Editor's note: This is the first installment of Amber Kerezman's blog about her journey into one of the planet's darkest corners -- Indiana's environment. In the coming weeks, she will chronicle her experiences on the Alernative's "Indiana Environment Revisited" project with first-person commentaries. An archive will be maintained at Amber's blog.
An invasion, to me, has always meant the unwavering presence of an unwelcome guest, a permanent infringement. I realized after Alternative editor Steve Higgs and I took our first "Indiana Environment Revisited" day trip to Randolph and Henry counties, CAFOs, at least by my definition, are that invasion. We met people who felt the violation and literal stink of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
We met Barbara Sha Cox at a truck stop just off I-70 in Henry County. Introductions were short but friendly. Our initial drive through the countryside was refreshing. Steve and I, trailing Barbara and husband Dan's long green pickup, enjoyed light conversation.
But pulling up to our first stop, the home of Rex and Brenda Jones in Henry County, I was subdued by the muted energy. After all, you lose that zest for life when liquefied pig waste is sprayed into the air like fireworks just outside of your home.
The spraying only happens once or twice a year, Rex told me, and it's meant to fertilize the ground. But in the meantime, Brenda can't breathe. I guess somewhere, in someone's eyes, it's a fair trade.
The emotional tax of life beside a CAFO was evident during our time with Allen and Judy Hutchison in Randolph County. The despair on their faces was impossible to hide. These two are consumed, and not by choice, with the CAFOs greeting them in the morning and tucking them in at night. It must be torturous to eat a meal when your nose says it's pig waste. Thinking of the adage, "You don't poop where you eat," I wondered why should the rules for the Hutchison's be any different?
Video Conversations with Barbara Sha Cox, Photo Album,
"Surrounded by factory farms," by Steven Higgs
Moving into the day, Barbara was fueled by stories she's heard a thousand times before. As our tour guide, she knows intimately each person we visited. While Barbara narrowly dodged the bullet of having a CAFO built close to her home, her empathy toward those who didn't is tangible.
I wondered what wonderful moments Barbara and others fighting CAFOs, like Katherine Petry and Loretta Miller, are missing in life because the nuisances next door won't ever leave. Barbara showed me it's a full-time effort, writing letters to the Legislature and testifying in court. It's the only way she can enter even the lawmakers' peripheral visions.
After passing miles and miles of empty land, I became frustrated with the notion that the Hutchison's home is literally surrounded by CAFOs. Why is negligence so definite when solutions seem so simple? And why are local and federal governments passing between each other the baton of responsibility?
There is a lot I've yet to learn about Indiana's environment and the government's role in it all. But my naivete doesn't frighten me. Hopefully, it affords me a clear perspective. I hope environmental veterans and newcomers alike will join the "Indiana Environment Revisited" journey with Steve and me as I become disheartened, angry, numb or whatever my reaction is ultimately.
I can say I've already begun to size up the farms I pass on State Road 37, though there is only one CAFO in Morgan County and none in Monroe.
I'm also working toward keeping my pork consumption to an all-time low, though it rarely graces my plate as it is. Without having a knee-jerk reaction, I want to be more aware of the products I consume and where they come from.
It's a good exercise for me. But I can't help thinking about the permanent infringement CAFOs represent for the Rex and Brenda Jones's of rural Indiana. Talk about an invasion.
Amber Kerezman can be reached at .