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How a Kansas Town Held off a Tyson Plant

Tonganoxie residents are the latest in a wave of rural communities standing up to Big Ag.

It has been a rough few weeks for Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest poultry producer.

On September 5, the company announced that it was planning to build a $320 million poultry complex outside of Tonganoxie, Kansas—a relatively well-appointed bedroom community in Kansas City with a population of 5,300. The plant was designed to be a first-of-its-kind, fully integrated operation that would have included everything from a hatchery to slaughter and processing. It would require 1,600 new employees and process 1.2 million birds a week.

The Tyson plant was also a long-kept secret with the code name—Project Sunset. Local lawmakers were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements when considering welcoming it to town, and the company is said to have worked through intermediaries when negotiating with the landowner over the 300-acre lot it would occupy.

But once the deal was done and the plan was made public, word travelled fast, and residents of the town started a group called and Citizens Against Project Sunset (CAPS) and threw up a “No Tyson in Tongie” Facebook group that swelled to over 5,000 members. By last Friday, 2,500 people had gathered in a city park to oppose the development.

Then, on Monday, the Leavenworth County Commissioners had rescinded its offer to pledge $500 million in revenue bonds for the facility. The next day, Tyson sent a letter to the county announcing that it had put the plans for the plant on hold.

In its letter, the company wrote: “We still have interest in Leavenworth County, but will prioritize the other locations in Kansas and other states that have expressed support.”