Local News

Friday, Mar 22 2013 07:11 PM

One man's farm is another's nuisance

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The Cervantes home at 8722 Fuller Drive in Lamont where county officials shut down an operation of illegal slaughter and sale of animals for food.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Brandy Kapitza-Gunter stands in front of the house she grew up in on Fuller Drive in Lamont. She says a flow of people daily drive up to a house across the street from where she lives to purchase meat. Residents of the house are selling meat from animals they have raised and slaughtered on the premises. The county has shut down the illegal business.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Marina Morales who lives next door to the Cervantes home on Fuller Drive says they don't have any problems with their neighbor. She says there is an animal smell but says it is not unusual since they live out in the country.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Outside the Cervantes home is a sign advertising the sale of chickens, quail, lambs and eggs.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

A NEIGHBORHOOD NEAR LAMONT -- In some places in California it's not that unusual to see grandma or grampa go out to the chicken coop, ring the neck of a nice fat hen, and a few hours later find it freshly roasted on the dinner table.

But when your non-farm neighbor keeps hundreds of chickens, a couple dozen pigs, unknown numbers of quail, and sells the freshly slaughtered meat and quail eggs out the front door -- well, you may not be in Kansas anymore.

But Lamont may be a good bet.

A family living on Fuller Drive, a few miles north of this small agricultural community, has been ordered to shut down exactly this sort of illegal operation by county health inspectors.

"We issued a cease and desist order. They must immediately stop selling their product," said Donna Fenton, chief environmental health specialist for the Kern County Department of Environmental Health Services.

The situation came to light late last week when the department received a call from a neighbor who complained that the backyard farm and slaughterhouse generates additional traffic, emits strong smells and attracts flies -- especially in the warmer months.

"There were definitely some unsafe conditions," Fenton said. "They have 30 days to remove the animals and remove the operation from the property."

Brandy Kapitza-Gunter, 29, has lived in her father's home across the street from the makeshift farm for most of her life. It was her dad, Jerry Kapitza, who finally decided to call health officials after saying he had had enough.

"They were just selling quail eggs at first, and cactus," Kapitza-Gunter said. "It was not a big deal."

But then the traffic started increasing as more people came. A sign was nailed up on a tree advertising some of their products.

"Then they started slaughtering chickens," she continued. "The smell was terrible."

Early Friday afternoon, there were no discernable offensive odors emanating from the home across the street -- although it seems quite possible that 90- and 100-degree temperatures might change that.

Jorge Cervantes, 18, the son of Gabriel Cervantes, the owner of the home, said the family was surprised when county officials told them to shut down the operation.

"It's not a business," he said. "We just do it to live."

Quail eggs are in demand, and are not available in supermarkets. So the family was able to supplement its income by selling 40 for $5, the younger Cervantes said.

"One of the reasons we got this property is because everyone around here has animals," he said. "There's a lot of space."

Next door to the Cervantes home, 18-year-old Marina Morales said she hasn't noticed an extreme amount of customer traffic. And she was pretty forgiving regarding neighborhood odors.

"It smells like animals," she said. "You're out here by the farms, you're going to have smells.

"They mind their own business," she said of the next-door neighbors. "And we mind our own business."

Cervantes said they have no choice but to remove the animals and put an end to their cottage industry.

Taking something of a libertarian view, the teen said people in Mexico enjoy the freedom to raise and slaughter their own animals. But not here.

Fenton, with the county, said it's much more complicated than simply shutting down a neighborhood entrepreneur. She said she's witnessed some real horror stories over the course of her career. Flies, feces, poor sanitation and food service don't mix.

There's an increased likelihood of food-borne illnesses when food preparers are not subject to basic regulatory standards.

"If people could see what we've seen," she said, "they wouldn't eat from street vendors" unless they knew their operations were clean.

And the nuisance issue is important, too, she said. The right of one neighborhood resident ends where the right of another begins.

"Bottom line," Fenton said, "we're trying to protect public health."

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