(Posted May 15, 2001)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Peace and conflict issues often are seen on a global scale, yet Juniata College's Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies also can be called on to lend expertise on very local issues -- such as conflicts between homeowners, governmental officials, environmental officials and agricultural operations.

As suburbs expand into areas that were once rural and dotted with farms, conflicts may arise over odors emanating from livestock operations, machinery being driven on public roads, lawsuits by environmental groups, or onerous laws passed that restrict the rights of homeowners or farmers.

Celia Cook-Huffman, associate professor of peace and conflict studies at Juniata College and associate director of the Baker Institute, has collaborated with four Penn State professors to produce "A Guidebook on Community Participation in Addressing Disputes Over Intensive Livestock Operations."

Cook-Huffman says the guidebook is intended for use by Penn State Cooperative Extension agents and other community facilitators to help create several resolution models that can be used in disputes over large-scale animal operations such as hog farms, poultry operations and other farming enterprises.

According to Penn State Agriculture magazine, many Pennsylvania farms are expanding into vertically integrated animal industries, practices where farmers contract with a hog producer or poultry company to raise animals to market weight and size, receiving a contract price for their labor and other expenses. Many times, farms do not or cannot expand their acreage when expanding operations or increasing herd size, which can cause waste management problems and, more commonly, odor problems for surrounding homes and developments.

"The entire process was initiated by the Pennsylvania legislature and our team was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture," Cook-Huffman says. "Over the course of two years we interviewed large-scale and small-scale farmers, meat buyers and producers, environmental group representatives, local citizens and state and local officials to find out how and why conflicts happen in these situations."

Cook-Huffman worked with a team of Penn State faculty with backgrounds in agricultural law, agricultural economics, and conflict management. The team included John Becker, professor of agricultural law, Charles Abdalla, associate professor of agricultural economics, Nancy Welsh, assistant professor of law at Dickinson School of Law, and Barbara Gray, professor of organizational behavior in the Smeal College of Business Administration.

The guidebook, which is intended for use by extension agents or other conflict facilitators, outlines five separate models that can be used to encourage dialogue between all sides involved in a dispute and eventually resolve the dispute. "Our research should give people enough information to make a good decision about which resolution process is appropriate for the situation," Cook-Huffman says.

"One of the more difficult things in this process is finding the right person who can enhance and mediate the process of resolving the dispute as a neutral party," she explains. "Many of these disputes revolve around citizens who would like to have their concern heard and have some sort of voice or influence on the outcome."

Cook-Huffman says the group also made a series of recommendations in a separate report. The recommendations included creating a resource pool of part-time facilitators, hiring several full-time facilitators and providing training for dispute facilitators. The panel also recommended the implementation of an educational campaign on relevant laws, land rights and other related issues.
Cook-Huffman says her work on the agricultural project also made her realize how a localized dispute can be relevant to global peace and conflict issues.
"At the international level many of the issues in a conflict come down to a sense of identity for citizens involved in a conflict," she explains. "The power of phrases like 'This is my home,' or 'This is my country' can make resolving these issues very difficult.

"The issue of identity, of being a farmer, and the sense of what is right is very much a part of agricultural disputes," Cook-Huffman adds. "Finding the right policy or method to give all sides of a dispute an equal voice in its resolution probably can be a learning experience for larger issues."

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.