My week included searching for the Outback Farm, finding it and spending time as the lone blueberry picker late one hot afternoon with the sun shining on the west side of the rows loaded, with row after row to pick and time to sample the many varieties all grown organically.
Another day started with a first time kayak trek with Michelle Townsley, at Twin Bridges, up for a time on Spring River then down and back to the train trestle where huge logs were wedged and hung beneath forming sculptures in my imagination of sea monsters and snakes, quietly resting until the next train crossed above to rattle them to life. Michelle takes teaching to another level, in her classroom at Will Rogers, but out there in the water with a newbie like me. She and her husband David's kayaks have had some real adventures, but that day, she quietly empowered, instructing only when needed. She is finishing up a Masters degree this summer and yes, should certainly seek another one in Outdoor Adventure, she is a natural.
Hours later it was time to stack wheat straw bales in the barn, cut that day by Jerry Powell with the square baler bought from Dan Riley, who I still consider my farm teacher, never having had the opportunity to have a teacher like Carolyn Piguet, the agriculture instructor at Vinita High School, who is their current Teacher of the Year.
I also got to visit with Joe Maxwell, former Lt. Governor of Missouri who is working on the NO effort for the right to farm state question here in Oklahoma. He spoke about Confined Animal Feeding Operations, what they are, who owns the companies and what impact they may cause the environment.
Manure and wastewater from industrial farms have the potential to contribute pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, sediments, pathogens, hormones, and antibiotics to the environment.
According to the Environment America Research & Policy Center report Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat and poultry producers, dumps more toxic pollution into the nation’s waters than any other agribusiness, and produces the most animal manure of five major companies assessed nationwide: 55 million tons of manure per year -- manure that too often ends up untreated, ultimately fouling rivers, streams, and drinking water.
When chicken manure contaminated two sources of drinking water for Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tyson and other poultry processors agreed to pay the city $7.5 million.
By concentrating thousands of animals on factory farms, corporate agribusinesses create industrial scale pollution with disastrous consequences for waterways across the country.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agriculture is the probable cause for making more than 145,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country too polluted for swimming, fishing, drinking, or maintaining healthy wildlife. That is an amazing loss and one I had just seen for myself.
Reflecting back on those moments in the kayak on the Spring River and down by the train trestle the water surrounding us at times was stagnant with patches of algae, the water with no clarity was murky. Fish were jumping, I always had thought, they were jumping for joy! but perhaps they jump to get oxygen since the water is impaired at least in part from agribusinesses in our watershed.
The solutions to curb agribusiness pollution -- such as buffer zones, reduced concentration of livestock, and hauling waste out of endangered watersheds -- are feasible and well-known to the industry. The hope our creeks, rivers and lakes have is for these to be practiced by all.
Since most of the meat produced in the U.S. is exported, we can also hope these countries change their diets and cut back on their meat consumption and that could help protect our waters.
The responsibility we have is to keep learning, asking questions, thinking about the right to farm and how responsibly we do it.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim