In August, 2012, the state of Arkansas, through its Department of Environmental Quality, granted a permit for a 6,500 pig industrial farm (CAFO) near Mt. Judea, just six miles from the Buffalo National River, along a major tributary, Big Creek. C&H Hog Farms was the permittee, with international agricultural conglomerate Cargill Foods as co-conspirator. Funny thing. Many locals didn’t know about it, especially those impacted most directly.
I first learned of this travesty on July 7, 2013, just one day before my 66th birthday, from an editorial in the Springfield News-Leader, and couldn’t believe it was true. My confusion turned to anger as I read more in the local press, and even the New York Times later in the year.
CAFO? Don’t you just love the sound of it? CAFO. Confined Animal Feeding Operation. These are open air houses with pigs (or chickens or turkeys) crammed snout to butt (or beak to tail feathers,) and all their waste pooled beneath or washed into outdoor storage lagoons, prior to being sprayed on adjoining fields.
True confession. I love ribs and pork chops, chicken thighs, and turkey breasts like most. It would be hypocritical for me to rant about CAFOs in general. I will leave that to others. What sets me off is when these CAFOs are stuck next to fragile, irreplaceable water ways and water tables, or small communities who don’t want the stench of corporate farms as neighbors. Like next to America’s first national river.
In this case approval was granted under the cover of darkness, without proper notification of those most directly impacted or adequate environmental impact studies. The National Park Service, which administers the Buffalo National River, was even left in that dark. Sure, “they” followed all the rules. There just aren’t very many. It was a political deal all the way, greased with contributions and silver tongues.
At full capacity this CAFO will generate as much putrid annual waste as a city of 30,000 souls. And, we are required to treat ours.
Where does it all go? Most is sprayed on surrounding fields, including, in this case, those adjacent to Big Creek, where between rain and our unique karst topography, it will distribute toxic waste into America’s first national river and its surrounds, above and below ground, and well beyond individual property lines. Ammonia. Nitrogen. Hormones. Fecal coliform. Neurotoxins. Phosphorous, and algae blooms. Antibiotics, and drug resistant bacteria. Methane gas, and global warming. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?
And that doesn’t even take into account the possibility of a breach in the adjoining waste lagoon which was built to comply with only a 25 year flood event. That’s a blink of the eye in the existence of a river.
Corporate farming has snuck in the back door of a paradise it has no business even being near, and has gotten America’s first national river added to the top ten list of America’s most endangered rivers.
I fear the same for other Ozarkian waters. If it can happen on the Buffalo National River, it can happen anywhere.
I was angry enough that I sat down and wrote a book about how it might have come to be over time. Pig Farm, a Novel, is due to be released in September, 2018.
Coming next, August 8? NAMING RIGHTS