Ohio Fresh Eggs – E. coli testing

On Sunday, October 13th, I ventured out to Johnstown’s Ohio Fresh Eggs, one of the largest egg factory farms in the country. (PETA did an undercover investigation here last year and discovered some pretty gruesome stuff: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADOupA6uRvE). My initial goal in visiting Ohio Fresh Eggs was to collect water samples from the runoff streams and test its pH (which I did). I would then use the different colored pH strips to collage with meat receipts to make more factory farm paintings. However, after taking my samples home and doing more research on pH, my priorities changed.

overviewI planned out my trip before I went using Google Maps. I tried to find streams that were as close to the factory farms as possible (example: Site A, B, and C above). I also decided to sample from a source that was a little further away (Site D) in order to explore the changes in water depending on distance.

With my boyfriend by my side for emotional support and an obnoxious “I love Farm Sanctuary” bumper sticker stamped to the back of my car, we drove out to the boonies to see what was up.

Site A (below) was the first set of buildings we arrived at.

Site A

Site A

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Site A

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Site A

For each site, I collected two samples: one that strictly had water and another that included water and soil from the bottom of the stream.

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Site A

The second set of buildings we went to (Site B) were actually not in use. Regardless, I still wanted to collect samples just to see different results. From this location, I collected samples from a puddle that was connected to a drain and a running stream about ten feet away. I ended up labeling the jars “Site B” and “Site B2.”

Site B

Site B

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Site B

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Site B (from the puddle)

Because this site was not in use, I decided to take advantage of the amount of exploring I could do. The first thing I did was walk through a corn field that was right next to the stream I sampled from.

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Site B

I also drove behind the farm to get closer to the “manure lagoon,” which holds manure (in this case, chicken manure) until it is spread onto surrounding fields as fertilizer.

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Site B

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Site B (“manure lagoon”)

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Site B

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Site B (looked like some kind of waste filtering system but not quite sure)

Site C (below) was the largest set of factory farm buildings we went to.

Site C

Site C

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Site C (didn’t get close enough to see what he was carrying, but he did wave to us)

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Site C

I didn’t get any photos from Site D, but we did go through the gates of Site E to get some photos.

Site D

Site D

Site E

Site E

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Site E (piles of feathers and a conveyor belt system working overhead)

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Once I had my samples at home, I made my own pH paper strips using red cabbage juice and coffee filters. All tests turned blue (pH of 7.0-8.0), meaning that the water did NOT fall within the Tri-State’s pH standard (6.0). After researching more on pH, however, I realized that testing the water just once doesn’t really provide enough information to prove anything. In order to truly understand the pH of this area, I would have to take samples every month or so for a year and get an average pH. Rather than focusing on this aspect of the chain, I decided to look into other problems of water runoff from factory farms, specifically one of the worst problems, E. coli.

E. coli is a species of bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and other vertebrates (animals with spines). Although the bacteria that naturally exist in your intestines are harmless and helpful in digestion, eating or drinking E. coli that comes from outside, such as in polluted water or meat that has not been processed safely, can cause severe food poisoning or even death.

In factory farming, manure and waste is untreated. It is stored in manure pits or lagoons and then ultimately applied to surrounding farm fields as fertilizer. Because factory farms produce so much waste in one place, it is applied to the land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to incorporate it. As a result, the manure seeps into local streams and groundwater and can end up contaminating drinking water.

On a whim, I decided to order an E. coli testing kit.

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After starting my tests, I had to wait 48 hours. The results, I must say, are terrifying:

Site A water

Site A dirt

Site B water

Site B dirt

Site B2 water

Site B2 dirt

Site C water

Site C dirt

Site D water

What these tests say is that there IS a presence of E. coli in the majority of these runoff streams, especially in Site C. It is also evident that the E. coli contamination has spread to a location far away from the actual factory farm buildings (Site D). The samples that contain soil are harder to distinguish but still read as dark blue (presence of E. coli).

At this point, I am taking these results in and figuring out exactly what they mean for local neighborhoods and distant consumers.

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The other side

Another interesting aspect of my rotten food paintings is the effect on the other side of the surface in which the food is rotting on. Although much more disgusting than the front side, there is something to be said about the mold that grows through the back:

Organic tomato painting (back side):

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Non-organic tomato painting (back side):

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Non-organic tomato painting

After the one-month rotting period came to an end, I peeled off my store-bought non-organic tomatoes to find a rather interesting print. During the first few minutes of peeling off the tomatoes, the remaining print was yellow. When I came back about 2 hours later, the yellow had turned to blue. A few hours later, the print started to turn transparent. From what I can remember, this transition did not happen to the organic tomatoes, although I would have to re-test the experiment to be sure. I am wondering what caused such a significant color change in the non-organic tomatoes, whether it be the chemicals used or something else in its DNA. Regardless, the print is gorgeous.

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Fall Research Statement for Senior Thesis

Because human beings are participating in an industrial food system that values quantity over quality, we are linking together a chain of suffering that is destroying our spiritual connection to nature. Through shopping locally, consumers gain a human experience that strengthens their connections to food and the world around them.

This fall, I will focus on landscape painting through an array of different painting techniques. One technique I have explored thus far is collage. My most recent painting, “Factory Farm,” is a landscape made by collaging my own meat receipts with acrylic medium and paint. By utilizing the receipt, the end result of the industrial process, I wanted to show that, as consumers, we are helping to build these factory farms by buying into the system. I will continue to use the receipt because it is versatile; it can be folded to look like a tile of a roof or torn and layered to look like rough terrain. Collaging receipts into factory farm and agricultural landscapes is a technique I will explore further this fall.

Another technique I will study is that of fluidity and form. Drawing inspiration from artists like Claire Sherman and Brendan Monroe, landscape painters who paint in this fashion, I will learn how to layer blocks of color without blending. This style of painting reflects a Buddhist concept that I have been exploring through other work. The idea is that everything in the universe is in a state of flux; nothing is permanent. Therefore, everything is constantly shifting and decaying. In order to create a fluid effect, I will use oil paint with an impasto medium. I will also focus on using only sedimentary colors, which have larger particles that can be suspended in a medium. As far as subject matter for these paintings, I plan to combine images of farm animals that I photographed at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, a place where rescued factory farmed animals live out their lives in peace, with the shapes of ink found at the end of receipt paper rolls. In the past, I have taken the “shock” approach of showing the cruelty inside factory farms, but realized it tends to back people into a corner. Ultimately, I would like to start a two-way conversation about this sensitive topic rather than making my audience feel guilty.

Other plans I have involve rotting fruits and vegetables onto canvas or paper in the shape of mandalas. In Buddhism, mandalas represent the impermanence of life and futility of attachment. They are traditionally made by groups of Tibetan monks using sand, which upon completion are scattered into a nearby river or lake as a blessing. The process of creating these intricate designs is meant for quieting mind chatter. Although I am not involved in the traditional mandala-making process, my goal is to represent impermanence. After I place the fruits or vegetables onto the desired surface, they will change form and decay over time. Eventually, I scrape the fruit or vegetable off of the surface to reveal a print underneath. Over time, the pigments of the prints will also fade. What I am currently interested in is how organic food rots compared to non-organic, and which type of surfaces work best for these experiments.

The ideal response from my audience would include being drawn into the painting, having an emotional connection to the content without being offended, and then walking away with a desire to educate themselves about contemporary food practices.