Prestigious Environmental Prize Awarded to Michigan Family Farmer

Lynn Henning

Photo: Tom Dusenbery

The 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the Green Nobel Prize, has been awarded to Lynn Henning, a farmer from Clayton, Michigan, a small town in south-central Michigan.  Ms Henning has led a campaign in her hometown to challenge the environmental degradation created by local concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs).  Lorrae Rominger, the deputy director of the San Francisco-based Goldman Prize, noted that Ms. Henning’s leadership focused upon “one of the most serious and least-talked about issues” in America because the demand for cheap meat and dairy products has resulted in a factory farming system reliant upon CAFOs.

With her husband, Lynn Henning farms 300 acres of corn and soybeans in Lenawee County within 10 miles of 12 CAFO facilities.  Her husband’s parents, both in their 80s, live within 1000 feet of a CAFO operation and have been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide poisoning.

According to information posted on the website of the Goldman Prize, , CAFOs can house as few as seven hundred and as many as millions of animals in confined spaces with no natural vegetation, either in outdoor pens or in huge windowless structures.  The animal excrement produced daily at a medium-sized CAFO amounts to that of a city with 69,000 people.  High-pressure sprayers remove waste from the floors using powerful chemical solvents.  The run off is then channeled into huge open pits or vats on the CAFO’s property, where it remains untreated.  This toxic brew of feces and urine, chemical agents, pesticides, hormones, bacteria such as e. coli, antibiotics, blood and decaying carcass parts is left to ferment for weeks, creating noxious fumes and dangerous chemical compounds like methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.  The waste is then trucked or piped to nearby fields, where the untreated substance is sprayed as ‘fertilizer,’ seeping into ground water supplies and running off into local streams and rivers.  Family farmers, economically stretched, are often paid by CAFO operators to allow them to spray their fields, creating toxic conditions on their property.  The resulting fumes and toxic waste in the water supply lead to significant health problems for those living nearby, such as hydrogen sulfide poisoning and giardia.  CAFOs have recently been identified as some of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, as well.  The magazine, The Week, recently reported that an “Indiana farm community is alarmed over giant bubbles that have sprouted in lagoons of liquid manure” under plastic linings in waste pools.  The article noted that “Last year, the gas in a single waste pit in Minnesota exploded, hurling a singed farmer 40 feet in the air” (This Week, April 9, 2010).

In 2000, Lynn Henning and other local residents founded a group, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, to monitor the CAFOs.  In 2005, she was hired as a water sentinel for the Sierra Club.  With the help of Light Hawk, a volunteer group of pilots, the CAFOS have been photographed since 2001.  The flights have led to 1,077 reported violations.  According to an interview of Mrs. Henning in the Christian Science Monitor, “Henning frequently files complaints on behalf of other residents so that they can remain anonymous.”  The Monitor reports that “Henning matter-of-factly recounts a list of harassments and lawsuits against her that stretches back for years:  Being chased by manure tankers down the road; having dead animals left in her driveway and car; having her mailbox blown up; and the shooting out of her granddaughter’s bedroom window with buckshot” (Christian Science Monitor, “People Making a Difference”, reporter Yvonne Zipp, April 26, 2010).

For her courage and leadership, Mrs. Henning has been recognized as an “environmental hero” and awarded $150,000.00 as a 2010 Goldman Prize recipient.

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