Last week I had the privilege of taking to the skies, and I must say, the rawness with which Assateague and the surrounding coastal landscape exemplifies this time of year is astounding. At 2,000 feet above, the desolate, wild image that the Island of Assateague and our Coastal Bays portray only deepened the respect I have for this area’s coastal ecosystem. The effect these cold winter months have on the islands, marshes, and wildlife of Maryland is nothing short of amazing. From above, the image is an embodiment of Mother Nature. With chunks of ice floating on the surface water at the mercy of the wind and tides, vegetation that has gone dormant as it awaits longer days ahead, and beaches absent of the crowds they are often associated with, one would be convinced they have found a piece of coastal wilderness lost in time. I am drawn to this area because of the beauty in the solitude it offers.
After a brief fly over of the Island, our flight itinerary took us further inland. The image from above shifted, and the peace of mind that a natural landscape offers was replaced by a sense of disappointment. The purpose of our flight was to capture aerial views and geographic coordinates of poultry factories in the area. Referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), these mammoth poultry factories are spreading across Delmarva at an alarming rate. The issue isn’t new, and is in fact a main campaign at Assateague Coastal Trust as we vigilantly work to protect water quality, the health of our communities, and the health of the coastal ecosystem from agricultural pollution.
Peering out of that tiny plane window, I saw a landscape scarred by the hand of man. We’ve all seen these factories. Take a Sunday drive down the many back country roads, and you would be hard pressed to not notice the metal chambers sprawling across the majority of the open fields. Looking at the CAFOs from above, I am struck with emotion similar to that which I feel when passing by them on the ground. These huge industrial sized poultry CAFO’s are not just unpleasant, they are repulsive. They are creeping into our communities, and they are threatening the very land and waterways to which we owe our deepest respect. It is the land and rich coastal ecosystem of this area that has provided every resident that calls this place home the opportunity to flourish in such a remarkable environment.
With a birds eye view, I also note just how close these CAFO’s are to a place that has given people of this area and afar so much. On land, the proximity of these CAFOs to Maryland’s coastal bays isn’t as clear. Above the canopy of trees, however, it truly is terrifying to acknowledge the encroachment of the poultry industry on our coastal landscape. For those that doubt the problem at hand, I urge them to take a brief glance at any recent aerial photograph of the area. Navigate the region for five minutes on Google Earth. Poultry CAFO’s are taking over our rich land at the expense of our communities, wildlife, and water quality. What I saw on that flight was an industry driven by profit, slowly encroaching on a Land that is priceless.
I wonder how it might look if the massive poultry houses plaguing this area were actually small family farms. The poultry industry sells the public with an image reminiscent of the good American life, complete with a red farm house and rustic wood fence surrounding a country plot of roaming farm animals. The real image is that of massive metal buildings that have scarred this region physically and mentally. So, I would like to ask big chicken, what happened to so many of the small family farms I once knew in this area? Like the wise artist Graham Nash said, “my advise to you is to not take advice from the dealers who are handing out the cards.”
It is time to recapture the essence of this Land, and stand in defense of the Eastern Shore for the beauty it holds and the beauty it’s capable of procuring.
The Eastern Shore is my home. I left it nine years ago and returned last February. Though I have been back on my home turf in Assateague for a year now, it only took a few days upon my return to acknowledge the many problems big poultry is inflicting on our communities, the land, and the wildlife. Let's take a stand.
Please feel free to visit ACT's Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA) page to learn how ACT is working to help local communities in their efforts to ensure CAFO emissions are regulated.