I serve on our county’s planning and zoning board, which approves or denies new or expanding livestock facilities. We also make decisions on major dirt moving projects and business development outside the city limits of the respective towns in our county. Many decisions are quite easy if all the setbacks are met with regard to the site plan of the facility. For example, a new 2,400-head pork finishing facility must be a half mile from the nearest non-involved residence or a mile from the nearest city limit.
    Many times variances are requested. Some variances are granted and some are not, depending on a variety of circumstances. Our county generally wants to be a livestock friendly county, so many decisions are based on two things. If you move from the city into the country, be prepared to have some wonderful smells at times, and if you do not like that move back to the city, and our rules will give you a smell-free zone around that city.
    Every approval of new facilities, livestock or commercial, comes with a condition called a good neighbor policy. Other conditions are things like dead animal containment or controlling weeds on the site. But the good neighbor policy is a real gray area. The permit comes with the condition that the applicant must adhere to the good neighbor policy. I have never seen a description of that policy. To me it means going the extra mile to keep neighbors happy. I know I have failed in that many times.
    Some items that should be considered in the policy would be help with snow removal. Dairies have bigger equipment than most rural dwellers. Use it and do it for free with a smile. When you see the neighbor’s tree laying across their driveway, bring the payloader and move it. When someone needs a telehandler to put shingles on their house, let them borrow it, but do not volunteer to help shingle. Let kids use a calf or two or three to bring to the county fair. I could go on and on, but by now you get the idea.
    While serving on the board, we once had an applicant who told us he did not care what his neighbors thought, and he expected his township to clear his road by 4 a.m. so the feed truck could get in early. This information was verified by several neighbors and township officials speaking against the application. The application passed by a vote of 5-2. I voted against it because I felt he had violated the good neighbor policy with his previous barn. We as a board did not adequately do our homework before the meeting, and all of us realize that going forward we need to do more pre-meeting site inspections.
    When I look back at my own life and being a good neighbor I can say I did OK in most of those things mentioned above. Where I have totally failed is when it comes to visiting neighbors who are down or fighting some terrible disease like cancer. My dad would not be proud of me. He was the best at visiting the sick and people down on their luck. I have a cell phone with a zillion numbers in it, but I use it to make happy calls and business calls. I need to use it more to call those who are hurting. Even when I do not know what to say, just say something nice. My closest neighbor is fighting for his life right now. We were good friends for a long time, but then we had a few minor disagreements over water. We are good friends once again. Never let a quarter mile of drainage tile keep you from being a good friend and neighbor.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at davevkooi@icloud.com. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.