The e-mails are pouring into my inbox. "Your articles and videos are excellent," "thank you for letting people know what is going on," I read. It's great to revel in the support from people who understand just what kind of wreckless establishment CAFOs are. And while the support is welcomed, I wonder where the other side is.
If CAFOs are allowed to be built without setbacks and to operate with effectively no regulation, there must be support for it. And I expected, somewhat, to hear from those people.
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If the feedback we've received is an accurate reflection of how people statewide or nationwide feel about CAFOs, citizens want permits for CAFOs to be granted under the strictest of conditions and run with the highest standards of health and safety. Otherwise, Indiana's public-private CAFO alliance is a complete and deviant local assault.
One of two things are happening. Either CAFO supporters aren't threatened enough to defend their position or the majority of people in both rural and urban Indiana don't know about the problem. Of those who do, the sentiments are the same -- they are thrilled to have a media entity care.
Talking with family and friends over the last couple of weeks, the same question comes up, "What do we do?" Barbara Cox showed us it's not easy. She's testified in court, organized citizens statewide and encouraged local media coverage. But Pluto will complete an orbit before local government or IDEM take notice.
I think, though, documenting these accounts as Steve and I are doing is a step in the right direction. One purpose of media coverage is to bring people out of desensitization.
It's been my experience that people in my home city of Indianapolis, or even in Bloomington, don't know, or at least don't know much, about factory farms. Understandable. Before now, neither did I.
A common misconception among the people I've talked to, for instance, is that a strike against agribusiness is a call for animal rights. While it's true the animals in CAFOs are pumped full of chemicals, packed into massive, elongated barns and never see sunshine, this is one of many issues involving CAFOs.
By educating people as much as possible about what it means to live by a CAFO, maybe sales of factory farm meat and milk will drop. Maybe organic meat and dairy sales will rise. And let's not forget our local poultry and meat farmers, too.
Maybe the answer to the problem is to attack the market. After all, without demand, there's no supply. It's a rudimentary way of thinking about economics, but it's a place to start.
It's important to mention, though, as Randolph County family farmer Loretta Miller points out, CAFOs are not farming. As I learned on our first trip to Randolph County, family farmers are precisely the people who are so upset about the CAFO takeover.
It's important to farmers like Eric Stickdorn that people make the distinction between agribusiness and farming. If you'll recall the requirements for a business to be considered a CAFO as detailed in Steve's first Indiana Environment Revisted story, 2,500 swine above 55 pounds, 10,000 swine less than 55 pounds and equally astonishing numbers for dairy cattle CAFOs, farmers like Stickdorn operate with a mere 37 cows.
The fact that CAFO operators might call themselves farmers or consider themselves part of the farming community is an insult to Stickdorn and Cox, who also has a small farm. Encouraging a rebirth in the farming community might be as simple as knowing names like Maxwell Farms, one of the major CAFO operators in the Midwest. Purchasing products from other, smaller vendors is just one step that may allow the Hutchison's or the Joneses to breathe easier.
The hands of urban Indiana aren't tied. My work on this project from a laptop in Broad Ripple (an urban Indianapolis stomping ground for anyone wondering) reminds me I can work to educate myself and others about CAFOs without having to be knee deep in pig muck.
I can only hope it doesn't take a state covered in manure for us to realize the grave and under-regulated conditions under which CAFOs currently operate in Indiana.
Amber Kerezman can be reached at .