DNR Arithmetic…

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They came, nearly 100 strong, on a frigid April afternoon in Adams, Wis., for a free lesson in DNR Arithmetic. Sample problem:

If ground water with more than 10 parts nitrates per million is dangerous for human consumption, then groundwater with 28 parts per million is: a) worse, b) much worse, c) obscene, or d) just fine.

If you chose d) you could have a future in modern Wisconsin resource management. In fact, you might want to apply for work with Burr Oak Heifers LLC.

Burr Oak is an agri-business behemoth that used to be called Opitz Custom Heifers before it changed its name. You’d probably change your name, too, if you’d been slapped with a $65,000 fine last summer for polluting groundwater on a field across the road from a community church and then been levied up to $10,000 more for ruining your neighbor’s well. You might even consider changing your ways.

But Opitz/Burr Oak simply changed its tactics. It abandoned the feedlot where it had earned the fine and replaced it with plans to open a 3,100-heifer CAFO on the same site, complete with four massive barns and a concrete manure pit the size of two football fields with space left over for square dancing. The barns and the pits are designed to reduce the nitrate seepage, but it’s not guaranteed that they will. And if they don’t …well, the DNR is willing cut Burr Oak some slack.

Lots of slack. Under the discharge permit granted to the CAFO by the agency, the company can pollute to the tune of 28 parts per million, or a little less than three times the amount that got it into trouble in the first place. Of course, that sounds preposterous, but it’s also totally legal. You say you’d like an explanation?

So did the five dozen or so people who gathered at the Adams County Community Center on that cold April day for a DNR public hearing on the permit. Briefly, this is what they heard:

Yes the creative capitalists at Burr Oak (Or is it Opitz? You can’t tell the polluters without a scorecard) despoiled the ground water across the road from the church. But they weren’t the only ones. Some of the pollution came from farms off the site.  How much of it? The DNR doesn’t know. Where did the outside pollution come from? The DNR can’t say. What can it do about it if it finds out? Nothing. Because if a farm’s not a CAFO, it doesn’t need a permit to mess up everybody’s water. Are you slapping yourself upside the head yet? Hang on, it gets worse.

Under the DNR’s reasoning, Burr Oak gets the permit because it can’t be expected to solve a ground water conundrum that it was only partly responsible for creating. Never mind that the CAFO stands a pretty good chance of adding to the nightmare by jamming 3,100 heifers into a space previously occupied by 4,250 cows. In its defense, the company will spend a lot of money on plastic and concrete to stop that from happening, and if that doesn’t work — well at least you’ll know they tried really hard.

You’re probably wondering how the DNR came up with the allowable figure of 28 parts nitrates vs. the 10 that modern science tells us can make people very sick. Glad you asked. It seems test wells on the property showed the level had spiked to as many 29 parts per million when Opitz, er Burr Oak, was running the place as a feed lot. So as a CAFO, it gets to creep right up to brink of the worst scenario.

Can this really be happening? Sure it can. In a state political climate where companies are people, and people are inconveniences, it’s happening all the time. Theoretically, this isn’t a done deal because the permit isn’t final yet. But when the DNR people at the meeting were asked if there was a realistic chance that the permit decision would be reversed, they said no. The best that could happen would be that some of the terms might get altered.

So why did sixty people put on their winter jackets, warm up their cars and drive to the Adams County Community Center to listen to three hours of Katzenjammer mathematics? Some of them may not have known it was lock for the Burr Oak crowd; some of them may have felt a need to make the DNR aware of a lot of really pertinent information; and some were probably just steamed.

Whatever their reasons for being there, they had some really interesting things to say. One of them for instance wondered if any of the people who stand to get rich from this project will ever have to drink the water they’re polluting, or do they all live somewhere else? Bet you can answer that one yourself.

Another suggested that you can get a pretty good idea of the character of a company that would build one of these monstrosities 200 yards from a church. Then again there’s one a few towns over that’s expanded to within a quarter mile of a grade school. What next, a cemetery? Make sure Grandpa’s coffin is tight.

Another theorized that the trend to more and more CAFOs and fewer and fewer family farms may eventually result in a change in the state motto. Instead of “America’s Dairy land” we’ll be “America’s Manure Sewer.” It rhymes if you say it just right.

And a couple actually sympathized with the good folks at the DNR. They had a point when they said the agency scientists have been overwhelmed by the Madison politicians. “You don’t get paid enough to put up with this,” said one citizen and that drew a smile from some of the DNR pros. “The DNR has been castrated,” said another, and that didn’t.

As one lady pointed out, this kind of thing won’t end until the right people are voted into office.

Or maybe the wrong ones start representing their constituents instead of their political contributors out of a sense of fair play.

Yeah, that will happen. On a cold day in Adams. Or someplace else.




Neighbors of the worst kind (part 2)…

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Wayne Baesemann has a three-word description for the approach the New Chester Dairy takes to its neighbors.  It could be the company motto.

“Deny, Deny, Deny.”

Bring the managers a problem, and he says they can find an answer that has nothing to do with reality. Manure haulers running illegally on side roads? “Doesn’t happen.” Fumes that resemble the output from a sewer plant more than a dairy. “We’re not so bad.” Trucks rumbling non-stop dawn to dusk? “Others are worse.”

Baesemann is Grand Marsh area farrier who admits he should have been paying closer attention when he got word of Milk Source Holdings’ plans to build a massive Confined Animal Feeding Operation called the New Chester Dairy a half-mile from his house. But he works long hours and travels the state, and he had plenty of other things on his mind.

Now with hundreds of semis rolling past his house daily and a stench that’s bad enough to drive his family indoors on summer nights, it’s hard for him to think of anything else.

Looking back at the process that has destroyed both his neighborhood and his quality of his life, Baesemann says, “Am I the most involved in the community? No, but this was already passed and ready to go before the community really knew about it. There was nothing from our community itself that said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have this meeting. This is coming.’ We were hearing it hearsay, here and there, through the grapevine.”

If Baesemann knew then what he knows now, he would have been much more active. But timing is everything in politics, and he’s convinced that it’s too late to do anything today to make the factory a better neighbor. Talking certainly hasn’t helped.

“I went over to them about a year and a half ago and talked to the manager,” he recalled. “I just wanted to know if anybody was interested in buying our place. He said, ‘Why?’ And I said, “Because of you guys. Between the smell and the traffic all the time I don’t want to live here anymore.’ He said, ‘The potato trucks make more noise than we do,’ and I said, ‘No they don’t.’ And he said, ‘I’m just doing what I’m told.’ He’s told to pawn it off on somebody else. I haven’t heard from him since.

“I’ve been to a few meetings, and when I went and tried to talk to the guy about buying the place, it was deny, deny, deny. I went into one meeting, and one of the other residents in the area was asking why the semis were running down his road. The guy who I think is in charge over there said, ‘They’re not.’ Well, it’s a side road, and they’re not allowed to be on those roads, weight limit wise. But there it was, and the guy followed it right back to the dairy.  He videotaped taped it, and he said, ‘I have it, and I can show it to you.’ And still he wouldn’t believe him.

“At the same meeting I said, ‘Is there a reason why these trucks have to be going 55, 65 miles an hour when they hit my house? They have to throw their air brakes on.’ He said they didn’t use those brakes, and I said BS. I’ve lived it, and I hear them. You can’t talk to them.”

Baesemann says people have told him he needs to be more aggressive in dealing with the factory, but he doubts that that would help. He’s a small problem for the people at Milk Source management, and they have a big agenda.

“I have a customer who says I have to be a pain in the butt, and they’ll buy me out to shut me up,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the area who have bitched and moaned. They don’t shut up, and it hasn’t gotten them anywhere. That’s not my personality. Do I want to? Yes.

“I get to a lot of places, and I talked to one dairy farmer down in the Watertown area. He told me he went to a dairy convention where the guy who owns Milk Source gave a speech where he said his main goal was to be the biggest milk producer. I can’t remember whether he said in the United States or the world, but that’s this guy’s personal goal.”

Baesemann’s goals aren’t quite so grand. He just wants a clean quiet place where he can live, operate his business and enjoy his summers. He had that once in Grand Marsh, but he lost it to the CAFO. And he understands that if it can happen to him, it can happen to thousands of others who face the danger of a factory farm invasion.

Like the New Chester public relations policy, his advice to them can also be summed up in three words. He tells them to be more involved than he was.

And then he says, “Fight, fight, fight.”



Neighbors of the worst kind…

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When they bought the 18 acres just outside of Grand Marsh, Wis., Wayne Baesemann and his wife Nicole were looking forward to quiet summer nights, horseback rides and the occasional backyard barbeque with friends. Rural life at its finest.

What they have now isn’t even close.

“We were in our early thirties,” Baesemann recalls wistfully. “We wanted a place in the country where we could have horses and like that. Beautiful. Nice small Grand Marsh. Then this place comes here, and I just want to get out.”

The place Baesemann refers to is the New Chester Dairy, a sprawling factory farm that brought him 4,300 uninvited new neighbors, each with four legs, bad social skills and atrocious bathroom habits. The quiet nights have given way to the incessant rumble of trucks streaming past their front door, and way too many evenings with friends have been canceled by the overwhelming odor of thousands of gallons of liquid cow manure.

Baesemann makes his living as a farrier. He’s a man surrounded by horseshoes, but his luck turned in 2010 when Milk Source Holdings, Inc. submitted the paperwork to build a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation a quarter of a mile from his driveway and about a mile from the local grade school. The CAFO breezed through the permitting process, and the next thing Baesmann knew, his country paradise had turned into a hell of stench and traffic.

“Basically, it destroyed our quality of living,” he said. “In the summertime we used to have quite a few people on the weekends and have fires and things like that. Now you go outside, and the smell just burns your nose. My wife’s pretty sensitive with allergies, and it’s turned her inside out.

“People say to us, ‘Well, you live in Wisconsin,’ and I say to them, ‘You don’t understand.’ The ammonia smell gets so strong some days, it’s like a sewage plant, not a dairy farm. Every night in the summer between 7 and 8 o’clock, it sinks in, and you get nailed by the smell. When they first started up, my son and I were back in the woods where we’ve got this little campground. We were having a bonfire, and we had to come in because we couldn’t handle the smell.”

As hard as the factory is on peoples’ noses, it can be even worse on their ears. Baesemann said he has a neighbor who spent an hour one afternoon timing the trucks hauling manure past his place and clocked one every 30 to 45 seconds. Another neighbor told him that he counted 250 manure trucks rolling by in a single day. He called it “insane.” It’s also unsafe.

“You used to see kids run through Grand Marsh going to their school to play on the playground or just moving around town,” he said. “You don’t see that now. I wouldn’t send my kid out on this road with all these trucks.

“ They go right through downtown Grand Marsh, and they just fly through there. The speed limit was 35 mph, but when enough people complained they dropped it to 25. But it seems like they go through there at 40 or 50. They don’t care. We can always tell if a squad car is sitting in town, because they’re driving slower. We know without seeing the cop that he’s there.”

They’d also know without seeing the trucks that they’re there. The noise starts early and stays late.

“The semis are running from sun-up to sundown,” Baesemann said. “When they’re hauling manure it’s nonstop for two or three weeks. One big problem is the trucks have these huge turf tires on them. You hear them from miles away, and every one of them goes right past our house.

“That’s another aspect of it. If you pull out of your driveway, you can be stuck behind one of those trucks for miles, and now the smell is in your car. You get stuck behind them constantly. There’s no way around them.”

Baesemann visited the factory about a year and a half ago to complain about the noise and was told that the potato trucks that have always run in the area were noisier than the semis. Even if that were true – and he knows it isn’t — he points out that the potato haulers don’t go all summer long. “I told him I knew about the potato trucks when I bought the house,” he said “You guys weren’t here then, and I wouldn’t have bought it if I’d known you would be.”

None  of which is making his property more saleable. Baesemann says while the dairy claimed that building there would ease the local tax burden, his real estate taxes haven’t gone down since the CAFO moved in. What’s it done to his property value?

“I haven’t checked it out yet,” he said. “I’m kind of afraid to find out. I’m in transition here with my business. I want to move a little further east for that, and to get the hell away from these guys.”

Next: dealing with the diary.



Can we soar once again like an Eagle?

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Can our water supply stage a comeback like the eagle?

With the Central Sands area firmly in the grasp of winter, we have been seeing the usual congregation of wildlife around water and food sources. But one species we have been blessed to see is our national bird, the bald eagle. On my commute to work the past several days, I have been thrilled to see three immature eagles feeding on a deer carcass right along the road. Anyone traveling near the open waters of the Wisconsin River is likely to spot some of these birds this time of year.

We have not always been so fortunate. People my age can remember being young and maybe being lucky enough to see one eagle up north. There just weren’t many around. In fact, in the early 1960s, it was estimated there were only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles left in the U.S. The birds had lost the ability to hatch their young due to the pesticide called DDT affecting the eggs.

I see a parallel to the eagles’ plight 50 years ago to the threats we face with our water supply this very moment in Wisconsin.

I have lived in the Central Sands area for 25 years and have been blessed to enjoy the many lakes and recreational streams in the area. Over the years I have watched many of them shrink in size, and some actually dry up. During the same period I have seen the number of irrigation systems and high-capacity wells grow tremendously.

Nowadays, when I excitedly point out bald eagles to my young daughter, she loves seeing them, but just can’t appreciate how special it is, because they have always been there for her generation. I have to explain the way it was, and how we must never take nature for granted, as it is a fragile thing.

Unfortunately, she also is used to seeing low lakes, and irrigation pivots are just part of the landscape. To her, this is normal. Only by pointing to old tree lines and exposed boat landings around lakes am I able to show her how things used to be.

Following World War II, DDT was heralded as a new pesticide to kill mosquitos and other insects. Liberal use for agricultural needs resulted in DDT entering the food chain where it was passed along until it ultimately ended up in the Eagles. It took a lot of time and pressure to bring the issue to people’s attention. The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson did much to bring awareness to the issue in 1962, although she was roundly criticized by many for writing it.

She was questioning the use of one of agriculture’s most valuable tools, and it was not well received. Even with the Secretary of the Interior putting the eagle under the protection of the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, it was not until 1972 that the EPA finally banned the use of DDT.

Thus began the long road back for the bald eagle. As the DDT was flushed from the ecosystem, these birds again began to successfully reproduce, and they returned from the brink. Today it is estimated there are 9,789 nesting pairs in the lower 48 States.

Like the use of DDT, the use of irrigation is an important tool for agriculture. The proliferation of wells in the Central Sands area has to be seen to be believed. The disappearance of our lakes is eerily similar to the plight of the eagle. And like the time of Silent Spring, there are studies and groups trying to raise awareness around the issue of groundwater. And again like DDT, not everyone is happy about the news, or willing to acknowledge that there needs to be a change. I wonder how long it will take for people to come to grips with the need for a better solution. How bad does it need to get?

Unlike the government stepping in to help save the eagle, our current state government seems willing to ignore science and continue to permit an unlimited number of wells. Only through private legal action taken by conservation groups – groups such as Friends of the Central Sands, Family Farm Defenders and others — does there seem to be any effort to slow the tide.

Can we start the road to recovery like the eagle? For our children and grandchildren, we must try.



A Tale of Two Wisconsins…

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Two sides of Wisconsin: Which will we choose?

We recently took a motorcycle ride to enjoy the fall season in Wisconsin. Literally and figuratively, our ride showed us two sides of Wisconsin.

We started out in the area well-known as “The Central Sands,” then traveled west toward the Kickapoo River Valley area, known as the “Coulee Region” since glaciers seemingly left that portion of the state untouched. The contrast in land contours is striking, and highlights what is so unique about Wisconsin. Within a one-hour ride, we could see flat, sandy land dotted with lakes and trout streams, transitioning to loam soil in ridges and valleys dotted with streams.

The other contrast we saw was in the use of the land. In the Central area, we rode past huge fields dotted with pivot irrigation systems. These are required due to the sandy nature of the soil, and the fact that any rainfall is quickly gone. In this area there were few farms as we used to know them in Wisconsin. Instead of houses and farm buildings, there were occasional older farmsteads that showed no evidence of farming, and then larger vegetable storage or processing areas with no houses around.

The harvesting equipment we saw was enormous and moved quickly through the big fields. We saw several freshly cleared forest lots that were obviously being cleared to make more room for fields. Then, we noticed a stark change.

We passed through Grand Marsh. Our noses noticed it first: What is that smell? It was an incredibly large CAFO dairy, and it was manure spreading time. I was raised around farms, but this was not the typical manure smell; it was much more potent. With the volume of manure these farms generate, they have to store it in lagoons, where it ferments and gets really ripe until spreading time.

On the road we met truck after truck hauling manure. The small town of Grand Marsh was busy with truck after truck hauling crop harvests into the farm, and manure trucks taking the nasty stuff away. The smell permeated the town and I wondered how these folks in a small rural town felt about all the traffic and the smell.

Thankfully we put that in the rearview mirror and headed west. Soon, we were in hill country. As we wound through the hills, I was intent on piloting the bike. My wife, riding behind me, broke into my concentration when she asked over our headset, “Have you noticed all the small farms?” I hadn’t thought about it, but she was right. I started to pay attention. We went past one family farm after another. Some were quite small, some a little larger with the newer open-sided cow stalls, and there were little Amish farms mixed in as well.

She noted how nice it was to see the family farms and the conservative use of the crop land with strip contours. As we rode through this area, we also passed through a series of small towns. One town’s streets were loaded with waving kids as we found ourselves passing through right before the homecoming parade. I truly felt we were in the Wisconsin that we proudly display on one of our state license plates. I think when you talk to people from other parts of the country, this is the Wisconsin that we are known for.

That night, as I sat enjoying a post-ride beer, I was in a melancholy state of mind. In the Central Sands where I live, all we hear is how this is the “new farming” that is the future. They tell me that mega-dairies and huge crop farms are the only way for people to make a living. That the “family farm” is dying because none of the kids want to do it anymore. But another side of Wisconsin told me that isn’t true.

There are plenty of folks out there still trying to make it as true family farms. And the small towns and the pride in them we saw as we rode reminded me that the Wisconsin values that define us as a state still exist. I pondered how current legislation on high-capacity wells, waste management practices, and farm subsidy programs stack the deck against the family farm. People with positions of power, and people with money to influence them, are trying to steer us in a direction that I fear undermines the true Wisconsin values we are so famous for. I, for one, am not going to buy the hype anymore, and will not sit silently by and watch it happen.



Public Trust what?

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It’s called the Public Trust Doctrine, and Republicans in the State Legislature have put a new spin on it. You can trust them to carry water for factory farms, and never mind what happens to the public.
Normally, these folks use a lighter touch, but the late night measure that the Joint Finance Committee slipped into the state budget bill last month is as subtle as 100 acres of liquid manure. It’s called Motion #375. It was introduced by Cascade Rep. Daniel LeMahieu, and it says:
“Move to specify that any person may not challenge an application for, or a permit for, a high capacity well based on the lack of consideration of the cumulative environmental impacts of the proposed high capacity well together with existing wells when approving the high capacity well permit. This provision would apply to applications for high capacity well permits in effect before, on or after the effective date of the bill and for which final administrative or judicial review has not been completed on the effective date of the bill.”
That’s a monumental legislative mouthful, but it boils down to this: If it’s passed as part of the budget, the Department of Natural Resources can’t be challenged for ignoring the damage high capacity wells do to their neighbors over time when considering new well applications. It just so happens that “cumulative environmental impacts” make up one of the biggest issues in dispute in the FOCS challenge to a monster Concentrated Area Feeding Operation called the Richfield Dairy proposed for Adams County. It’s also a fact that the contested case hearing in that dispute is scheduled for this month, and Motion #375 conveniently mentions it cover disputes that are already going on.
You’re free to believe all of that is a coincidence, and if you want, you can also take the word of a Milk Source Holdings spokesman who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his company didn’t ask for this. While you’re at it, you might want to invest in some African bank stock or book reservations for a ride on a flying pig.
There’s enough in there to feed an army of attorneys for a lifetime, which is never a problem for a monolith like Milk Source that has even more money than it has manure. FOCS on the other hand has to watch every dime in its fight to do what’s right for the resources of the entire state as opposed to the profit margins of a few corporations with deep pockets of campaign cash.
The legal battle is likely to revolve around that pesky Public Trust Doctrine. It’s all wrapped up in Article IX, Section I of the State Constitution. The doctrine requires the state to protect public rights in the commercial or recreational use of navigable waters. Over time, the legal definition of “navigable waters” has been expanded to include groundwater and virtually any body of water that will float a boat. Like for instance all of the lakes and streams that reputable experts have said would be slowly drained by the Richfield CAFO’s high cap wells.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that in reviewing projects that could impact Wisconsin lakes and rivers, the DNR staff can’t ignore science demonstrating these impacts will occur. The public’s rights in these matters have been adjudicated to include not only recreation but natural beauty and the prevention of pollution and the protection of water quality.
Sounds like a judicial slam dunk, doesn’t it? That’s not how it sounds to Milk Source, which can spend millions to try to turn the Public Trust Doctrine on its head, or to Rep. LeMahieu and his cronies on the Joint Finance Committee.
We don’t know yet how it sounds to Gov. Scott Walker, who would have to sign off on the measure to make it law. He’s declined to say which way he’s leaning on the issue, and if you’re interested in helping to stop this shameless maneuver, a letter to the governor’s mansion wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Let’s hope you’re interested, because Motion #375 is wrong in so many ways. In addition to preventing the DNR from doing the job it’s assigned to do by the State Constitution, it’s bound to lead to overpumping groundwater and drying up lakes, streams and private wells – all for the benefit of giant companies at the expense of the public. Nobody has explained yet why a policy matter like this is being tucked into the budget process instead of being considered openly as a separate bill, but it seems to have the distinctive odor of a big city-style back room deal.
Whether it becomes law will be decided in the next month as the Legislature stitches together the final budget and submits it to Walker, who can then veto what he doesn’t like. Usually that’s done by July 1, which still gives people time to let their state senators and representatives know how they feel about this outrage. Shoot them an email. In the Adams and Marquette County area, you can reach State Senator Julie Lassa at Sen.Lassa@legis.wisconsin. gov and Rep. Scott Krug at Rep.Krug@legis.wisconsin.gov.
It would also help if you sent a little something to FOCS help to defer snowballing legal costs. And letters to the editors of local newspapers to let people know what’s going on would be a very good idea. Like a lot of creepy, crawling things that thrive in the dark of night, Motion #375 doesn’t respond well to daylight.



What’s in a noun…

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You can use up an impressive pile of nouns and adjectives talking about Lynn Henning, and people do it all the time. But a good one to stay away from would be “terrorist.” A neighbor found that out 13 years ago, and the ugly factory farm scene has never been the same.

Her friends might use “courageous” or “tireless” or “determined” or maybe “insanely energetic” to describe this Michigan grandmother. Her enemies on the other hand have run through most of the ones that can’t appear in a family newspaper. Henning’s personal favorite is “white haired witch.” But she still just thinks of herself as a family farmer.

Which is what she was on that day in 2000 when she walked into the local grocery store and one of her fellow shoppers asked, “Why did you turn your neighbor in?”

“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Henning recalled. “What had happened was the large CAFO next to us had discharged into a county drain. The drain was named after our family, and they were telling people I had turned them in. So we formed a group and started water monitoring. We started that way because I had been accused of something I didn’t do.

“What you have to understand is these people are always trying to point the finger at somebody else. The CAFO operator had actually been in my wedding 33 years ago, and he literally accused me of being a terrorist.”

True story, and Henning will have plenty more of them to share when she appears at the FOCS Water Reality fund raiser on May 18 at the Lake Lucerne Camp and Retreat Center near Wautoma. A veritable “Who’s Who?” of experts on vital water resources will be there to speak, but she’s probably the only one among them who’s had her mail box blown up.

And been trapped on a country road by a manure hauler, and had her land sprayed with noxious chemicals by a crop duster, and had dead animals dumped on her porch. And — this is the most mind bending of all — had her granddaughter’s bedroom window shot out.

“It was about 11 o’clock in the evening,” she recounted. “Her bedroom was in the front of the house, and they shot out the window. It was a double pane, and the shot shattered the first pane, but it didn’t come through to the second. She was in the room sleeping. It was a miracle of God that she didn’t get hit.”

That’s how dangerous and bitter the opposition can become as Henning and her colleagues at the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan do their 25-hour-a-day best to help state and federal agencies protect everyone’s health and environment.

When Henning’s not driving, she’s flying, and when she’s not flying she’s talking, and when she’s not talking, she’s farming.  A full-time staff member of the Michigan Sierra Club, she does speaking engagements all over the country, in addition to training people, driving 100 miles a day three to five days a week for water monitoring, and doing aerial flyovers with the help of an voluntary organization called Light Hawk. How much does Lynn Henning drive? Well, her email address is “Tigerpaw,” named for the tires she and her husband wore out on their car.

And in their spare time, they farm 300 acres.

“I’m still a farmer,” she said. “You make time for that. I can all of my own food. I have a lot of things happening all of the time. I’m already booked through October.”

In other words, she’s exhausted, right? “Nope,” she said. “You know what? I can sleep when I’m dead.”

In the meantime, she’s dedicated to helping other people live longer, healthier lives. Henning understands better than most the connection between health and environment. Her mother-in-law and father-in-law, who have lived within 1,000 feet of a CAFO, both have been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and her husband suffered a heart attack at age 53 four years ago.

“He was out splitting wood, and the emissions from the CAFO near us literally sparked his heart attack,” she said. “The way the doctors put it, it was like a match to a stick of dynamite. I’m not saying the emissions caused it, but they were the final straw that set it off.

“My husband goes out with me monitoring, and my children support everything I do. I don’t get them in the middle of it, though. They have their families and working. But when I won the Goldman, we flew them all out to Washington.”

“The Goldman” is Henning’s off-hand reference to a very big deal. The Goldman Environmental Prize is a $150,000 award that goes only to the world’s leading grassroots environmentalists. There are six of them bestowed each year on six different international regions, Henning won the North American honor in 2010, and it’s helped her to make invaluable appearances for the cause, including one on HBO’s Real Time show with Bill Maher. As she put it, “It blew the barn doors open.”

It also helped tone down the harassment. Not that that’s ever slowed her down. Henning says she has had volunteers who have given up, saying they just can’t deal with the pressure. But she’s never considered doing that herself, and no one’s told her she should.

“I never had anybody say that to me, but I have had people giving me their prayers and blessings and saying they support me 100%,” she said. “What we have out here in the country is what we c all a rural code. You don’t do unto your neighbor what you wouldn’t want done unto you.  I’ve put my life and soul into the three farms we have, and my children and my family were brought up here for generations. You stand your ground. You don’t walk away.”

You don’t always win, either. Not in every case. But Henning takes the long view, and from that perspective she says the good guys have won already. “Things are starting to change,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen a local movement across this country. People are starting to raise their own food. They’re going to CSAs and cooperatives, and they’re buying local. We’re seeing a change in society.”

Setting that trend have been people like Lynn Henning, who likes what she sees. You can add “optimist” to those nouns and adjectives.



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