Henning says she once had been content just farming.
"I stayed home with my kids. I raised all my own food in my own garden," she recalls while taking a reporter on a tour of local CAFOs, casually pointing out where a creek runs red with bloodworms.
A former sign painter, she has spent much of her life helping her husband on their 80-acre farm in Clayton, a small town in south-central Michigan. "We lived the American dream until the CAFOs came to town," Henning says.
Today, 20,000 cows are within a 10-mile radius of her home, she says, and another 20,000 hogs cycle through on an annual basis. (Before the CAFOs, there were about 500 animals in the same area, she says.)
Waste from one cow equals that produced by 23 humans. That waste (along with whatever else is on the barn floor) is washed into lagoons that hold millions of gallons, where it is stored for months before being spread on fields.
The smell, even in early March, is nearly overpowering. "It's industrial agriculture using family farms as a disguise," Henning says. "Manure is no longer manure – it's toxic waste." And it needs to be treated as such, she says, not spread untreated on fields or allowed to wash into local water sources.
This is not what most Americans think of as farming. "They think of a little red barn. They don't think of 5 million gallons of manure – not the 6,000 pigs that never see the light of day," says Dave Maturin, a county commissioner and real estate appraiser. He cites instances of Michigan homes losing 30 to 60 percent of their value after a CAFO moved in. In some cases, he says, homeowners can't sell at any price.