Big Pig Usurps local control

I spent the summer in Fairfield Iowa. It is a nice midwest small town of 10,000 with the usual shops, John Deere ag equipment dealer, Walmart, corporate grocery store (HyVee) but also some artsy coffee houses and parks and a nice town square. There is an Art Walk the first Saturday of the month when loads of folk come out. There are small farmers and a thriving farmers market community. However Big Ag continues does what it will until????

While I was there the issue of confined animal feeding operations got shoved in our faces. While there were a lot of large confined pig operations in Iowa there were reletively few in the part of Iowa I have come to call a second home to myself. A map that was brought to a meeting on the subject showed a blizzard of colored shapes (indicating Confined pig operations of differing size) in North-west Iowa and many others spread out but less in our part of the state.

Iowa is an ag state. While I have known this generally, it seems to mean more than that there is a lot of farming in Iowa. It also seems to mean that farming (which seems to include raising pigs in confined concrete houses)rights are superior to rural country living folk rights. Iowa is very friendly to big ag. which can be unfriendly to the neighbors of big ag.

Rural water is provided to farms cheaply. Much of this is pulled from aquafirs which are being depleted. Rural ag land is cheep like $2 to $3000 per acre or less with large parcels, and the laws are very lax and favorable to big agriculture. There are regularly ads for GMO seed, Ag chemicals and Ag equipment.

So this summer I got word that a pig enclosure was being constructed not more that one half mile from the rural community of SoFair that I am a part of. There was a tense meeting on site where the owner, Mike Keller, explained that he felt forced to do this as he was struggling financially. The company that he is working with is called Tri-Oak and basically has a compelling sales pitch to farmers that lays out a plan or blueprint to build and operate CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) that will make the farmer good money after initial investments are paid. Excuse that I don’t have the details.

What I got from this experience is that many of the smaller farm land owners are feeling financial pinches and are open to corporate pitches to raise pigs or other corporate ag products like GMO corn or soy. In this case Mr. Keller seemed almost sheepish in his facing the community which was about 90 percent opposed to the operation. He had been given a detailed plan on how to build the plant, get the piglets delivered, feed and raise the animals deal with the waste, deal with sickness issues (biohazard in ag parlance) and finally a market to sell the animals. It is all through a network of large ag business corporations which seem to be congregating in rural states with cheap land and very lax regulations.

We learned that the corporation owns the animals, requires the farmer to raise the animals using certain feed and follow the companies blue print. This guarantees the companies behind the farmers with steady business and profits and shields them from lawsuit as the farmer would first be held liable for water pollution and other violations.

The only thing the farmer really owns in the deal is the land and the pig waste that is gathered in large lagoons and then sprayed raw onto the land to fertilize the GMO corn and soy. This particular farm did not need to be approved by the county or state because it was smaller than the permitting size. This facility was going to have 1250 pigs being raised at a time. Pigs are grown to hundreds of pounds with the largest reaching over 400 pounds. There is obviously a lot of pig waste.

I also learned the the city of Fairfield was just finishing a large upgrade to the waste water treatment plant that was costing about 15 million dollars for the town of 10,000 residents. However this farm and others that are coming into the Jefferson County Iowa do not need to put the pig waste through a waste water treatment plant. If they were it would surely raise the cost of raising pigs but instead they just spray it on the land, raw.

Sometimes a big storm washes the waste lagoons away and into local streams, wells, lakes and rivers such as occured recently when hurricane Michael hit the Carolinas.

While I was in Fairfield, there was a town meeting about another larger pig operation that was being planned in the area to the north of town. This one was going to be a 7500 operation which is probably more waste than the whole town of Fairfield produces.

Several hundred people came out to this meeting, again the vast majority against it. County supervisors did not show up for this community meeting. They had convened a smaller meeting several weeks previous and had heard citizen concerns but said in essence they had no power to stop these developments other than filling out the Master Matrix forms for larger operations. I just read the document for the Master Matrix.

My reading of this “Master Matrix” document shows them to be a fig leaf for rubber stamping these CAFO operations. There are with modest requirements and limits on siting near housing, business and schools. The applicant only has to get a 50% mark to be approved. That was a failing grade last I checked but not for corporations.

The larger operation to the North of Fairfield is owned by Bill Huber partnering with a corporation called Agri-Way. Citizens have been challenging this CAFO. A group called JFAN is the spearpoint for the challenges but the county supervisors, all Republican are not willing to challenge the Huber CAFO project. Here is a link to the JFAN newsletter discussing the issue and the very sad news that the supervisors approved the project despite very real compelling environmental concerns that this project will pollute lake Darling and the lake Darling watershed which is a state park and lake.

This is particularly sad because of a long and expensive project to clean up lake Darling by working with local farmers to conserve the soil better and use more sustainable practices.

Corporate interests continue to infringe upon the commons and on less powerful private interests with more and more dire consequences. What can we do about it?

Global trade means plastic in the Oceans and death of trees

Its no secret that all those dodads that people get from Walmart are cheep. They are also usually packaged in such a way that they can withstand being put in boxes, crates, shipping containers, being scanned and moved half way around the world. Then they are unpacked sorted transported, wearhoused and put on our local Walmart’s shelves. Then we subsequently buy this do dad and to get to it we need to take off the hard plastic and the little baggies of soft plastic to get to our cheep asian prize.

Lets say we buy a flat screen tv. It will be packaged in styrofoam and the little clips and screws will come in plastic bags. The warranty and the instructions come in a plastic bag. Do we throw this in the garbage? Do we burn it? Do we return it to Walmart. It is always a conundrum to me.

Then we got the death of trees. When we ship things from Asia sometimes we get insects that ride along. They might be adventurous bugs looking for a new exciting home with new and exciting food and maybe less competition. So sometimes they are not successful in their hitching a ride. They might not survive, they might not find hospitable environs with tasty food. But sometimes they do. Take the Emerald Ash Borer, known to be from Asia. It likes ash trees. In Asia it seems to be a minor pest but hitching a ride with some cargo from China perhaps it arrived in America.

It found a new a vast land with almost no natural predators. We have ash trees which they love. And they went to town. Eating and going through their life stages and boring and laying eggs. The new larvae are born under the bark and eat and form galeries until they are big enough to survive. They then bore out of the tree and fly to find a new ash tree. They much on the leaves but it is the boring that does the ash trees in.

The emerald ash borer has killed uppers of 50 million ash trees mostly in the mid and upper mid western states of Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana.

What is the cost of global trade? Should we be concerned about the trade deficit?
I think the cost of glabal trade is climate change, plastic in the oceans and the death of trees.

We need a new American Dream

I grew up middle class in America. I think my parents mostly did a good job. They weren’t that materialistic. They raised five kids in a blended family. They worked hard. We had vacations. We had braces and piano lessons. We had a pony. I had a Nintendo. I played soccer.
They were children of immigrants and in being so, they were truly American. They worked for and achieved what is termed the American Dream. It isn’t cookie cutter. Their brand was creative and noble in some ways.
The lessons we got were that if you worked hard you can get what they got, i.e. a college education, a job in the professions that you would primarily keep for your adult working life, house, a family, several cars, vacations, respect in the community, service to the community. Very middle-class values. Not terrible but not terribly imaginative either. This is what they wanted for us, expected of us.
It worked for them. They learned from a much more challenged generation who aspired to a life of material safety and comfort. America was growing. Property values were appreciating. Of the generation I am speaking, parents of my parents, three out of four of my grandparents were immigrants and all came through challenging if not harrowing experiences to be here in America and to build a family and life here.
Now because of growth and or appreciation of property values in cities and coastal regions, a house may be out of the reach of young families. If you are able to borrow the money it may take 30 years to pay for it. Life seems too uncertain these days to commit to a 30-year loan. People seem to move around more. People don’t have careers the way they used to. People often have gigs or short-term jobs.
What about the environmental impact of every family owning so much stuff. What are we missing by working so much to pay for it? Is it healthy to structure society around the family rather than the village or the extended family?
I guess I am writing this because I have come to question it all. Yet the new vision is still forming and is a bit hazy. Also, society has not created a lot of space for alternative visions. A family can live in a house. A family can live in an apartment. A family can buy. A family can rent.
You either own it or rent it. If you own it, you don’t fully own it till you pay it off. The bank can take it if you miss three or more payments. If you rent, you don’t own it and you can’t make big plans with the rented property.
We have a capitalistic system. Have you noticed that every holiday is just another excuse to have a sale? There is Labor-day sales, Fourth of July sale, black Friday sales, Easter sales, Memorial day sale?,Presidents day sales, on and on and of course the biggest sales of all is Christmas. What is this all about? It seems that buying and selling is really what America is about. Is that the basis for our culture? How very empty, vapid and ultimately destructive. Is this part of the cause of so much mental illness in this country?
What about community and civic participation? These are the most important things according to Ralph Nader the great thinker and writer on American values. Civic participation is what we need more of. Going to city council meetings. Getting a park built where young mothers can take their kids to play and meet other kids and mothers. How about building community gardens? I know these things all exist, but the focus is on the nuclear family in a single-family home with all their own stuff, paid for with 20 to 30 years of indentured servitude to corporate rule. And with these demands on parents, is there really time for civic participation?
I think what is missing is community ownership, shared ownership. Tiny house communities are popping up here and there. Is this part of the answer I am looking for? I guess I feel that the family unit is not the correct unit for society to structure around. It may be for some. Not all of us fit into that model however. The 60’s idea of dropping out of society and forming a commune makes sense to me. These communes usually didn’t last unfortunately. I don’t quite know why. I am thinking and writing. I haven’t manifested community ownership in my life.

As Marijuana tanks Community Resurges

I live in a small rural community in Northern California. I have a view of a pot farm out my back window. This one grew here as it did all over Humboldt County and many other rural communities in the last ten years, like mushrooms after a warm spring rain, overnight. As pot farms proliferated community standards were wiped away. The back-to-the-landers that arrived here in the 70’s and started homesteading here, got into growing a patch of weed in amongst their vegetables, found a profitable cash crop that supplemented often meager incomes.

In the 80’s and 90’s government raids with helicopter, in this part of the world called CAMP, kept a lid on things by busting and threatening to bust the more ostentatious grows. However, CAMP (campaign against marijuana production, I think) seemed to cease in the 90’s and less people were busted. With prices sky high and the risk of being busted very low people streamed into Humboldt and bought up ranches and rural properties. Greed prevailed. For many enough was never enough. Grows became bigger and bigger, community values seemed to go out the window. The environmenthal and community values, that the back to the landers so strongly held dear seemed to be unimportant to this next generation of home grown and carpetbagger pot growers.

People were making money, having good times and mostly not getting busted. Areas that didn’t have the infrastructure became major industrial pot grows. Big trucks, big fences, and huge greenhouses or plastic farms as I see them, sprung up. People brought in truckload after truckload of bagged soil, every year. It has been a disposable economy. Money was good and long term planning lacking. Trees were knocked down, tractors pushed dirt around for grow flats. For me it has been painful. The economy has benefited in many ways. People had money, but the community and ecology have suffered.

With the wave of state legalizeations from Colorado to Washington, Oregon and now as of 2018, California, pot is being grown in a lot of places, not just Humboldt County. We seem to have reached a saturation point. There is just too much of this magic plant out there. With legalization means regulation and taxation and this combined with lower prices due to saturation of the market means that the profit margins are now very thin.

However every negative seems to have a silver lining. The downturn in the pot economy is painful to Humboldt in many ways. Last year, the once great Reggae on the River festival that seemed to grow and prosper along with the pot economy was a bust and the Mateel organization lost a whopping $700,000 dollars as attendance and concession fees were way off. Also the land boom seems to have cooled dramatically and many pot farms are going out of business. This is painful to those going through it no doubt, but I have noticed a resurgence of community values that is heartening.

I am hearing anecdotal stories about people growing lettuce and other kitchen table crops in their greenhouses. People are taking time to go to farmers markets and do more community activities. People are diversifying their farms. Many more land parcels are available for purchase and though prices have yet to come down much, the signs are out there that they will, which may allow regular folks and families, not supercharged with gangster pot money, to buy land and keep the community vibrant.

It is a time of change and challenge in Humboldt County but to me and many other folks who have been through the boom, things couldn’t go on as they had. It was just too much impact on the community and ecology. Now we start the slow road back to community values and environmental healing. Hopefully we are a little wiser, though possibly a bit poorer.

Israel fires on Palestine Protesters– What can be done?

Yesterday in the Times Standard newspaper I read that in Israel Palestine, the Israeli army had opened fire on protesters, protesting land expropriation, I believe. It was a fairly short story, but this is the Times Standard and not the New York Times. I read in the Times Standard article that thirty-five people were killed outright, and 750 people were hit with live rounds. Today it is reported on the Times Standard website that there were only 18 killed. So, we don’t really know, but it is a lot.

These numbers floored me. I was thinking about it on and off all day. The higher number approaches some of our worst mass killing events in this country and the 750 shot with live ammunition is unbelievably horrible. I believe it is even more than were hit by the horrible attack at the Los Vegas hotel and the country music show a few months ago. However, it was Israel doing it and it was done to quell unruly protesters.

Can you imagine someone opening up with automatic weapons on protesters? Seven hundred and fifty people were shot. Every person is important and deserves life. I don’t even have words for fully explaining this. It is so awful. Why is this happening? This is a merciless, deadly outrageously excessive response to protest. In this country at least, protesting is supposedly protected by the first amendment. But our rights are being undermined, eroded. Same seems to be happening in Israel and Egypt and China and Philippines. There has to be push back or the oppression, the killing will continue. I feel like at a basic level Israel is acting like a big bully and feels they can get away with land expropriation and with the subsequent violent response to the understandable push back from land theft. If a bully is unchallenged they will continue to bully. If a killer is unchallenged will they not continue to kill?

In this country the push back for police killing of unarmed black men has been strong and justified and I believe is having an effect. The same must be done for attacks on Palestinians in Gaza.

It is anti-Semitic or racist to say what Israel does is to be condemned and is terrorism of a civilian population? I think the anti-Semitic charge is a red herring. All lives are valuable not just Jewish life. Just because Jews have suffered and have been exposed to racism and mass killing during the Nazi regime in the 30’s and 40’s doesn’t give Israel a pass when they kill and mistreat others. There are double standards in our media and from our government. We are all humans with hopes and dreams and a right to live and protect what is ours, including land.

Island Sustainability

I recently watched a couple of great shows on Island Sustainability on Netflix.
One is called South Pacific and the other is called Islands of the Future.

Both of these shows show that when people live in a small to moderately sized mostly closed system, they tend to want to take care of it. When we see the impacts of our energy use, our trash, our land use we tend to get the quick feedback that tells us if we are living in harmony with our home.

On the show Islands of the Future each episode highlights an island that is trying to move towards energy and food independence. The first couple islands highlighted are in the Canary Islands. The first show is outstanding. A forward thinking engineer wants the island of Fierro to stop importing diesel and to use wind turbines and the power of potential energy in water to power their island. He wants to create a battery system where wind turbines create energy and move water into a high reservoir. Then release the water to a lower reservoir and in doing so run it through turbines and power the island.

It takes twenty five years but they do it. It was incredible that they had footage of parts of this whole journey and how the public perception changed and everyone eventually gets behind it. The idea was quite clever and it was implemented. It can be done. They are starting to encourage specially designed electric cars and their local president is out in front driving the first one.

All the episodes are great and each has a slightly different twist on sustainability.

The other show named South Pacific, looks at some of the island groups in the South Pacific and how people, nature, and natures creatures survive together. I won’t go into it much but it is well worth seeing. With sea all around people realize their place and live more in harmony. Check it out!