Your property rights are in small print

Most people don’t know what they don’t know. Clients of Goldman Sachs didn’t know to ask if the bank was betting against them. Likewise, Hancock County homeowners don’t know to ask if their rights have been waived by virtue of signing a deed. But they have been.

Appendix BB: Right to Farm Deed Restriction (Hancock County):

2) [Deed holder] Waives any and all objections to any agricultural uses within two miles of any boundary of the real estate.

3) Agrees that agricultural uses do not constitute a nuisance so long as they are not negligently maintained, do not cause bodily injury to third parties or directly endanger human health.

4) Agrees that this covenant is for the benefit of Hancock County, Indiana, and for all persons engaged in agricultural uses within two miles of any boundary of the real estate and is enforceable by any of the foregoing.

By being for the exclusive benefit of agricultural uses and the county, it is not for the benefit of the deed holder, namely, the citizen. Following is an example of what this ordinance can mean to any property owner in the county:

You purchase a home knowing your property is near a farm. Let’s say this farm raises a variety of produce and a couple hundred livestock.

The farmer decides to change his agricultural practices and is approved to build a Confined Feeding Operation (CFO) on the property adjacent to you. Instead of raising a couple hundred chickens, now the farmer is raising 10,000.

And you, the unwitting resident, by virtue of signing a deed and entering a so-called “covenant,” have waived your right to object to the foul odors, air pollution, tainted water and health issues that might arise from close proximity to a CFO and the manure storage that comes with it.

Worse, the asthma you develop or the headaches you suffer, even your rising blood pressure, will be hard to prove as directly linked to the industrial agriculture happening within 450 feet of your property line (Yes, this is the low bar for zoning for existing CFOs seeking expansion).

Even if you did prove your medical hardships as countless studies have, as a Hancock County property owner, you have unwittingly agreed that “agricultural uses do not … directly endanger human health.”

Finally, the county has tapped the largess of your heart because you, by virtue of being a property owner, have agreed you are waiving your rights for the benefit of Hancock County and the agricultural industry.

Please consider your taxes: pay for farmer subsidies ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to individual farmers in this county; pay for CFO manure clean-ups both during and after operations; pay for damaged roads from heavy truck usage delivering animals, feed, etc.

Also consider that CFO agriculture is a trickle-up proposition, meaning it is low-wage and employs few, as mechanization has taken over.

Vertical integration, which is the new normal in agriculture, means a lot of money generated from CFO operations ends up out of county, out of state, out of sight, in the bank accounts of giant conglomerates that are rigging the system in their favor.

If the Hancock County Right to Farm Deed Restriction doesn’t illustrate this perfectly, then look to state and federal laws that also seek to undermine the individual for corporate interests.

Now, residents and future residents, you are informed that your interests are subverted by the Right to Farm Deed Restriction in Hancock County. Know that your county commissioners have it in their power to change this unconstitutional ordinance. And you, dear citizen, have it in your power to urge them to do so.

Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition. Send comments to