Industrial Ag in the Driftless conference offers reminder to examine values

By DENA EAKLES

Echo Valley Hope, rural Ontario

The five-hour Industrial Ag in the Driftless conference, which was held Jan. 20 in Boscobel, Wis., offered many important takeaways. Perhaps the most significant was the suggestion posed by Mary Daugherty, founder of Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network. I am summarizing her here: “There are three questions to consider: Who are we in the Driftless? What do we value here? And, what arewe willing to do to protect that which we value?”

She went on to tell us not to try to tackle the third question without getting to the heart of the first two. There is wisdom in this. We need to understand who we are and what we value before we can adequately protect what we love.

The keynote speaker, Dr. John Ikerd, spoke of the treasure that is the Driftless. We have an incredible wealth of natural beauty and resources and a history filled with people who have loved and honored this land. We are one of the last strongholds of small family farms and one of the largest organic cooperatives in the nation. He asked us to be vigilant.

What brought more than 20 grassroots organizations together? The proposal to build a hog-slaughtering facility outside of Viroqua was one pivotal catalyst.

As we are coming to learn how the pork industry operates today, we are recognizing that southwest Wisconsin is slated to be the next hog farm to the world. Individuals from Missouri, Minnesota and Iowa came to confirm our worst fears, describing the destruction of water, air and the very fabric of communities when the pig-slaughtering facilities arrived in their states. It was hard to listen to their stories of generations of family farms destroyed.

The processing facilities have obvious problems, like what to do with all of the waste and contaminatedwater,but it goes much deeper. To get those 700-plus hogs per day to the processing plant, you need hog farms. Apparently, geniuses have come to realize that pork tastes better if the pigs aren’t transported too far. This has nothing to do with kindness to the animal and definitely not kindness to the surrounding farms or our water supply.

So, in order to supply the ridiculous number of hogs to the slaughter facility (as we feed the world cheap pork), there will be an uptick in the number of pig CAFOs (confined animal feed operations) within a 50-mile radius of the slaughterhouse. You can do the math.

And for those who may not know this, southwest Wisconsin — actually, most of Wisconsin — is a karst region. In simple terms, it means our geology is porous and does not take kindly to lagoons full of pig manure, parts and the chemicals used to “process” animals 365 days a year, allowing the polluted water to easily enter our drinking water. 

And, by the way, small, organic pig farmers already in our region will not be permitted to use the new pig-slaughtering facility.

So here are the questions: Who are we? What do we value? And how can we protect that which we value? We need to answer these questions, each of us, and we need to talk to one another. Because if we value our rural way of life, clean water and a community willing to stand up for what we love, there is little time to waste.

For more on this conference, you can listen to the guest speakers. Most are only about 10 minutes. All videos can be found on https://www.wisvideohub.net.

For up-to-date information on the hog facility slated for Vernon County, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/2335447180013259/about/.

Echo Valley Hope is a nonprofit based in rural Ontario. For more information, go to http://echovalleyhope.org/.

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