A brief rewind by Barbara Cervone
Our last “formal” encounter with Uproot Meats seems a lifetime ago, in December ’19, when Uproot Meat’s Krista Vegter failed to appear at a hearing of the Jackson County Planning Commission regarding two new violations (on top of the several Uproot had already received). Each carried a $1,000 fine. The first addressed an ongoing issue: UM’s continued failure to obtain a an electrical permit for the chicken house. The second cited UM’s failure to obtain land use approval for the unauthorized two-story structure the owners erected in the fall of 2018—intended as a residence/slaughterhouse but built without zoning or permits. When the required application was finally submitted, appealed, and denied, Uproot switched gears and filed for an agricultural exemption for the two-story structure, which was granted.
Residency is not permitted in an agricultural-exempt building. Nonetheless, Uproot owners and others associated with UM continued living in the ag-exempt building and in trailers on the property, for which an earlier violation had already been given.
For a time this spring, it seemed as if COVID-19 had possibly uprooted UM along with the rest of the world. Owner Krista Vegter took “a leave of absence,” sequestering in Southern California.
In June, Vegter re-emerged, along with a number of “guests” who set up tents and buses on the property and seemed to move in for the summer. They added a human menace: harassing neighbors and threatening their animals, wielding guns for intimidation and target practice, destroying the entrance gate to the property, playing loud music, holding parties with bonfires in violation of fire restrictions, allowing her dogs to terrorize neighbors farm animals, and more. Five people appear to be living on the property now, including Vegter.
Before Uproot began raising and slaughtering chickens and pigs, it tried its hand at growing marijuana. The owners set up a large-scale commercial grow without applying for any permits. Only after receiving a violation from the county did they apply for and receive the required permits. They erected a greenhouse and set to work—though the property had neither the requisite water nor electricity. The effort failed. This summer, however, the greenhouse was resuscitated and trucks delivering huge bags of soil made their way up the slope, some during the wee hours of the night. Excavation equipment also could be heard, as was common in the past when the hillside was stripped, leveled, and terraced.
As the days shorten, our list of new concerns lengthens.
(1) Uproot Meats continues to raise pigs and chickens under the worst of circumstances. The pigs are kept on a denuded, steep hillside and the chickens are confined in a small building, although they are advertised as “free range” and claim to be Certified Humane, a claim CH says is false. The pork sold by UM is not USDA certified. When will the public stop being misled?
(2) The chickens are slaughtered on the property in an unlicensed building. The owners continue to live on the second floor above the slaughterhouse in contravention of county regulations. When will this ongoing building violation finally be enforced?
(3) It’s not clear how Uproot Meats is disposing of the animal waste products from its on-site chicken slaughtering. Past inspections by the county revealed that Uproot does not have a septic system that can accommodate such wastes—it has a septic system approved for human waste only. How are these animal wastes being disposed of? According to regulations, human waste and animal waste cannot be mixed. If the disposal is improper, what is the impact on the ground and water?
(4) The dozens of dead brush piles across the property left from prior years provide ample fuel for fire. In a time of extreme fire danger, don’t they warrant the attention of the Fire Marshall?
Two years later, the slope on which Uproot Meats set up operation in the fall of 2018 continues to be as slippery as it is steep. The interface between land for exclusive farm use and commercial use, between Jackson County regulations and Uproot’s presence in the Ashland community, among various public agencies invoked by the Uproot project, about the right to farm but not to harm, about truthfulness in the labeling we turn to for assurance that the meat we eat is humanely and organically raised—there is so much at stake here.
A drone taking off and landing from the Uproot property has been surveying the area recently. In the end, it may be that Uproot’s owners will uproot again and sell their operation. They will surely leave behind a scarred hillside and painful history of disrespect.
Barbara Cervone lives in Ashland.