Growing up in our small town of Grantsburg was the best way I could have spent the formative first 18 years of my life. This close-knit upbringing instilled in me the importance of a fundamental connection both to the community and to the land. My family’s history is deeply rooted in the land near the proposed Trade Lake Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation or CAFO, a hog factory farm with a projected 26,000+ animals. Within a mile of the proposed site is my childhood home, as well as those of my dad Steve, my grandpa Paul and countless others. Because of this factory proposal, the rewards of a life lived in harmony with the land is in danger of becoming a mythical relic of the past, unable to be replicated or enjoyed by future generations.
In the proposed CAFO neighborhood, my parents’ peaceful backyard overlooks Fish Lake Wildlife Refuge, a managed watershed abundant with waterfowl and other wildlife. Binoculars are always at the ready by our kitchen table. We have a small apple orchard and a bountiful garden that yields, under the direction of my talented mother, unbeatable rhubarb bars, fresh salsa and leek quiche. In the long grass is our softball field, “Toad Memorial,” where I hit my first homerun; it is also where Sunny, our Samoyed puppy, is buried. To create additional animal habitat and prevent soil runoff, we recently planted 1,000 trees in the field between our house and the 20-acre wood where my dad hunts. Each year when I come home for Thanksgiving, my dad graciously gives up one morning of attentive hunting to make me breakfast in his tree stand, followed by a few games of cribbage.
Adjacent to the proposed CAFO is the land my father’s family farmed. My grandpa Paul was a hardworking Swede who diligently cleared trees and picked rock to carve out a 25-cow dairy farm from the rough and tumble land. Recalling his childhood, my dad tells stories of tramping through cornfields in the fall with a stick, hitting the tops off bull thistles, perhaps unknowingly perfecting his softball swing. My grandma ElRose used to walk up and down Highway 48 pulling ragweed in hopes that my dad would have an easier allergy season. Less than a mile from the proposed CAFO site is Bass Lake where my grandma lived for 40 years, after selling the farm, until she passed away last July 15. On the morning of her death, as the sun began to warm the earth, I waded through the tangled cattails and lily pads to swim to the center of the cool, pristine lake. Floating with my eyes heavenward, we were reunited for that moment through our shared love of the place.
The scope of this land’s significance extends beyond our small community. Many townships in the area have been identified as suitable habitat and breeding grounds for the endangered and federally protected Karner Blue butterfly. Bordering Trade Lake township is the town of Anderson, an officially protected area with stringent operating procedures to preserve this dazzling creature such as a ban on mowing any ditches until well into July. In addition to ecological significance are examples of historical import. World-renowned philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson owned land on tiny Bass Lake, land that has now been placed in a land trust by John Holmbeck, legally preserving it in perpetuity.
This picture-perfect postcard isn’t just a nostalgic flashback to idyllic “days gone by” -- we have been fortunate enough to call it our perpetual present, yet with this recent proposal, it may not be our future. Including and beyond our farming community, our land plays diverse roles for many people who monitor the health of and foster an intimate connectedness with the land and its resources. So far, the land has been respectfully managed and protected for future use, future generations, but unlike us, this hog farm is no steward of the land. While I can’t imagine my life without these stories, they are certainly not unique. Even though your stories might take place 3 miles north or in the next county, undoubtedly, they are variations on the same theme because we all are people of the land, and we all are people of each other. This factory is neither.
Their weak and thinly veiled claims of an economic boost and “technological advancement” only aim to distract us from irreversible, fundamental damage that will occur if the DNR approves their permit. In a fragile and vulnerable ecosystem, the factory’s practices are inconsistent with the Trade Lake Comprehensive Plan for land and water use; our watershed, aquifer, air quality, soil health, property values, and aesthetic appeal are at great risk. Although careful changes are required for society to adapt to a 21st century world, love for our land and our neighbor is timeless. The CAFO transaction and proposal go against these admirable community values, the values I learned from a young age to carry within my heart. We must prevent this CAFO from growing roots and strangling the ones we have cultivated and nurtured for generations.