One farmer acts to save environment from factory farms
When farmer and environmentalist Lynn Henning saw what factory farms were doing to the land and water, she decided to act.
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For Henning, keeping her windows open in summer isn't really an option any more, she says. She can't hang laundry on the line or sit outside without checking which way the wind is blowing – or leave her front door open. Eating outside is largely a thing of the past.Skip to next paragraph
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"I used to love spring," Henning says. Now, "I hate spring."
Henning became concerned about CAFOs a decade ago, after a neighbor accused her in a grocery store of filing a complaint against a local CAFO operator. She hadn't, but her curiosity was piqued. She started filing federal Freedom of Information Act requests, and as she learned more she became more alarmed.
Then in 2003, her in-laws, who had farmed in Clayton their whole lives, were diagnosed with hydrogen-sulfide poisoning. Their doctor said it was his opinion that the poisoning came from the local cow husbandry operations and manure lagoons.
In 2000, Henning and other local residents founded a group, ECCSCM (Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan), to monitor the CAFOs. In 2005, Henning was hired as a water sentinel for the Sierra Club.
"We could either fight or pack up," she says. "We've been here too long to leave."
With the help of Light Hawk, a volunteer group of pilots, ECCSCM has taken aerial photos of CAFOs since 2001. The flights have led to 1,077 reported violations. The state of Michigan has collected more than $1.4 million in fines from CAFOs in south-central Michigan.
In 2008, State Line hog farm was shut down after ECCSCM found that the surrounding air quality had up to 9 parts per million of hydrogen sulfide. "Ten parts will cause unconsciousness," Henning says dryly.
Despite these victories, Henning says not enough has changed. "I think it's going to get worse before it gets better," she says.
The impact of Henning's prize is "going to be exponential," says John Klein, a cofounder of ECCSCM who takes the aerial photos. Some of the prize money will be used to buy an air-quality monitor.
"Lynn has done this in an amazing way," says Anne Woiwode, state director of the Sierra Club. "She just has always been there quietly pursuing, taking notes, asking questions, and learning how to do what needs to be done, whatever it is."
Henning frequently files complaints on behalf of other residents so that they can remain anonymous, Ms. Woiwode says. "She's taken on the role of protector, because she knows how bad it is, and she doesn't want other people to have to go through that."
Henning matter-of-factly recounts a list of harassments and lawsuits against her that stretches back for years: Being chased by manure tankers down the road; having dead animals left in her driveway and car; and having her mailbox blown up.
On Dec. 30, someone shot out the window of her granddaughter's bedroom with buckshot. The 2-year-old was in the room at the time.
Environmentalists are sometimes accused of being antifarming, but Henning says she's different.
"They have a hard time with me because I am a farmer," she says. "I drive a tractor."