Give thanks for our farms, not condemnation

Dean Hilton in a hog house. (From Facebook)

One of the hardest things about watching the third hog farm trial is to also watch a litany of courtroom distortions, especially about the people ultimately in charge of the farms at issue in this trial. It’s a group led by a man named Dean Hilton.

In court, the Texas lawyer has sought to portray Hilton as an absentee owner because Hilton purchased the operations (with a group of lifelong friends) but has other farm and business interests, such as real estate.

In court, the Texas lawyer has done his best to portray the farms on trial as especially bad actors. His litigation team, for example, snapped photos on one day that show pigs in manure, and they have since turned one moment in one barn on one day into a federal case. Literally.

In court, the Texas lawyer has dredged up ancient history, too, and the judge has allowed the jury to see and hear about violations that occurred on the farms. But they were violations under previous owners, who were in the midst of unfortunate life experiences. A divorce. Cancer. Wrenching experiences.

None of that in any way means these farms in Pender County were or are a legal nuisance, nor that Dean Hilton or anyone else engaged in “wanton” conduct with ill will toward any neighbor, such that millions of dollars should change hands – and the farms themselves should lose their ability to raise livestock.

That’s what’s at stake.

So let’s be clear: You won’t find Ma and Pa standing out front next to a tractor and windmill and red barn at the Greenwood farms. That much is true.

But what Dean Hilton and his partners have done is save the farms, and invest in them to make them better. They have spent tens upon tens of thousands of dollars on improvements to the land and barns. And, yes, even on a tractor – that’s what they use with a low-to-the-ground “bar” that applies the effluent as a fertilizer on their cropland.

What Dean Hilton and his partners have done is invest in the success of the farms. And others just like them.

Dean Hilton employs more than 50 people in agriculture in eastern North Carolina. His company, HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, provides opportunity and income for agriculture students and provides agricultural careers at a time and in a place where it’s not easy for anyone to acquire a farm unless it’s already in the family.

When Dean Hilton took the stand in the trial, he told the jury he wished they could visit and see for themselves. Don’t we all?

Hilton at one point tried to provide nuanced answers to pointed, trapping questions. But the Texas lawyer and the judge wouldn’t allow it, limiting his ability to answer and at one point threatening him with the possibility of being held in contempt.

Indeed, the Texas lawyer wants the jury to condemn these farms.

We should instead be thankful for them, and for all they provide.

– Andy Curliss, CEO