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NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Newton County dairy farm is using what its owner calls a game-changer in how animal waste is treated and converted into co-products with value, including water.

Natural Prairie Dairy in Lake Village has installed a system that transforms cow manure into dry organic fertilizer, an ammonia-based liquid fertilizer for crops, and clean water that could eventually be used for livestock.

“It’s H2O. It’s water,” said Donald De Jong, the dairy farm’s owner.

The Texas-based dairy farmer purchased land in northwest Indiana four years ago to expand his company into the Midwest.  Following a three-year-long conversion process, the pastureland was certified organic, allowing the company to produce organic milk.

Natural Prairie’s largest customer is Michigan-based Meijer supermarkets.

“They were looking for an organic solution. We’re their organic supplier,” said De Jong.

The farm started milking its herd of 2,000 cows in February with plans to increase the herd to 3,200 cows. The farm was looking for ways to lower its environmental impact with its ever-expanding herds in Indiana and Texas.

De Jong collaborated with Washington-based Sedron Technologies to create a system they call Varcor.

The system uses mechanical vapor compression, a thermal process that kills pathogens. The patented technology removes ammonia from the liquid stream, creating a liquid fertilizer. The remaining solids are dried and turned into organic, soil nutrients.

“The Varcor will revolutionize agriculture as it provides a clean water supply and natural fertilizer that’s economically viable and not dependent upon the petrochemical industry,” said De Jong.

Sedron developed similar technology to convert human feces. Billionaire Bill Gates in 2019 taste-tested the water converted from the waste.

While the water produced at Natural Prairie is not yet ready for human or animal consumption, De Jong says the technology is close.

“Not yet, but it’s going to happen. It’s new, so all of our regulatory agencies are going ’Wow, this is a game-changer,’” said De Jong.

The farm pumps the treated water into existing manure lagoons, which the state of Indiana allows. De Jong says the smell often associated with large animal production facilities will also be diminished.

“We’ll use it for irrigation right now. That’s underutilizing it for sure,” said De Jong. “We have every intention as we get through all the hurdles to put it in for the cows and just like regular water. “

The third-generation farmer says in water-short Texas, the system will allow it to cut water usage by having a closed-loop system.

De Jong said the system will create more beneficial coproducts than it will be able to put back into their land, creating another business opportunity.

“Will be exporters of the dry fertilizer product. We’re hoping to develop a big market with that,” said De Jong.

Natural Prairie Dairy CEO Donald De Jong explained how the system works and how it could change the dairy industry.
De Jong said the system will help reduce water usage on dairy farms.

FAIR OAKS, Ind. (WISH/WLFI) — The Newton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating alleged animal abuse caught on camera at Fair Oaks Dairy Farm after an animal advocacy group released the video Tuesday. 

As News 8 reported Wednesday, the video, taken by an undercover employee of Animal Recovery Mission (ARM), showed five employees smacking, kicking and throwing calves as they worked. 

Sheriff Thomas VanVleet said in an email that he has become aware of the video, acknowledges “the need for humane treatment of animals” and the “need to hold individuals that have gone beyond an acceptable farm management practice accountable for their actions.” 

Sheriff VanVleet said he has requested the names of the five people terminated for animal cruelty by Fair Oaks Dairy Farms, and will also “be seeking the identity of the witness to the alleged crimes that failed to report this activity for some time.” 

Fallout continues for Fair Oaks Farm, a supplier of Coca-Cola’s branded “Fairlife” dairy products. Jewel-Osco and Family Express convenience stores announced it will discontinue carrying Fairlife milk and products. 

Coca-Cola also released a statement “recognizing the seriousness of this situation” and that it has “full confidence in their management team to urgently address this issue.” 

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health also released a statement, saying the employees of ARM never reached out to them for a report or investigation, and that the agency has also not received any communication from Fair Oaks Farm about alleged abuse. It said it will “collaborate with local law enforcement regarding any appropriate next steps they may take.” 

Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey has responded to the video “with great disappointment,” calling it a “shock” and an “eye-opener.” He agreed the five people committed “multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgment.” He said four of the five people were farm employees and one was a contracted truck driver, and all have been terminated. 

In a video message, McCloskey promised surveillance cameras everywhere animals and humans interact, a display of those camera monitors for visitors to watch, random audits from an animal agency, and says he will hire independent oversight staff.

CEO of Fair Oaks Farms in Newton County, Indiana, apologizes over abuse video

McCloskey also said a full investigation is underway, potentially resulting in “termination and criminal prosecution, of any and all employees and managers who have violated either our animal care practices or the law or both.” 

Read all the statements from connected agencies below. 

“The Newton County Sheriff’s Office has been made aware of the videos and activities depicted in the video that has been released. We acknowledge the need for humane treatment of animals and the need to hold individuals that have gone beyond an acceptable farm management practice accountable for their actions. We have requested the names and identifiers of those terminated for animal cruelty by Fair Oaks Dairy Farms. We will also be seeking the identity of the witness to the alleged crimes that failed to report this activity for some time. We will work with the Newton County Prosector’s Office to file charges for any criminal activity the independent investigation revealed. We anticipate cooperation from both parties in this matter during this investigation. Any suspected animal cruelty should be reported immediately by calling 219-474-5661 or our TIP LINE 219-234-7014.”

-Sheriff VanVleet, Newton County

On June 4, 2019, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) was made aware of a video released online by the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) alleging animal abuse and mistreatment at Fair Oaks Farms. The video was brought to our attention through media, social media and concerned citizens. No representative of ARM has contacted BOAH to report their concerns and findings or share video images they gathered. After watching the video, BOAH officials reviewed compliance records and complaint logs for Fair Oaks Farms. No reports of animal abuse or neglect have been filed with the agency since the farms’ founding in the mid-1990s. Indiana State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM has directed BOAH staff to collaborate with local law enforcement regarding any appropriate next steps they may take.

– Indiana State Board of Animal Health

“Jewel-Osco is removing all Fairlife products after an undercover video was made public showing the inhumane treatment of animals at a Fair Oaks Farms in Jasper County, IN. At Jewel-Osco we strive to maintain high animal welfare standards across all areas of our business, and work in partnership with our vendors to ensure those standards are upheld. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Mary Frances Trucco, Jewel-Osco

In light of the events that have recently been uncovered at Fair Oaks Farms, Family Express has decided to discontinue all products sold by fairlife, LLC (a partnership between Coca-Cola and Select Milk Producers Inc.) from our stores. The exposé of animal abuse in the Fair Oaks Farm network is chilling. A factor in our decision was the public response by Fair Oaks, asserting the notion that this was an isolated incident. This is hardly the response you would expect from an organization that gets it. The minimizing of the graphic animal cruelty offers little assurance of change in a culture that is likely in need of fundamental retooling.

Family Express has canceled pending orders of fairlife/Coca-Cola milk products and will be replacing the line with Organic Valley milk products.

Organic Valley is a privately held company owned by a Co-op of local farmers. There are 143 Organic Valley family farms in Indiana.

Organic Valley treats animals differently (

– Family Express 

At The Coca-Cola Company, we take animal welfare very seriously. We expect our suppliers to operate with the highest degree of integrity and comply with all laws, including animal welfare laws. 

We have been in contact with fairlife about this situation and have full confidence in their management team to urgently address this issue with Fair Oaks Farms, which is a third-party supplier to fairlife. They recognize the seriousness of this situation as their founding principles are grounded in a strong commitment to sustainability, transparency and the highest standards of animal welfare.  Fair Oaks Farms notified fairlife that they immediately isolated dairy supply from the dairy identified in the video to suspend all sourcing from that location.  More information on the proactive actions fairlife has taken is outlined on the fairlife website. 

We fully support and respect the proactive approach that fairlife and Fair Oaks Farms have taken and we continue to stay in contact with them to lend any support they need.

– Coca-Cola

This morning I was made aware of an animal abuse video that the group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) produced and has released to the public and the press. Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms. While we were made aware a couple months ago of the fact that ARM had gone undercover at Fair Oaks Farms, and had proactively made a statement, we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what – if any – abuse had occurred.

It is with great disappointment to find, after closely reviewing the released ARM video, that there were five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgment. Of the five, four were our employees and one was a 3rd party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were our employees, three had already been terminated prior to us being made aware months ago of the undercover ARM operation, as they were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management. So, in this instance our policy of cow care training – “see something, say something” – worked. After reviewing the video frame-by-frame, those three employees are responsible for the overwhelming majority of offenses seen in this video.

Unfortunately, the fourth employee’s animal abuse was not caught at that same time. Although he underwent another training session in animal care when we discovered there was an undercover ARM operation on our farm, after viewing the extent of his animal abuse, he is being terminated today.

As to the individual who worked for the transportation company, today, we will notify the company that he works for and he will not be allowed on our farms again. It is our position that any companies that come in contact with transportation of our animals, should be well-versed in and adhere to our industry’s animal welfare practices which can be found in FARM.

Months ago, when I first learned of the undercover activity, I requested a 3rd party review and we went through a re-training process throughout the dairies. While the review came back favorable, I am not letting my guard down and will institute more thorough monitoring and training so that this abuse can never happen again. This video and any future videos will be immediately handed over to the authorities for review and potential prosecution.

Regardless, I am disgusted by and take full responsibility for the actions seen in the footage, as it goes against everything that we stand for in regards to responsible cow care and comfort. The employees featured in the video exercised a complete and total disregard for the documented training that all employees go through to ensure the comfort, safety and well-being of our animals.

It is a shock and an eye-opener for us to discover that under our watch, we had employees who showed disregard for our animals, our processes and for the rule of law. This ARM video shines a light on an area that – despite our thorough training, employee on-boarding procedures and overall commitment to animal welfare – needs improvement. However, as I have stated before, the fact that ARM takes months before notifying owners or authorities regarding on-going animal abuse is concerning. I have personally reached out to ARM’s founder, Richard Couto, to discuss a more symbiotic relationship but he has yet to reach back.

A full investigation of all aspects of the video is underway, during and after which disciplinary action will be taken, including termination and criminal prosecution, of any and all employees and managers who have violated either our animal care practices or the law or both.

The statement that we grow and sell drugs on our farms is false. The plants featured in the video are an invasive perennial species that is rampant on farms all over the midwest. With that said, I am disappointed to learn of potential drug use on our properties. Months ago, the individual seen smoking by the barn and doing drugs in a truck was turned in by his co-workers to one of our managers. That manager notified local law enforcement about the drug use and, accordingly, a police report is on file.

It is with a heavy heart that I prepare this statement today. As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply. I am disappointed for not being aware of this kind of awful treatment occurring and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I also take full responsibility to correct and ensure that every employee understands, embraces and practices the core values on which our organization stands.

I am and will continue to be deeply involved in the resolution of this matter, down to every one of our employees, so that I can guarantee that these actions never again occur on any of our farms.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.

Dr. Mike McCloskey
Fair Oaks Farms

NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – A Newton County woman may be alive because of a stranger traveling on U.S. 41.

Firefighters in Morocco said, at about 8:30 Thursday morning, they received several calls from drivers about a structure fire on Newton County Road 600 North, which intersects with U.S. 41.

First responders said the garage of the home was engulfed by the time they arrived.

The home belongs to Bill and Tammy Blackwell.

Tammy was sleeping in the house when the fire started. She said a stranger, who came in to alert any occupants, woke her up.

The stranger said he was from Kentucky, but by the time fire crews arrived – he was already gone.

It took 10,000 gallons of water to extinguish the fire, and the garage and breezeway were a total loss.

The cause was found to be electrical.

NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – Newton County Coroner Scott McCord said all three victims from Sunday night’s triple homicide died from multiple stab wounds.

Newton County Sheriff Thomas VanVleet said 24-year-old Sebastian Wedding of Cedar Lake, Indiana, was arrested around 9 a.m. Monday in connection to the stabbings. The Lake County man currently faces a preliminary charge of murder.

Newton County Emergency Medical Service responders, along with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and Indiana State Police, responded to a call from an elderly woman inside the home for a “man bleeding” in the 11000 block of North County Road 250 West around 8 p.m. CT.

When deputies arrived, they found 20-year-old Justin Babbs dead. They also found two other people, 39-year-old Kimberly Spears and 23-year-old Richard Thomas, deceased in the next room.

Jessica Novak’s family duplex is now a gruesome crime scene.

“I grew up in this house. I was born in this house, this is my house,” said Jessica Novak. “It’s sad. It’s very, very sad.”

Although she didn’t know the three victims well, she did have some interaction living on the other side of the home.

“Kim [Spears] used to come out and talk to my son and play with my son in the backyard, and we would just talk,” Jessica Novak said.

WISH-TV’s sister station WLFI asked if Jessica Novak knew Wedding – the man arrested in connection with the murders. We showed her a picture of his mugshot.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him before, and that’s what they asked me,” she said. “They [police] asked me last night about his nickname.”

According to Jessica Novak, Wedding was known as “Sea Bass” and was living with the victims at the time.

Jessica Novak’s mom and owner of the duplex, Kathy Novak, is grateful her daughter and grandkids weren’t home during the murders. She walked inside and said she’s never seen so much blood.

“Whoever did this horrific act, the people were trying to fight back,” Kathy Noval said. “And there was blood on the walls, and ceilings, and the door knobs – everything. It was just gruesome.”

WLFI talked with the owner of Luke’s restaurant, right across the street from the home. It’s closed now, but the owner says he still lives there. He would see cars drive by that home, stop for short periods of time and then head out.

“Were they doing drugs there?” a reporter asked Jessica Novak.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “There’s been police here quite a few times, I don’t know what for.”

The victims and suspect weren’t the only ones living in that part of the duplex. Jessica Novak said Richard Thomas’s grandmother lived with them as well.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office says an elderly woman reported the murders but didn’t confirm whether or not it was the grandmother.

“She’s [the grandmother] blind and couldn’t see anything,” said Kathy Novak. “I just feel really bad of what happened, for the families.”

We hope to learn more about what happened from court documents and appearances in the near future.

A toxicology report is pending.

NEWTON COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – An employee of the South Newton School Corporation faces criminal charges, stemming from several incidents involving a student.

Shane Storey, 40, was charged with battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Storey is a technical director for the school corporation.

Investigators said Storey provided the student with alcohol and touched the student inappropriately on multiple occasions. According to court documents, the incidents happened between the fall 2012 and this spring.

Storey faces another battery charge for an incident that happened on Aug. 7. In that case, authorities said Storey is accused of inappropriately touching a summer employee at South Newton.

Superintendent Todd Rudnick has not returned News 18’s calls for comment.

SUMAVA, Ind. (AP) – Northwest Indiana officials say two subdivisions along the Kankakee River have been sandbagged as residents brace for possible heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Bill’s remnants.

Kankakee River Basin Commission Director Jody Melton says subdivisions with dozens of homes in Shelby in southern Lake County and Sumava Resorts in northern Newton County have been sandbagged. He says the river is falling after cresting Wednesday in Shelby at 12.9 feet but he worries the tropical storm’s remnants could bring heavy rainfall this weekend.

Jasper County Emergency Management Director Karen Wilson says a handful of people have voluntarily left their homes in the city of Rennselaer, where residents have already used more than 8,500 sandbags.