The Falmouth Board of Health on Monday, March 29, rescinded the stable license for Smithfield Farm on Sandwich Road. The owner, Janice Foster, has until May 1 to find new homes for the 24 horses on the property.
The board’s decision comes after a series of remote board of health hearings on conditions at the farm and after a miniature horse escaped through the farm’s main gate in January and was struck and killed by a pickup truck on Sandwich Road. The incident renewed scrutiny of the farm at a time when past issues with sanitation, safety and animal welfare seemed to be moving toward resolution.
“We are struggling with a pattern,” board chairwoman Diana Molloy said. “It’s still the gate and other ongoing issues. We should not have to keep revisiting the same day-to-day operational issues.”
The vote to revoke the permit was unanimous.
Ms. Foster can reapply for a new stable permit when all the conditions of the license have been met.
In February the board allowed Ms. Foster to keep the stable permit for 90 days, pending the submission of additional information. While Ms. Foster produced some of the items, she failed to provide proof of ongoing pest control and proof of a manure management plan. The board said it requested to receive the documents by March 11 and received some of them on March 25.
“There has to be a level of trust. We can’t be constantly monitoring the farm and we are still not getting complete buy-in from Ms. Foster on making the changes,” Health Agent Scott McGann said.
“If you don’t pull the permit, we’ll have to do even more inspections, and it’s not like we really have the time for that,” he told the board.
Board member George Heufelder agreed.
“The town has spent an inordinate amount of time on this issue, when it should be cut and dry. She [Ms. Foster] has not produced the manure removal plans, pest control, and hasn’t properly fixed the gate. These are basic things,” he said.
Ms. Foster told the board she was not aware the farm was on the agenda and thought she had until May to gather the documents the board requested.
“It was a misunderstanding on my end. I thought I had 90 days,” she said.
In response to whether she had a written manure management plan, Ms. Foster said two landscape companies are picking up excess manure frequently.
“I didn’t realize I needed it in writing,” she said. “But they have been proactive in coming and removing manure.”
Ms. Molloy was visibly irked at the remark.
“The day out at the farm with you, I said we needed to see a written agreement. I even asked you if you needed me to write down what we needed and you did not feel like that was necessary. I even went over the dates we needed to review before our March 15 meeting. I am a little frustrated because I went over all of this with you,” she said.
The board had requested from Ms. Foster written progress on repairing the gate locks, including efforts she is making to fixing them, and the challenges and progress made in fixing the fence. While she did not have anything in writing, Ms. Foster said she is having a hard time finding someone in Massachusetts to work on her gate and is working with someone from upstate New York.
Later in the meeting, a member of the public commented that she drives past the farm frequently and noticed the gate open two days in a row last week.
Ms. Foster admitted the gate had been open, but said it was to let hay and grain delivery trucks in. The gate needed to be open to prevent the trucks from blocking Sandwich Road, she said.
“You make accommodations,” Mr. Heufelder said. “You move the gate back so you don’t have to leave it open for trucks.”
Ms. Foster did supply some of the documents the board requested, including bills of sale for seven horses. The board had learned she was boarding more horses at the farm than the stable permit allowed. Ms. Foster said many efforts had been made to improve the fence and it is still a work in progress. She also provided the farm’s operating procedures, employee hours and an agreement with its horticulturist.
“We’ve been very busy,” she said.
She told the board she addressed other issues by regrading the paddocks and bringing in clean sand.
The board vote was unanimous, but a few members did note Ms. Foster had been making progress.
“She has met several of our requests. It’s been an arduous road, but she is getting there,” board member Benjamin Van Mooy said.
Board member Kevin Kroeger agreed.
“I will say, she has done a lot, although I still don’t know what’s happening with the gate as fixing it was in our order of conditions,” he said.
Mr. Heufelder said there still is no solution for the gate.
“We’re in this pattern of chasing her down and we get information from them in drips and drabs,” he said.
He is worried about another horse getting loose from the farm.
“I’m not as worried about the horse, but the poor guy that’s going to run into him and kill himself,” Mr. Heufelder said.