To inform students of the dangers of “Big Agriculture,” MacCARES, MacFeast, NÜDL and the Sustainability Office co-sponsored a dinner with the nonprofit Impact on how Agribusiness affects the natural resources in Minnesota, specifically water.
The dinner featured a speech by Sonja Trom Eayrs of the Dodge County Concerned Citizens on how industrial agriculture or “Big Ag” is damaging her home county.
“Big Ag is powerful and they usually get what they want, but clean water is something we can all get behind,” Eayrs said to a packed Weyerhaeuser boardroom.
She started the night by saying, “Your generation is going to inherit the sins of my generation.”
Specifically, the sin she identified is the leniency given to Agribusiness and industrial agriculture by legislatures and planning commissions.
The primary causes of the problem with Big Agriculture, according to Eayrs, are Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which house thousands of animals in insufficient space. Often the result of this is that the waste from the CAFO is more than a given tract of land can accommodate.
In total, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that the quantity of animal manure produced throughout Minnesota is equivalent to that of a human population of 50 million people. On a smaller scale, the manure produced in Dodge County, MN is equivalent to 830,000 people, the population of Minneapolis and Saint Paul combined.
To give an idea of the size of the CAFOs, Eayrs pointed out that Dodge County recently approved a proposal for a 2,400 head hog confinement on a land tract of only six acres.
Eayrs noted the importance of the college-age generation’s activism for enacting change. At the end of her speech, she left the attendees with a call for change, compelling them to act on what they had just learned, rather than sitting idly by.
Eayrs urged Macalester students to do something about the injustice in our food system. Some examples she gave students for engagement were contacting elected officials, purchasing USDA organic certified foods and lessening their carbon footprints through habits like “meatless Mondays.”
The idea for the dinner came from Macalester alumnus Andrew Gage ’15, a campaign organizer with Impact. He said he wanted a way to spread the word to students about industrial agriculture because as a student he never knew the extent of the problem.
“Around the table is a powerful way to do that,” Gage said.
The dinner itself is part of Gage’s trip to Macalester to recruit students to work for Impact post-graduation. In order to do so, Gage connected with student orgs he had once been a part of and other organizations he thought would like to have a part in co-sponsoring the event.
The goal of the dinner for Gage was primarily to educate and spread the word about the industrial agriculture issue.
“[My] call to action is to know that your voice is important and make sure your voice is heard,” Gage said.