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Iowa monks raising a stink over hog farm expansion

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Monks at the New Melleray Abbey share a worry common in hog country: They're afraid a hog farm expansion will make their monastery smell to high heaven.

"You put a million gallons of hog manure together, it's not going to smell like fruit salad," said Joe Fitzgerald, farm manager for the New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque.Fitzgerald and area residents are working to halt the expansion, helped by the monastery's 35 Trappist monks and their abbot, Father Brendan Freeman.

The farm, with 1,300 sows producing 26,000 piglets a year, would replace a farrow-to-finish operation of 220 sows. Also of concern are the volume of manure and the farm's proximity to headwaters of Catfish Creek, a cold-water stream under state environmental protection.

The 150-year-old monastery, nestled among pines as old as the retreat, lies downstream from the creek. New Melleray Abbey grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and oats on about 2,000 of its 3,500 acres. A leak in the planned concrete manure pits at the hog farm could contaminate the creek and area wells, Freeman said.

The serenity of the abbey could also be upset.

"People come from all over the United States for quiet, prayer and reflection," Freeman said. "We feel that's threatened. I think this is a good cause to stand up for."