NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Trevecca Urban Farm has been caring for pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and even bees in the middle of the city.
With two part-time and one full-time staffer, they have done it with paid interns and college students
who feed the animals and give the occasional belly rub.
But a group of local animal advocates have become angry about some of the farm’s practices.
“We have spoken to other farmers who have not had this amount of death,” said Nashville Animal Advocacy organizer Tricia Lebkuecher.
The group said the farm, which has received 1200 visitors and volunteers a year, was not worthy of the state award it’s receiving for educational and sustainable practices.
“They shouldn't be getting an award for teaching people how to farm when they don't even know how to farm themselves,” Lebkuecher said.
The group’s petition at Change.org appealed to the state to revoke the award.
Tess Melete donated goats and chickens to the farm and got in touch with the advocates to complain about several accidental deaths.
“No matter how much I did or how much I gave, Trevecca wanted more while the animals kept dying horrible, grizzly deaths,” Melete said in a statement released by Nashville Animal Advocacy. Click here to read Melete's full statement.
One goat escaped the fence and was run over by a car. The farm confirmed that happened and lamented the tragedy.
Advocates said one goat received burns when it got tangled in an electric fence. The farm said the fence was not electrified at the time, and said staff untangled the goat , which was uninjured.
Advocates said a puppy drowned when the barn flooded and the farm responded staff had no reason to believe that part of the barn would flood before the storm.
And a few pigs died when a pack of wild dogs tunneled under the fence.
“It showed a lack of ability to properly care for the animals,” Lebkuecher said.
During a tour of the farm Thursday, animals at least appeared healthy and cared for.
“The animals are free to get in and out when they wish,” said Farm Director Jason Adkins showing off the newly-built barn “but when it rains the goats run in here, the chickens and the dogs.”
Adkins said he offered to help out Tess Melete when she lost her farm. But he said he warned her he was not outfitted for all of her livestock at the get-go.
“We were excited about it when we heard about the opportunity but we made it clear that we had these resources and we would need to lean on her (Melete’s) expertise and the expertise of others,” he said.
Advocates complained one of the guard dogs was tethered all day. Adkins said the dog, Bjorn, can jump the 8-foot fence and as a puppy they had to keep him out of the hen house for the safety of the chickens until they built a bigger fence.
He said the perimeter fence on the farm always had an electric wire along the bottom, but during the wild dog attack, the animals dug around it to get to the pigs. Since the attack, they added a thick bottom bar to prevent tunneling.
Still, Adkins said he offered to return the donated group of animals or send them to another farm of Melete’s choosing, within 300 miles.
“If you feel the animals are in danger than move them, we’ll do it for you. But that was not, we believe, the objective here,” Adkins said.
He thinks it's just bad blood – a personal attack that has been more about the humans involved, rather than the animals.
After an email between University President Dan Boone and Melete, Melete said she was banished from property and threatened by the university.
The exact lines she’s referring to read, “We will move the animals to a location you prefer within a 300 mile radius. This offer to return the donated animals will conclude on June 30, 2015."
The statement continued, “We ask that before visiting the farm you make arrangements in advance with Jason Adkins, farm manager.”
Dr. Steve Shirley has been the vet who cares for the animals at the farm.
He said, “the livestock and other animals at Trevecca’s Urban Farm are in good condition. The farm itself has adequate fencing and perimeter barriers, adequate shelter, and adequate food and water for its inhabitants. All animals appear to be in good health. Sound management practices along with routine health inspections have been employed to ensure the well-being of all species.”
The Change.org petition also claims the farm has been allowing dangerous chemicals to run into a nearby creek.
State Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Conservation representatives investigated that claim this week. They told NewsChannel 5 they found no evidence to support that claim. The TDEC released the following statement regarding the award:
“TDEC will present the environmental stewardship award in the "Environment and Education - Schools" category to the Trevecca Urban Farm as previously announced, which recognizes the Farm for its commitment to educating citizens on fresh food in an area with very limited fresh food supply and its commitment to creating a culture of sustainability in its community.”
Read a full statement from Trevecca here.