Kristi Mogen and her family left Wyoming after an oil field near their home threatened their health.
“In 2012, an oil field moved into Wyoming…into our neighborhood. The first wells were about two miles from our house. We had this beautiful house, had mountain views, sunsets, wonderful neighbors, a really great community. Within the first month we had to evacuate because an oil and gas well lost control. We couldn’t sleep, our house shook, the smell was awful and pollutants were all around us. After a while, my husband Pete was really, really ill....and our daughter Katie got a tumor...so we had to get out of that situation.”
Kristi assembles quilts on a longarm quilt machine. Her family donated a full-size barn quilt to the Twin Brooks Threshing Show in South Dakota.
“We knew we needed to go where there was no shale oil,” said Kristi. “Our second concern was having some local control. We felt if we could sit next to somebody at church who was making decisions about our property and look them in the eye everyday, maybe they’d understand a little bit more. We started looking in eastern South Dakota, thinking that our kids were gonna go to an agriculture school. We just feel we were meant to be here.”
Shortly after finding refuge in Revillo, South Dakota, the Mogen family’s health and livelihood was threatened again, this time by a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).
In 2014, a Pipestone facility was proposed a few miles from the Mogen's new home. The community rallied and the CAFO was defeated. Grant County residents then organized to win a referendum that increased the CAFO setbacks to the strongest in the state of South Dakota.
The out of state CAFO owners, still wanting to set up shop, proposed another operation, Berg Farms, which bought a 640-acre plot of land in Grant County in the fall of 2016.
“They told the neighbors that they were putting in a swine facility and kicked the renters out. In March 2017 there was a public notice in the newspaper. We had less than 10 days to prepare a referendum, Berg Farms had 7 months to prepare. Berg Farms’ permit was for a 2,136 or 2,162 sow gestation facility with 5,184 piglets,” said Kristi.
“The application was a mess, and the board of administration decided to continue until April. Berg Farms, realizing that we could appeal, withdrew the application and submitted a new one with some language changes suggesting economic benefits. The new application still had five different addresses, incorrect math on the amount of manure the pit would hold, two different numbers of sows, and that means the piglet count would be off also. A board of administration member said they would never hire someone who filled out an application with so many errors. We also wrote letters and had a hearing in December with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for the commercial water permit for the free un-metered water from wells for the CAFO. The permit was denied. ”
At first glance, CAFOs can seem like an attractive operation to rural areas – new industry stimulating the local economy, more agricultural production, potential employment opportunities. Kristi wants to debunk those myths.
“I think it’s important that people understand that modern agriculture – as they’re calling it – is just a term that they’re hiding behind. These animals live in barns all their lives. They’re inside a facility, they never get to eat a blade of grass that is alive,” said Kristi. “The influence is so strong they keep coming at us with ‘you got to have agriculture.’ There’s a difference between agriculture and a pig in a building that never sees the light of day. There’s just a huge difference. That’s a factory, for cheap pork, without adding in the costs to society and the environment."
Despite some claims, employment opportunities are not generated by these operations. According to Kristi, "the project manager explained that there will be one-and-a-half employees paid minimum wage, and the facility will not be manned 24 hours a day.”
The scale of waste that comes from CAFOs poses huge risks to the surrounding areas. “The facilities have pits underneath the hogs called lagoons. There’s a lot of difference between my cows out there on pasture pooping on the ground, giving it nutrients, getting it stomped into the soil, not having antibiotics, versus the slurry that comes out of a lagoon,” said Kristi. “We’re dealing with H2S [hydrogen sulfide], we’re dealing with methane, we’re dealing with water contamination. We’re dealing with everything we did with the oil and gas industry in Wyoming...and then there are pathogens on top of it. We’re losing our water, we’re losing our air quality, we’re losing the quality of our soil And quality of life. We feel like refugees with nowhere safe to live in the USA.”
Over the past few years, corporate agribusiness has made more and more proposals for industrialized animal production in South Dakota.
“It’s not just my story, it’s my family’s story, it’s my community’s story. My role was a community organizer. I spoke at the first hearing and helped organize and educate the residents of the community who needed to fight to keep the CAFO out. Everybody in the community came together and worked out a plan and went to the planning and zoning hearing. Not only did they stop it, but they built community power. So many people had not been to a zoning and planning hearing. They didn’t understand how their government worked. But they know that now. And they know what they need to do to protect their health, their land, their property values, the water, the air. I’m glad that my family is part of that.”
Berg Farms appealed the decision to reject its permit in circuit court, but Kristi and her neighbors are not deterred. The local board is defending its decision, and the group of neighbors is joining the board in court to defend its decision. They are waiting for a court date for the appeal.
Community support has been integral to Kristi’s motivation. “In Wyoming, I started with Powder River Basin Resource Council and I actually was a board member for awhile before we moved. I got to go to the Principles of Community Organizing training with Western Organization of Resource Councils. When we moved here, one of the first things we did was sign up with DRA -- Dakota Rural Action in South Dakota. Education is empowerment. When you’re part of the group you can call somebody up and you realize you are not alone. You can ask for help, if you don’t understand something or you need more information, and they help you out with that. They build communities and that’s the biggest reason we’re in it. Building community. Helping each other out.”