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September 23, 2010

Family Farmer KO's CAFOs

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Six months ago, Michigan family farmer Lynn Henning had boarded an airplane only once in her life. That changed in April, when she was flown to San Francisco to receive the prestigious Goldman Prize, awarded each year to six grassroots environmental activists—one each from Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America, and South America.

As the photo above attests, winning the Goldman has opened a few doors for Henning, including the door to the Oval Office. Below, the six 2010 Goldman Prize winners at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where Henning met with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (at center in pink dress, below).


A longtime clean water activist and now an organizer with the Sierra Club's Water Sentinels Program, Henning was awarded the Goldman for exposing "the egregious polluting practices of livestock factory farms in rural Michigan, gaining the attention of the federal EPA, and prompting state regulators to issue hundreds of citations for water quality violations."

"Lynn is a singular force of nature," says Water Sentinels national director Scott Dye. "I can think of no one more deserving of such worldwide recognition. Lynn has used her life experiences, her expertise, her organizing talents, and her perseverance to save literally dozens of rural communities from the plague of factory farms."

Below, Henning takes water samples near a factory farm operation in southern Michigan.

Photo by Tom Dusenbury

Winning the Goldman, which comes with a $150,000 cash award, has not lined Henning's pockets; she is giving the money to the Sierra Club and Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, which she co-founded ten years ago to fight the expansion of factory farms in her neck of the woods.

It has, however, given her a bigger megaphone. This Earth Day, she addressed 200,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and she has been interviewed by USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, E Magazine, National Public Radio, NBC News, and the London (UK) Daily Mail, to name just a few of the media outlets that have come a-calling.

In September, Henning was one of 20 women chosen for the "2010 O Power List" in O, The Oprah Magazine, for exemplifying "the power of one voice." Below, Henning (hint: think crimson) with some of her fellow movers-and-shakers.

Photo by Christian Witkin, courtesy of O Magazine

To quote the article: "When Henning realized that the factory farms proliferating near her family farm in Michigan were polluting the air and water and endangering her loved ones' health, she did what any concerned tractor-driving mom would do: She took them on. Her efforts won her the ire of factory farm operators, who have left dead animals on her porch and tried to run her off the road with their semis. Her verve and tenacity reminded us of another rabble-rousing activist..."

That activist was none other than Erin Brockovich, who interviewed Henning for O, and to whom Henning mentioned that she is now known in some circles as "the Poopovich" for her crusade against factory farm pollution. Thanks largely to water-quality data that Henning collected and made pubic, in 2008, for the first time, Michigan denied an operating permit to a proposed CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). Below, Henning researches CAFOs with a neighbor.

Photo by Tom Dusenbury

Factory farms in Henning's vicinity have received more than 1,000 citations and paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines for clean water violations, mainly due to Henning's vigilance and legal action by the Sierra Club. And Henning is taking heat for it: last December buckshot was fired through her granddaughter's bedroom window. But her resolve is unwavering: "This is about my children's future—it's my granddaughter's future," she told MORE Magazine this fall.

Below, Henning doing water-quality testing near her home.

Photo by Tom Dusenbury

"There are 12 CAFOs within a 10-mile radius of [our family farm]… and more than 60 lagoons with over 400 million gallons of waste," Henning told Mike Di Paola of Bloomberg News in July. Henning's in-laws, who farm nearby, were diagnosed with hydrogen-sulfide poisoning in 2003, and last year Henning's husband Dean had a heart attack (from which he recovered) while working in the fields. He attributes the incident to the noxious vapors pervading the landscape from nearby CAFOs. Below, untreated liquid manure being sprayed on farm fields.


The factory farm business model is to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by concentrating large numbers of animals into a small space for maximum efficiency. CAFOs include large-scale livestock and hog farms, veal calf operations, and chicken and/or egg production facilities. Factory-raised animals are often so tightly packed into these facilities that they cannot even turn around, and without massive amounts of hormones and antibiotics, disease would be rampant.


Above, manure-laden discharge from a CAFO into the south branch of the River Rasin; below, a fish kill as a result of liquid manure.


Each year, the 300 million turkeys, 7.6 billion chickens, 103 million hogs, and 56 million beef cattle produced in factory farms generate 2.7 trillion pounds of manure, which equates to five tons of animal manure for every American. The liquefied excrement, often mixed with urine, antibiotics, blood, hormones, pesticides, spoiled milk, and decaying body parts, is pumped into giant "lagoons," which all-too-frequently leak into surrounding waterways, resulting in massive fish kills and dangerous bacterial water contamination downstream. The untreated excrement, which is not technically considered hazardous waste, is also sprayed on fields year-round.

Below, a CAFO with sewage lagoons.

Photo courtesy of Lighthawk

A single cow produces the same amount of waste as 23 humans, and a dairy farm with 2,500 cows—not an especially high number by CAFO standards—produces as much waste as a city of 400,000 people. But unlike human waste, CAFO waste goes untreated. In addition, up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by factory farms to keep animals alive in their filthy cramped confinements, contributing to a rising emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threatens human health.

Learn more about factory farming, the Water Sentinels Program, and how you can get involved.


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