Marshfield stink gets attention from state
By Gayle Hanson
Staff Writer | May 11,2013
MARSHFIELD — The state Agency of Agriculture is investigating the nature of a potent manure pile in Marshfield that has had residents reeling in the past week.
The agency was called in by town officers after the odor intensified Thursday, sending a putrid stench throughout the village.
The manure, which has since been spread, is believed to be partly composed of a high level of chicken waste, although there have been complaints that the smell is like that of a decaying animal. The manure was being stored off Route 2, about a mile from the town offices, and has caused widespread concern in the community, as residents reported being sickened by the smell.
The odor had seemed to dissipate Wednesday, but a strong breeze Thursday stirred up the stench.
“We had to close the windows the smell got so bad,” said Town Clerk Bobbi Brimblecombe, whose office has received a lot of questions about the smell. “Today it’s smelling more like manure and less like something died.”
Because of the intensity of the smell Thursday, the Select Board decided to take action and bring the problem to the state. Previously, the town health officer had visited the site, and at one point the Select Board considered relocating the closest neighbors to the source of the smell.
“I called the commissioner of agriculture,” said Select Board Chairman John Warshow. “They got right on it, and the last thing I knew they were headed over to Seth Gardner’s farm to speak with him.”
Gardner’s organic farm in East Montpelier is the site from which the manure is believed to have originated. Multiple calls to Gardner for comment went unreturned Friday.
Chicken manure is widely held to be the most potent-smelling manure. Unlike cow manure it contains an exceptionally high level of nitrogen, which means it needs to be aged or mixed with other organic material before spreading.
According to a report on managing nitrogen on organic farms written by UVM Extension specialist Vern Grubinger, poultry manure is an excellent source of nitrogen and much more powerful than cow manure. “Poultry manure can supply roughly three to six times more nitrogen per ton than fresh cow manure,” he wrote. Grubinger added that poultry manure is at its best in the first year after its application when it converts the highest level of nitrogen into a form usable by plants.
At the Marshfield Village Store, Sierra Roberts said the smell was the topic of the town.
“It was really terrible yesterday. All we’ve been hearing about is how bad it smells. It actually made me physically gag,” she said.
At the town office, Lee Light of Hollister Hill Farm weighed in with an opinion possibly shared by many. “I think that they need to spread that fertilizer on the field,” she said. “Once they get a good rain, it should dissipate.”
Late Friday, Wendy Anderson, the enforcement section chief for the Agriculture Agency, said the agency hoped it would have a better understanding of what the problem is after an investigation and analysis of the substance.
“My understanding is that there has been an investigation and that the manure has been spread. Hopefully, we’ll have a report on Monday,” she said.