I grew up in Frederic – was born and raised on the county line between Polk and Burnett counties. I’ve recently moved home after 20 years away, due to environmental illness and increasing climate change as Oregon became less inhabitable. I am “too young to be this sick,” as my medical team says. But my generation has more health issues than any before; we are the canaries in the coal mine of climate crisis, as land management practices impact our drinking water, soil health and air quality.
I feel palpable relief to be back amongst the lakes and waters that make this area so special.
I think it is a failing of our culture when we cannot find common ground in our shared humanity, as well as to imagine what we cannot immediately see or feel.
I recognize these qualities in myself in my personal experiences with climate crises. Having to be on call to evacuate my home and living under the world’s worst air quality for increasing weeks each year, watching my farm animals die under hazy skies, worrying for my family’s health and safety as fires spread on all sides of us are experiences that have changed me – made me both fear and love harder. Watching property prices soar into the millions, while access to water diminished, mirrored my inner landscape as my body became more disabled, creating conditions where I was no longer able to farm.
It breaks me, knowing we are privileged to have access to the gift of abundant sacred waters here, yet we are willing to poison them in the name of individualism. It is only a matter of time before we see more dramatic impacts of climate change in our local area – like this season’s drought and high temps. It shouldn’t take a crisis for us to care for each other, when we can start acting now.
I cannot speak to the experience of the farmers feeling burdened by more rules, but I can speak to the reality of having no choice when there is no land left to farm. I can speak to the human politics I argue we all share. Underneath most activism is an outrage and an anger: our human drive to survive. I recently read that while radical politics are often perceived as harsh and critical, they genuinely come from the softest place inside each of us: our desire for people to thrive.
In response to last week’s letter by the Byls in Laketown, addressing anti-CAFO rhetoric, I want to do my best to hear and respond to your own soft place and dispute what you are calling “bullying, hate and intolerance.” I hear your fears, I hear your concerns for the next generation; I hear that you are not wanting to live under a level of control that prohibits you from doing what your family has done for generations. But in response to your question: “When is it time to say enough is enough?” I would say … before it is too late.
Though our approaches seem different, whether we are third-generation dairy farmers or “activist bullies” – could we all be on one side? On the side of humanity. It is an act of love to care for each other’s well-being. We all want to see this land and area survive and for life to thrive in it: so that your children and theirs can still have the option to farm. So that we may all enjoy the beauty it offers.
Yes, the issue of increased regulations will impact your immediate future, but allowing CAFOS to break ground impacts all of ours, whether we farm or not, for generations to come. It may take years to see the extreme environmental damage that follows this type of operation. What use is wanting our children or grandchildren to carry on our legacy when there is no clean water to keep animals, plants and soil healthy, when there is no land left to nourish us, when our bodies are burdened by environmental illness and we can longer do the things we love? We have an opportunity to work together in a common goal of resource preservation.
I promise you when we are all too sick to farm, like I am, or simply enjoy the land and lakes around us as we age, we will all wish we had done something sooner. When we actively have our water “rights” taken away, when climate change necessitates these limitations before we are ready to set limits ourselves cooperatively, farming will become far more regulated than it is now. It can feel like a great sacrifice to have limits imposed upon us that don’t seem to support us directly, but I argue that the anti-CAFO movement is in fact a form of care that supports our entire community.