use of the phrase “one instance of making matters worse” is troubling because it points to the problem that keeps rational discourse about the goat dairy from occurring; the use of hyperbole and attaching inflammatory statements to comments from CGC. I think that Kevin said it best in this article, “Impacts were well understood and mitigatable. What would Cypress Grove’s motivation be for maintaining the kind of squalid hellhole opponents made it out to be?”

    Using phrases like “making matters worse” as a preface to discussing a problem is the thing that really makes matters worse and creates a barrier to productive dialogue.

  5. Ian Ray said:

    “Roused Rabble”, I don’t know the specifics of the septic system in question, but septic systems are a common disposal method for wastewater created in milking houses. A septic system could be designed and buried deep enough into the pasture so that goats would not damage the system. High water can be dealt with using recirculating sand filters, mounds, or even evapotranspiration systems.

    A septic system in a pasture beneath 1,000 lb animals such as cows is problematic due to the average pressure exerted by their walking (27 psi) being enough to compact the soil and eventually cause a septic system to malfunction. All pasture above a septic system would need to be managed so that the pressure exerted by goat hooves (8 psi) and human feet (13 psi) is monitored and corrected.

    Goat manure itself should not be difficult to deal with as goat manure can be exchanged for money. Wastewater from a milking barn cannot be sold or disposed of without treatment which makes a septic system necessary. The idea that millions of dollars would be spent on a facility along with having a 100-year-old septic system design installed seems to be not well thought out.

  6. Jonathan said:

    ‘Horrific’ Jobs Report Renews Fears of Double-Dip Recession

    The U.S. economy added a paltry 18,000 jobs in June, and the unemployment rate climbed to 9.2 percent from 9.1 percent as laid off government workers continued to join the ranks of the unemployed. There were also 44,000 fewer jobs created than previously reported for April and May.

  7. Roused Rabble said:

    There is a lot of space on the land Cypress Grove already owns adjacent to the cheese factory. With all this community support they should be able to get the zoning changed to allow this project there. Or maybe two smaller projects would be appropriate–one by the factory and one across the street. It does seem like the concept was dropped too soon. Some of the concerns raised could certainly have been mitigated, and I think people would have acted more reasonably if there had been an identifiable permit process.

    In just one instance of making matters worse; At the meeting Mary talked about putting a septic system as a part of getting rid of goat waste in a pasture where much of the year the water table is up to and onto the surface, and comes up under neighboring houses. That didn’t seem well thought out, but maybe through a permit process we could all be given an opportunity to understand how that might work. Or conversely, have an alternative presented.

  8. FoolsGold said:

    Sadly, I think Mark Lovelace should have led, and helped usher in a 3M investment in the community and his district. Lack of leadership which you have pointed out, is blaring and accountability is not the leaders pointing at one another saying ‘I thought you had this’ or the “I reveiwed the paperwork”. A supervisor with an eye towards business as well as environmental creds would be a more helpful combo of traits for this district, instead of looking towards the horizon and doing projects that do not benefit his district. The city manager and city council seems to be aware of the situation, and may lend a hand, hopefully its not too late and this project can be revisited.

  9. Cedar Reuben said:

    Kevin, thank you for the powerful and well written essay. You managed to lay out the essential elements of the issue in a fair and balanced manner while at the same time calling out some of the key “opposers” for their shameless display of hypocrisy and arrogance.

    Unfortunately, it appears that Cypress Grove has given up the fight and this opportunity is probably gone for good. I can’t really blame them, but I wish they would have fought harder because I’m certain they would have won. Both the law and the overwhelming support of the larger community is on their side.

    However, what happened here is symptomatic of a much larger issue in Arcata and that’s the culture of “NO” that seems to permeate certain elements of local government (both city and county) as well as a cadre of self-appointed “community activists”.

    It takes enormous energy, focus and creativity to build something meaningful. For the sake of our community we should be actively encouraging the best of those efforts and this project certainly qualified.

    Instead, what happens much more often in Arcata is that small minds – caught up in their own little self-righteous power trips – fight tooth and nail against anything “they” don’t agree with. I’m not advocating that we say yes to everything that comes along, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could discuss the issues in a mood of “let’s put our heads together and figure out how to make this thing work” rather than letting the negative demagogues control the process?

    I agree with you Kevin, we all share responsibility for what happened here. Our leaders failed to lead effectively and our community didn’t react quickly or strongly enough with our support. We let the negative voices carry the day. Let’s not allow that to happen again.

  10. Michael Welch said:

    I don’t think anyone anticipated a factory farm being placed near a community when the community allowed the Right to Farm ordinance to be passed. Otherwise, the goat shit would have hit the fan.

  11. Julie Fulkerson said:

    thank you, Kevin, for asking the most important question. Yes, a re-do is important to un-do the damage done in this recent sad Arcata event.

  12. Jack Durham said:

    To clarify, the Right to Farm ordinance applies to unincorporated Humboldt County. I don’t know if the disclosure applies to people within the City of Arcata. Either way, it protects ag operations in unincorporated areas. Seems like this ordinance would play a significant role if this project were to be pursued.

  13. Matt Horns said:

    These NIMBYs want food, but demand that it be produced “somewhere else.”

    Hey NIMBY’s there is no “somewhere else.” All places are “here” to some people and they need to tolerate what they don’t exactly enjoy sometimes for everyone to do what they need to do.

  14. Jack Durham said:

    Back in 1994 (?), The Board of Supervisors passed a “right to farm” ordinance. As I understand it, everyone who purchased property near ag land was supposed to receive a copy of the ordinance. It basically says “hey man, you bought property near ag land, so be prepared to live near an ag operation and its association smells, noises, etc.” This includes dairy operations.

    So if someone has ag land next to a subdivision, and they open a dairy using common operating procedures, they cannot be deemed a “nuisance” under the ordinance, even if they do stink up the area.

    The ordinance was passed at the request of the Farm Bureau, which anticipated problems exactly like what just happened. FYI

  15. sarah shevett said:

    Thank you, Kevin Hoover, for all that you are trying to do here. It is a real shame and a blight on the city Arcata and should be an embarrassment for it’s citizens.

    It seems the inmates are running the asylum, and the nurses are too weak to do anything.

  16. Maggie Gainer said:

    Well written article. Reminds me of a little book that changed my life,
    GETTING TO YES:Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. It helps us get away from the drama and digging heels into positions we must defend.

  17. beachcomber said:

    First, let me say I live in Eureka so don’t have a dog in this fight but have been there. We lived in a rural section of Nevada at one point where people would move (from the Bay Area and SoCal) to be “in the country”. They would build subdivisions in the midst of one- to five-acres parcels, naming them things like “Wild Horse” and included sidewalks and constellation-obliterating streetlights. Then, when mustangs, actual WILD HORSES would wander down from the hills, they would call BLM to have them removed in the name of protecting lawns and golf greens. They would install ornamental equines (seldom ridden) but then complain that the neighbors’ livestock smelled bad. Crapsake people. Look around before you buy!

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