perception

Perception vs Reality: How did college students’ perceptions change after visiting a hog farm?

As the divide between rural and urban communities becomes more pronounced, there are fewer people in North Carolina who know what it’s like to actually live around a farm. That’s one reason we wish the courts would have allowed juries to visit the farms being targeted in lawsuits — we know that when people visit a farm in person and get an up-close look at how it operates, they come away with a more favorable impression.

As for those who rely solely on media reports to inform their perception of hog farms… well, there’s no telling what they might think.

NC Farm Families recently invited a group of students from Mount Olive University to visit a hog farm in Duplin County and learn more about how our treatment lagoons work. It seemed like a good opportunity to see how perceptions change after visiting a hog farm, so we asked each student to complete a short survey before and after their visit.

UMO students walk the perimeter of a lagoon.

UMO students walk the perimeter of a lagoon.

The results were telling:

Nearly 75% of the students had a more favorable impression of hog farms and treatment lagoons after their visit. The other students’ perceptions remained the same.

When we asked students to rate the odor near the lagoons on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the strongest), they expected the odor to rank as a 6.6 before their visit. After the visit, they rated the odor next to the lagoon as a 2.5. Nearly two-thirds of them rated the odor as very faint (1 or 2).

An even higher percentage of students — nearly 75% — rated the odor on the farm in general as very faint (1 or 2). Perhaps that is why none of the students who visited said they would consider this particular hog farm a nuisance.

When we asked what surprised them most about their visit to the farm, many students focused on the lack of odor:

“Hog farms are much cleaner and safer than the media portrays.”

“The odor was not bad.”

“It smelled a lot less than I imagined… The media makes them seem terrible when they are actually well maintained and regulated.”

Our experience with these students reinforces what we’ve always known: When people actually visit a family farm and see how it operates, they are impressed with our farms and the dedicated people who run them.

Perceptions of hog farms changed after the students visited the farm

Perceptions of hog farms changed after the students visited the farm

A Farmers Biggest Challenge: Overcoming Perceptions

Although many are concerned with how living next to a hog farm can adversely affect a person (there’s even lawsuits over it), for the Overman family and many others, living next to a hog farm isn’t a nuisance or a concern. It is, as Lorenda Overman says, “the perfect spot for a home.” Not only that, but they are healthy and happy.

“We live here on the farm, and we are not sick. We work in the hog houses. We get lagoon water on us almost daily. We drink well-water that’s right here next to this farm, and we are not sick,” said Lorenda.

After raising three children on the farm, and now grandchildren, Lorenda can confidently say that “it’s not toxic to live on a farm.”

For Lorenda, the hardest part about farming isn’t just dealing with weather and markets, the hardest thing is the public’s perception. She is concerned that many do not understand how healthy and happy they are living on the farm. It isn’t just living on the farm, though. It’s also about being a farmer and what a farmer does.

“The hardest thing right now is probably the public’s perception of what we do is somehow wrong when we are trying very hard to do what’s right and make the best possible food source for our neighbors and for ourselves and our community and the world,” said Lorenda, echoing what many farmers are feeling these days.

In North Carolina, nuisance lawsuits have put family hog farmers out of business. That is scary for every farmer across the state and even nation. The agriculture community is anxious as attacks on farmers continue to come.

“I just feel like there’s a big x on our back. I feel like I constantly have to defend myself, and that takes a lot of energy and a lot of emotion. I’m just like they are. I’m just trying to make a living and do my very best,” said Lorenda who has been watching current events closely.

Farmers don’t have to do anything wrong. They may adhere to every regulation and restriction placed on them (NC hog farms are among the most regulated industries) and still be deemed a nuisance and be sued. It is a very frustrating time in North Carolina agriculture that has left farmers fearful, hurt, and confused.How is it that farmers like the Overmans can live years, raising children on the farm and have no complaints. Why would their children make the decision to move back to the farm if it was a nuisance? The Overmans have groups come out to their house for pool parties, and they don’t notice a thing. How can that be? It doesn’t make sense.

“I want people to understand that in my backyard is just like your backyard. Just because there’s a hog house behind there doesn’t mean that my backyard living is less enjoyable than their backyard,” said Lorenda.

Lorenda Overman in her backyard that overlooks their hog houses. Her  pool and grandchildren's swingset is off to the right of the photo. Many  evenings are spent enjoying their backyard with family and friends.

Lorenda Overman in her backyard that overlooks their hog houses. Her pool and grandchildren's swingset is off to the right of the photo. Many evenings are spent enjoying their backyard with family and friends.

With another nuisance lawsuit approaching, eyes are on a Raleigh courtroom. The outcome is yet to be seen, but prayers once again go up for a positive outcome.

It isn’t hurricanes, droughts, malfunctioning equipment, or low markets that is the hardest part about farming. These days, the hardest part about farming is overcoming perceptions.

You can read about the Overman's story by clicking here.