Percolating family feud boils over on Good Farm odor

Siblings from the Kingsbury clan have locked horns in a lawsuit over the State Road pig and poultry farm.

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Jefferson Munroe and his cat Rhea at The Good Farm. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A long-simmering conflict between a brother and sister came to a head on April 27, when William Kingsbury filed a lawsuit against his sister, Kristen Kingsbury Henshaw, aimed at shutting down a farm operated by her tenant, Jefferson Munroe.

The legal filings state that “The Good Farm”, a poultry and pig farm run by Mr. Munroe, is causing Mr. Kingsbury “irreparable harm” by befouling the atmosphere at 1128 State Road, where he and his wife, Laura Ann Freeman, own a house and the adjoining lot.

Mr. Kingsbury’s attorneys, Daniel Perry and Neil Smola from the New Bedford firm Perry, Hicks, Deshaies and Mello, filed the complaint in Dukes County Superior Court. In a separate motion, the attorneys requested the court issue a preliminary injunction that would prevent Mr. Munroe from bringing any additional animals or fowl onto the property while the case is heard.

The request for a preliminary injunction was heard on May 6 in New Bedford Superior Court, which hears cases when Dukes County Superior Court is not in session, with Judge Raffi Yessayan presiding. A decision is pending.

Farm to gavel

The abutting siblings have butted heads before. In a May 4 affidavit, Ms. Henshaw said that Mr. Kingsbury had initiated “baseless litigation” against her in 2009 over a dirt road that wends over both properties. Ms. Henshaw said she agreed to a nonexclusive easement over the disputed property, primarily to save legal fees.

The seeds of the current kerfuffle were planted when Ms. Henshaw subsequently leased her property to Mr. Munroe, proprietor of The Good Farm, in 2012.

Mr. Kingsbury and Ms. Henshaw are the children of the late Craig and Gertrude Kingsbury. The “Hoo-rah for Bill” sign their father made for President Clinton’s first visit to the Island still marks the entrance at 1056 State Road, where the elder Kingsbury’s operated a farm for decades. They deeded son William a 9.75 acre parcel of the land in 1989. Shortly before his death in 2002, Mr. Kingsbury conveyed the remaining 10 acres to his daughter, Ms. Henshaw.

Befowled

Mr. Kingsbury said that he had coexisted peacefully with previous farmers on Ms. Henshaw’s land because they were subsistence farmers. In the April 27 complaint, he described The Good Farm as “a large-volume poultry operation that slaughters approximately 2,300 chickens and other fowl each year,” and additionally maintains a pig population of 12-14 mature hogs, plus a larger number of piglets. “The scale of [the] operation is far too large, even if it were well run, to confine its adverse effects to the small parcel of land on which they are conducted,” he said in the complaint. “Henshaw and Munroe’s operation has continuously been poorly managed. Compost bins of raw poultry remains, placed near the common property line, created “a powerful and nauseating stench.”

The motion also asserts that The Good Farm creates “windblown trash”; that it’s a vector for rats, crows, and skunks; and, in a familiar refrain, that people frequently trespass on a road that crosses Mr. Kingsbury’s property.

Defendants respond

In an email to The Times on Tuesday, Stephen Schultz, a Boston-based attorney with the firm Engel & Schultz, representing Ms. Henshaw and Mr. Munroe, wrote, “There are many allegations in the complaint which are not correct, including the allegation that the farm has been operating since 2010, the farm creates a noxious odor, the prevailing winds blow from the farm onto the plaintiff’s property, the pigs are allowed to roam free on the farm, the compost bins were immediately adjacent to the property line, and the dirt road is on the plaintiff’s property rather than being on the defendant’s property.”

On May 6, Mr. Schultz filed a motion in Dukes County Superior Court to deny the case. He contended that the plaintiff’s attorneys were attempting to make The Good Farm sound as noxious as possible, and that they “mischaracterize the farm as a piggery and poultry-slaughtering facility.”

In an email to The Times, Mr. Schultz said, “It should be noted that it is not clear that the Good Farm is a ‘piggery,’ as it only has one pen with 15-30 pigs, and it is not a ‘poultry slaughtering facility,’ it is a poultry farm, whose poultry is slaughtered by the same poultry mobile facility which slaughters the poultry at all of the four chicken farms on the island.”

In his May 6 filing, Mr. Schultz also wrote, “No matter how plaintiffs try to couch their complaint, they are claiming no more than that pigs and compost bins smell, and are asking this Court to enjoin The Good Farm from operating as a farm.”

To address the odor issue, Mr. Schultz supplemented his filing to dismiss with sworn affidavits from 29 Islanders who stood near the property line while the compost bin was being “turned over,” and said they smelled no noxious odors. The group included abutter Helen Koch, newly elected Tisbury Selectman Larry Gomez, and Daniel Barrick, owner of the Scottish Bakehouse, which sits almost directly across the street from the Good Farm. Ms. Barrick and several other respondents also attested to Mr. Munroe’s humane farming practices.

Correspondence between Mr. Munroe and Tisbury assistant health inspector Maura Valley was also submitted. It shows that Ms. Valley responded to a complaint from Mr. Kingsbury’s wife, Ms. Freeman, originally written to board of health Chairman Michael Loberg.

Ms. Freeman said her 23 years of experience as a CEO of a successful “alternative meat” company informed her opinion — and her opinion was that The Good Farm was “sloppy, unsanitary, and potentially dangerous.” She cited poor composting, decomposing chicken parts strewn about, some of which was being used for rodent traps, and excessive amounts of litter.

There were no infractions in Ms. Valley’s subsequent inspection of The Good Farm. Ms. Valley suggested Mr. Munroe move his compost to a different location, which he did. Ms. Valley also requested the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) Food Protection Program (FPP) inspect The Good Farm. “Everything to date that has been looked at by the Department of Public Health and the [Department of Agricultural Resources] has been approved,” Mr. Schultz said in a phone call with The Times on Tuesday.

Mr. Munroe declined to comment to The Times due to the ongoing litigation.

Accusations fly

In his complaint, Mr. Kingsbury also accused Ms. Henshaw of attempting to devalue his land, so she could ”potentially profit” if he is forced to sell. He stated his property was worth $1.2 million in 2003, and that it would be worth “only a fraction of that,” should The Good Farm stay in operation.

“I have absolutely no interest in buying Bill’s property, and have never stated or wished to do so,” Ms. Henshaw said in a May 4 affidavit. “On the other hand, I have been contacted directly or indirectly three times, either by Bill’s attorney or a business associate.”

Ms. Henshaw said she’s been asked to sell her property, or to work with Mr. Kingsbury and his business associate to help them to obtain a distillery license for the property so that Moon Cusser, a brand of white whisky that is currently produced by a company owned by Mr. Kingsbury and Ms. Freeman in Ms. Freeman’s native Kentucky, could be produced on Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. Schultz wrote that there is no evidence of duplicity on Ms. Henshaw’s part; however, “there is evidence that Ms. Freeman has been running a one-woman campaign to drive Mr. Munroe out of business with false allegations to government agencies, local supermarkets and the local newspaper, so that she and her husband can force a sale of Ms. Henshaw’s property in order to enable Plaintiffs to purchase defendant’s’ property, which they apparently desire in order to operate a distillery.”

In her affidavit Ms. Henshaw also submitted a letter written by her father to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) in 1990, when he unsuccessfully petitioned the MVC to deny construction of the Vineyard Assembly of God church next to his property. “The idea of a farm is much more romantic than the reality of one,” he wrote. “Cleaning a barn is an odiferous process. We often use rotted fish for fertilizer … it would be very unfair to us if our neighbors were to complain about our pigs and for us to move them.”

“I wish to keep my property a farm in perpetuity,” Ms. Henshaw said in her affidavit. “From my dealings with co-defendant Jefferson Munroe, I concluded that Mr. Munroe is an excellent, conscientious farmer, and humane individual, and that my parents, were they still alive, would be proud to know he was farming their land.”