Two weeks before Farm Aid 30, a group of farmers from Green County, WI, reached out to me on our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline about a proposed mega-dairy in their community. A Nebraska businessman had announced plans to build a 5,500-cow operation that would be almost 50 times bigger than the size of the average dairy farm in Green County. The farmers ranged from third generation dairy farmers to beginning vegetable farmers, and they were concerned that the dairy – a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) – would threaten the health, safety, and economy of Green County. Their concerns are connected to a growing body of research on the impacts of factory farms in rural communities. Factory farms produce millions of gallons of manure that spill into waterways and generate hazardous air pollutants. Neighbors of factory farms experience overwhelming odors that cause headaches, nausea, and other long-term health effects.
Calling themselves Green County Defending Our Farmland, the farmers had already done a lot of great organizing by the time they reached out to Farm Aid. They had spent years building a network in their community, from their local Farmers Union chapter to the Green County Women in Sustainable Agriculture group. So, when the CAFO announcement came along, they had a strong network they could use to connect with people around this issue. The week before they talked to Farm Aid, they had rallied people to hold signs at the County Board of Supervisors Meeting, urging the board members to vote against the CAFO.
As they moved forward with their organizing, they reached out to Farm Aid for additional support. I invited them to attend Farm Aid 30: Strength From Our Roots, a two-day meeting of farmers, activists, farm advocates, and civic leaders that Farm Aid hosted in Chicago before our annual concert.
At the gathering, four members of Green County Defending Our Farmland connected with farm activists from Farm Aid’s long-time partners at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Socially Responsible Agriculture Project to learn about their experience organizing against CAFOs in their communities and to develop strategies for their own battle.
On Monday September 21, just two days after Farm Aid 30, Green County Defending Our Farmland presented a petition with 880 signatures to the Sylvester Town Board. At the meeting that night, the board passed the Moratorium of Livestock Facilities Licensing Ordinance, securing a major victory that lays the groundwork for residents of Green County to implement stringent local standards to protect their community from factory farms.
Green County Defending Our Farmland is an important example of how grassroots change happens. Strong relationships – among community members and across state lines – are key to advancing family farm agriculture in communities across the country, grounding our food system in the values of justice, democracy, diversity and sustainability.Connect with Green County Defending our Farmland on their Facebook page