Duplin County, North Carolina is the epicenter for industrial swine production in the United States. Housing an estimated 2.2 million hogs, this dot on the map shoulders more than its fair share of the world’s swine production load. I showed up last summer to film the stories of those trying to protect the water, land, and air that these hog farms influence so profoundly.
First, what’s the problem? Everyone loves pig right? Vitamin B (bacon) is certainly a staple of my brunch diet. In short, the sheer number of hog farms that have slid into this predominantly minority, low-income community has stressed its environment to the max. A pig produces about ten times as much waste as a human does, yet has almost none of the regulations on how it’s disposed.
In North Carolina, contract farmers working under the umbrella of a far away corporation have few choices on how to handle the hog waste from the scores of animals they are forced to grow to stay profitable. This waste typically flushes into “lagoons” then when the that fills up, farmers spray the tepid liquid waste filled with the most unimaginable grossness on to fields as fertilizer. This works in many cases, but all too often overstressed farmers (no one has it easy here) over-apply and allow runoff into local streams, all the while pumping the air full of toxic stench. The standard industry response that “it’s not that bad” doesn’t cut it for some.
Enter René (family name withheld.) She lives in the same neighborhood she grew up in, a house handed down from her mother. In the late 1990s an industrial swine “farmer” set up a spray field across the street from her house. Several times every week, the “farmer” pumps this grotesque cocktail of pig excrement into the air 20 yards from her front door. René has developed respiratory issues, and can’t go outside without quickly becoming hoarse. She no longer can hang clothes to dry or work in her garden, lingering outside just long enough to get to her car to go to and from work.
Despite these hardships René still manages to smile and get along with her life. Although she has much to be afraid of, she carries no fear, no hatred, and says she’ll speak out until her last breath. Her story is not unique, but her courage is.
Numerous groups are taking on the science behind what’s happening to the air and water around these “farms.” Devon Hall, co-founder of Rural Empowerment Association for Community Health (REACH) is spreading the scientific gospel as a way to empower these communities to speak up about these injustices. The Waterkeeper Alliance also leads countless research efforts to document, in clear black and white, what these polluters are doing. Merely imagining breathing in pig excrement and drinking tainted water supplies doesn’t do much to convince an industry-owned government of anything. Duplin County is finding science as savior and rising up to prove, in no uncertain terms, it is that bad
The Water Is for Fighting project documents the challenges facing our nations freshwater resources. Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting these stories through film, still pictures and words.
Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015
“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting.”