Monks at the New Melleray Abbey share a worry common in hog country: They are afraid that a new farm expansion will make their monastery smell to high heaven.
"People come from all over the United States for quiet, prayer and reflection," said Father Brendan Freeman, the abbot for the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque. "We feel that's threatened. I think this is a good cause to stand up for."
"You put a million gallons of hog manure together, it's not going to smell like fruit salad," said the monastery's farm manager, Joe Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald and area residents are working to halt the expansion, helped by the monastery's 35 Trappist monks.
The farm, with 1,300 sows producing 26,000 piglets a year, would replace a farrow-to-finish operation of 220 sows. Also of concern are the volume of manure and the farm's proximity to headwaters of Catfish Creek, a cold-water stream under state environmental protection.
The 150-year-old monastery, nestled among pines as old as the retreat, lies downstream from the creek. New Melleray Abbey grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and oats on about 2,000 of its 3,500 acres. A leak in the planned concrete manure pits at the hog farm could contaminate the creek and area wells, Freeman said.