The Farm: A Beautiful Tragedy Unfolding
Linda J. Pfeiffer
If one sits on the front porch at dusk on any day in early July in Barre Milles Wisconsin, you cannot help but be mesmerized by the slow parade of fireflies drifting over the tips of the ‘knee high’ emerald corn stalks. It is warm. Usually the light is a dusty rose color, the grays of evening slowly advancing from the east as the sun slides over the rolling hills, into a red and yellow wash of reflecting light. This time of year is normally quiet, with only the lowing of the cows, calling the calves to them in the fields behind the neighbors red barns. If it has just rained, and the cows are still, you can hear the faint squeaking of the corn as it grows, pushing itself a little taller, hoping to catch more of the sun the next day
As the sun falls behind the ridge, and the last rays of color fade, seemingly armies of tadpoles begin their chorus of peeping sounds. They continue into the night, quitting sometime during sleeping hours, so that the only sound you hear in the early morning may be the owl as it calls to its partner far in the distance. When I wake on nights like these I wonder how anyone can live in the hustle-bustle of town?
But then there are other days; days the neighbor has hired the co-operative to come by with the ‘applicator’. The operator drives a machine with long spider-like arms that descend over the plants dispensing a grayish mist. The air becomes filled with the sickly acrid smell of synthetic chemicals. They hang like fog in the air, permeating everything they touch. My nose will be the first to tell me which days they are spraying on, until it becomes coated with the greasy acrid film that seems hang in every room of the house. The heavy odor creeps through closed windows causing my eyes to sting. Every fiber of my being screams to get away from that smell. But, I close the windows and stay. ‘It can’t be that bad or they wouldn’t sell it’. That was the story I told myself then.
Looking back, years later, I know now, that my body was trying to tell me something, all those years ago. I was raised to be compliant, to not cause trouble, and not ‘rock the boat’. It is what women were trained to do. But, I am older now. The experiences I’ve had have taught me to question what the dominant culture tells us we ‘should’ do. So now I listen to my body. I read the research. I question the science. It is not enough.
The creatures and people around us are becoming ill at alarming and unnatural rates: people in far away lands, and people who are near, people who love the land, people who have done the things expected of them, and people who trusted that someone was watching out for them, like I did.
Is someone watching out for us? The answer is complicated. There are people working hard for the environment, and for our health. Their voices are small. Powerful groups are descending on the policy makers in Washington in an effort to advocate for corporate profit over precaution with public health. In the cold statistical world of cost-benefit analysis, profit is easy to calculate, public health is complex.
The fate of toxins, and all of the persistent organic pesticides being debated in Washington, and around the world in Stockholm, is a story that lays out the struggle between those who value public health and those who value corporate profit. Yes, ultimately it is that simple- profit for the few over health for the many. The question will be who will tell the story that will move the policy makers?
Next: The Unfolding Journey of Organochlorides