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.
I 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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
Site B (“manure lagoon”)
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 (didn’t get close enough to see what he was carrying, but he did wave to us)
I didn’t get any photos from Site D, but we did go through the gates of Site E to get some photos.
Site E (piles of feathers and a conveyor belt system working overhead)
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.
After starting my tests, I had to wait 48 hours. The results, I must say, are terrifying:
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.