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Thursday July 24, 2014
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Janet Kauffman

 

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air-conditioning systems, and we speed up to get past as quickly as possible. Hundreds of cows or pigs, thousands of chickens, may be in those buildings. We might have a vague sense that we get much of our milk, eggs, and meat because of them, but we don't want to think about CAFOs very much.

Janet Kauffman's new book, Trespassing: Dirt Stories and Field Notes, makes literature out of this apparently very unpromising material. Yes, it is a literature of rage and advocacy, built as much on the need to inform and inspire action as it is on aesthetics, but it still has a deep imaginative relationship with the lived world. Kauffman, now retired after several decades of teaching at EMU, grew up on a farm and has continued to farm in Lenawee County since she moved here in the 1970s. In the last decade or so the factory farms have moved into south central Michigan and have begun to dominate rural life. "They say in Michigan you're never more than six miles from a lake or stream," Kauffman writes. "Here, I'm never more than six miles from a manure lagoon."

Because that is the problem. All of those animals produce the same amount of waste as a large town. The manure is not essentially different from human waste, yet it is treated much more casually. Liquefied and sprayed across fields in vast quantities, it leaches into aquifers or runs directly into streams and rivers. It kills the life in the streams and destroys the place — and a way of life that has grown up there.

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